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Music Studio Technology
I have discussed the latest empowering technologies now available to musicians who come in all shapes and sizes. The technology allows growing number of people to create recording studios, manufacture CDs and distribute music as digital downloads on the internet. The term Indie (for independent recording label) by now includes millions of independent music producers world wide, each seeking a market share. The result is an explosion of recorded music never seen or heard before. Rolling Stone's Jon Pareles suggested that the music business was in bewilderment and disarray while musicians’ compulsion to create and perform was alive and well, despite no assurance of a career. “It’s a great moment for musicians who want to be heard and a difficult one for musicians who need to be paid.”
A growing industry in the music business is based on selling opportunities for musicians to perform and to display their music online and in a variety of venues. The musicians not only offer their music for free, but pay to have their music displayed and (rarely) played. I have sampled some of the new service offers over several years and decided that most of them were exploitative and some were fraudulent. The root deception is that making music available for download online leads reliably to income. The underlying, old idea is that young or otherwise aspiring musicians would welcome opportunities to perform and would play for free. In the best case in every community, local musicians freely participate in parties celebrations and performances both for the pleasure of playing and also to establish a social presence and reputation that can be rewarded in other ways. In commercial venues, musicians might be paid a small amount and offered free drinks or a meal. Musicians unions attempted to regulate commercial venues, establishing pay rates and working conditions for some musicians. union musicians tend to play for well established organizations such as symphony orchestras and studio musicians who record for commercials, TV and movies
Jazz styles progressed early on because band musicians would gather in after hours clubs to jam together with no pay, but a place to hang out and perhaps some free drinks. Improvisation became a main feature of jazz. For some musicians, free drinks turned out to be a punishment rather than a reward – too many died prematurely from alcohol and drug overdoses or alcoholic diseases.
The shift from free music to musicians pay to be heard is not new, although it is a perversion of values. When records became commodities and record sales were the main source of income for the labels that signed musicians under contract, the labels paid radio stations to play the music they were promoting. While the details of this industrial music marketing have changed, the basic strategy of paying for publicity and plays remains.
iTunes was the acknowledged leader of music downloads online. Their technology is excellent, their submission and payment policy is fair and if you have a promotional network outside of iTunes, you may actually receive some income from downloads. Their music catalogue is so large, however, that without effective, independent promotion, sales are unlikely. iTune's front pages and email marketing services feature only the label-supported (aka big revenue-generating) music offerings. Streaming music services have emerged as hot competition for itunes.
Other online sites have proliferated with musician's profiles, music downloads and advertising that helps to pay the site's bills. Some charge musicians and others are free. Many of the ads on these sites offer services to musicians and include rather misleading offers to present music to labels, movie and TV producers, and others who might hold the key to success. Competitions are now abundant that require big investments of time, energy and talent for small or no rewards. In my earliest encounters with the music business, I learned that A&R people for labels were overwhelmed with tape submissions and listened only to a few. Even the biggest labels only signed a few acts and received thousands of submissions. An agent was usually required who could get you past the initial obstacles, but agents came at a price and good agents also had rigorous screening procedures. The ratio of hopefuls to best sellers must now be in the millions to 1.