What is the future of the music industry?

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins is a man who has been around the block in the music industry. He knows as well as anyone, that the world of recording and selling music has seen a vast shift in the past decade. Labels, artists and music stores are all searching for answers to find ways to make music financially viable in the age of the free download.

Corgan has been pondering what these answers might be, especially from the perspective of the artist. In an interview at festival South by Southwest he offered thoughts on where the industry is getting it right and wrong, and how Facebook, Twitter and Spotify have transformed the landscape.

The ethics surrounding music are a fascinating minefield these days. In a culture growing accustomed to getting freebies, people are seemingly less likely to purchase a track and more likely to seek it out on a illegal download site. Gone are the days of everyone shelling out £15 for a CD. Now labels and artists are lucky to even get the 79 pence for a single MP3 sale. Would this climate have enabled bands like the Pumpkins to have broken through in the way they did in their early day?

As someone who has lived in this world, signed as a recording and touring artist with EMI in the States for almost a decade, I can say first-hand how deep the impact of this has been. I’ve watched as labels across the globe have had to make more and more staff redundant, as artists’ gig payments got smaller and smaller, and audiences who would have purchased CDs, t-shirts and other merchandise, suddenly rapidly reduced their spending. Album budgets for even house-hold name artists shrunk. Producers were offered a fraction of the budget they considered normal only a few years ago. Everyone is limping along, trying to find a giant solution for a giant time of transition.

Brian Solis, the interviewer, summed his ideas up as follows: “Corgan, who’s no stranger to controversy, believes that the music industry is currently structured to prevent artists from achieving the type of success his band enjoyed. In fact, Corgan doesn’t believe the Pumpkins could achieve the success they have, or anything close to it, if they debuted now.”

The interview is below  [there’s an annoying 20 second advert at the start, but it’s worth waiting for]:

Do you feel like music should be given away free, via services like Spotify or illegal streaming? What is the future of the music industry and how can it recover from the blows of illegal downloads and a freebie culture? These are crucial questions for us to ask if we want to make life and art viable for musicians in the future.

  • Joseph Wenceslao

    I don’t think music should be given away free, because that would make the already difficult task of having an income even more difficult. Even though most artists do what they do ‘because they love it’, an income would help. That said, music streaming sites such as Youtube- I think- are fantastic- I have discovered many-if not all- of my favourite bands via sites such as Youtube.

    I still buy hard copies of CD’s because there’s just something special about holding it in your hands, examining the physical album artwork, opening up the case, seeing a CD, then reading the album booklet. It’s still great for me, anyhow.

    I often listen to music ‘as an album’ because I feel that there is thought that an artist/band puts into regarding the order of songs- I like to think that the artist is trying to take the listener on a journey, and the songs are in *that* order on purpose, rather than sticking songs in random positions. :)

  • RobPringle2003

    Interesting topic. I’m of the opinion that services like spotify should only be free so long as the artists are getting loyalties through what is played. You buy a CD or download a track to listen at your own leisure. by making music freely available at leisure brings a hit to the source income of artists and producers.

    I much prefer buying a CD than downloading. I put all my CD’s on iTunes and predominantly listen to them on my iPhone, but owning a CD is more of an experience. I love the artwork, and should my computer decide to fail (which it has done in the past) you’ve still got a copy. It’s easier to lose a download than it is a CD!

    As for listening to music, I play ‘all songs’ on random most of the time, or if I’m in the mood for something in particular I like to have the whole album available. I’m sure a lot of thought goes into how an album plays through front to back. Also love the iTunes ‘genius’ function which allows you to create playlists based off of one particular song. No idea how it does it so well!

  • James Hugh Collie

    1.) Ok so I think it depends. I don’t think illegal streaming should happen. That is not an honourable way to celebrate someone’s gift. But spotify is an interesting kettle of fish because it has the potential to bring artists to the fray depending on popularity. And don’t we want the public rather than the record label to choose what we want to listen to? But I Corgan is right. We don’t commit to an artist like we used to and what spotify allows us to do is to listen to something at no cost till we get bored. I only have the free spotify and that allows me to check something out that’s not in the charts before I buy. But there’s no harm in that as long as spotify does not replace me buying music altogether. And free ep’s and so on get in me interested in so many artists in a way that makes me want to go out and buy more of their stuff. But these free models of music as PR assume the listener has an honourable intent in supporting artistry in the long run.

