These days, we hear a lot of gloom and doom about the state of the music industry: Major record labels are going the way of the dinosaurs! Many orchestras are struggling financially; some have closed their doors! Arts funding is drying up! Old career models are fading away! The ship is sinking!!! Surely these are dark signs for the future of music, no?
Well, there are two sides to every coin. True, the realities of the music world are changing at breakneck speeds. But the contention that music is in trouble is one with which I could not disagree more vehemently. In fact, in some ways, perhaps we are living in a Golden Era of Music. Consider the following:
- Access. For the first time in the history of the world, just-about-anyone just-about-anywhere can access just-about-any kind of music just-about-any time of day.
- Mediums. There are now more ways to experience music than ever before. No longer are we limited to concerts, TV, FM/AM radio, and CDs. Today, people can hear music through Internet radio, TV radio, XM radio, instant downloads, artist websites, social media, video sharing, iPods, iPads, iPhones, ringtones, video games. And the list goes on. And on. And on.
- Taste. Twenty years ago, most of us identified primarily with one style of music. “I love country.” “Hip hop’s my bag.” “Consider me an opera fanatic.” “I’m a jazz man.” But now, in this iPod Shuffle generation, many people are open to just about any musical experience (with perceived relevance). The hippest folks are cultural omnivores.
- Stardom. Never again will we see a musical super-duper-megastar the likes of Michael Jackson. That was possible only in an environment where few channels of musical access controlled public taste. Our new paradigm leaves much more room for mid-level artists—of all genres—to cultivate their fan base.
- Participation. Many audiences are no longer satisfied with a passive role when it comes to music. They demand interactive concerts. They’re excited to post comments or photos on their favorite group’s blog. They want to vote for the next members of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. They love to remash tracks from interesting groups. Heck, they’re ready to make the music themselves (even if it’s through a video game like Guitar Hero. How about Bassoon Hero…).
- The artist perspective. It is now easier and less expensive to record music, disseminate music, and market music than ever before. No longer necessary to have the backing of a major record label or management to create an international reputation, savvy musicians can do this largely from their own home.
Music is everywhere. Music is healthy. Music is thriving. Music is celebrating.
But what does all this mean for musicians?
Well, the paradigm’s shifting, that’s for sure. Whenever that happens, there will be new winners, and new losers as well. The people who come out on top will be those with the entrepreneurial foresight to spot and act upon new opportunities. Finding them may not always be easy, and requires imagination. But surely, in this Golden Era of Music, they do exist.
So the next time you feel depressed about all the gloom and doom, take that energy and focus it on finding positive solutions. Look for the bright spots.