    2.) I do buy hard copies of cd’s sometimes. If they’re cheaper than on iTunes mostly. Or if I go to a gig and there’s naustalgia attached to it. But my preference is to have a hard copy. I love stacking them away on shelves, being able to appreciate the art work in my hand and thumb through the paper inserts as I listen. I know the CD won’t crash on me and I don’t have to back it up.

    3.) Depends on the quality of the album. But generally I listen the whole way through

  • Prosthetic Lips

    The question about “should music be given away free” is a little misleading.  Do I listen to Spotify?  Yes.  Does it need to be free to work?  Again, I feel yes.  However, Spotify is just my way of listening in the background.  For “real” music, I feel you should pay for it.  Just like I can listen to songs on the radio or MTV (oh wait, they don’t play music any more), there needs to be a way to listen to new music for free, to introduce people to it.  However, I expect to pay for an album / a download / whatever, to “own” a copy of a song.  Then I can put it on my phone / mp3 player.

    Do I buy hard copies?  Yes.  Usually to support the artist.  Some new people are only providing their music via iTunes / Amazon, but I much prefer physical media — as RobPringle2003 above says, it is harder to lose a CD (but not impossible!).  Usually when I download a song, I immediately burn to a CD, as a backup.

    Plus, it’s more fun to give someone an album as a gift than an iTunes card or a download code.

    Do I listen to albums?  Yes.  That’s part of the appeal for me for Spotify, that I can find albums of an artist, and play them in their entirety.  Sometimes I just find a Greatest Hits, but I much prefer real albums; some of the b-sides are better than the hits, because you haven’t had them overplayed so you stop listening.

    You almost need another question — age range; I’m just under baby boomer age.  I wonder if there is a trend among different age groups.  My kids are split: one is more song-oriented, the other is more album-oriented.  The former buys from iTunes, the latter prefers physical albums (although there are exceptions).

  • I do listen to the whole album because not always the best songs (in my oppinion) are released as a single. Sometimes there are better songs on an album you wouldn’t hear if you only listen to the singles.

    And music should not be given away for free, ’cause the artists (like you, Vicky, and me) need an income. And with the rest I agree with Joseph.

  • @mikeyounguk

    Great blog theme… Something that I have been thinking about recently. Looking forward to seeing other blogs in this series. I have some views about music and have a passion to see musicians succeed professionally. The Record Industry and Labels might be the future for a small number of bands in the short term, but the future of the music industry will be less and less reliant on signing a deal. I do have more views on this topic, but they’re not really for a wider public view.

  • Very interesting theme to look at, I’ll be reading with much interest!

    I write and produce my own music as well as DJ, and I have some very strong views on music, distribution etc. I recently self-released an album on Bandcamp and after a lot of prayer and thought, I decided to give it away/make it available as a “name your price” item, because on balance, what Billy said about the value people place on music is true. I grew up in an era where you paid for music, you valued people’s gifts and you bought stuff you liked/wanted. Illegal downloads are a sad reality, and as long as people see music as something they’re entitled to without remunerating the artist, they’ll always happen. Another reality is, if as an artist you want to get people to get into your music and eventually buy it, there is a sequence which can’t be changed for people to engage. It goes: Hear-Like-Buy. People won’t buy music they don’t like, and they can’t like music they haven’t heard. So in that way, I like the idea of Spotify (though it is a proper rip-off for artists) and Bandcamp, in that they give people the chance to hear music in full before they decide to make a purchase. I don’t really like the idea of music being free, when I know how much goes into it, but given how de-valued it is in its own right, it’s hard be heard, especially on account of the volume of music that’s out there too.

    As a DJ, whenever I get music for free (where the artist has made their work freely available) I have a mantra which goes: If you get music for free, don’t enjoy it quietly. Tell somebody. When you listen to a few minutes/hour+ of music, I think if you don’t make/play it, you have very little idea of how many hours of work went into making it, much less the pouring of your heart and soul into it too.

    I do buy CDs, but generally for artists I’m particularly fond of. I tend to download a lot more than I used to on account of both storage space and expense. I tend to prioritise music I’m going to play in mixes, in performances and now on radio over other stuff. I do enjoy artwork and liner notes. I love being able to read lyrics and background to music as well as about the people who’ve been thanked in the process and made the music possible.

    As a DJ, a lot of my listening is about selection, but for the most part – I prefer to listen to an album over buying individual tracks. Months and years of work goes into creating and programming an album, and the best ones tell a story as a whole, which is an approach I take into DJing and when putting together sets – telling a new story from parts of other artists’ stories, so when doing that I will listen to individual songs at times.

  • 1) I don’t know about “should,” but I really appreciate being able to listen to a song/album in full before buying it.  This is extremely convenient for me as a worship leader trying to find new music and being aware of music that’s out there without blowing my budget on CDs and mp3s I’ll never listen to again.  

    2) No. It’s unnecessary.

    3) Albums, all the way.  And if your album isn’t more enjoyable when listening to it as such, it probably isn’t a good album to begin with!

  • Brent Vermillion

    – Do you feel like music should be given away free, via services like Spotify or illegal streaming?I feel that this is tantamount to stealing (illegal streaming) and that more should be done to stop. However, there are also benefits to those who choose to give their music away. Many times they achieve exposure or even fame that allows them to gain a following that will pay for their concerts. Spotify is OK but the royalties they pay the artist are pathetic and should be increased.- Do you ever buy hard copies of CDs anymore? If so, why?I do because the quality of the recordings on physical cd’s is better than the mp3’s. Further, it is nice to have a physical cd and the artwork in physical format.- Do you listen to music ‘as a whole album’ anymore, or do you usually just play individual songs?I do listen to whole albums when I really like the artist and individual songs when they in general are weak but may be one or two hit wonders.- If you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it with the buttons below! I’d be really grateful!This is a great post and raises some significant questions.

  • “Should” music be given away for free..? It always has to be on the artist’s terms; after all it is their product. There are many advantages to artists in doing it, but none of them justifies taking it from them without permission. I wasn’t quite sure what Billy Corgan was getting at some of the time there, but that may be because I was doing several other things at the time :P

  • My friends walked out of their wedding to Muse. haha

  • racheAl

    I’d be curious to know Corgan’s thoughts on the site, http://www.noisetrade.com.  Man, he is one smart guy.    Great interview, and definitely a lot to think about.  (I LOVED Smashing Pumpkins, too.) 

  • – Do you feel like music should be given away free, via services like Spotify or illegal streaming?
    I can see the benefit in streaming services; like a lot of the people who have commented already, I like to be able to listen to a band before I commit to buying their music, and some of my favourite artists and musicians I have discovered through YouTube/other streaming services. While I would then go and purchase the music of a band/artist I like, I appreciate not everyone’s going to do that, and I guess that’s the flaw in this brilliant plan! I would also agree with  people questioning the “should” of this question… I think there’s always going to be illegal sharing of music, but maybe more artists and musicians should take advantage of the huge YouTube audience?
    – Do you ever buy hard copies of CDs anymore? If so, why?
    Yes, because I love CDs! Although I download a lot of music now, I love having the actual disc and album artwork. I love reading all the song credits and discovering the names of the actual people who have played on the CD, and I love to read band/artist “thank yous”, since it tells me a lot about the people behind the music.
    – Do you listen to music ‘as a whole album’ anymore, or do you usually just play individual songs?
    When I get a new album, I listen to it as a whole album to hear all the different phases it goes through, and to see if I can hear themes throughout the album. I appreciate that maybe some (more mainstream?) bands are possibly more likely to have a few songs as singles, then “filler” songs on the rest of the album, but some albums I have, it’s been the “filler” songs that I’ve loved the most! I think there’s probably more pressure on musicians today to write a full, great album that flows, since it’s so easy to download individual songs. 

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  • Beth

    When it comes to music, in the past, I have been a savage consumer. I left out the scare marks. Basically this means I’ve voted with my wallet to buy the most number of disks or tracks available for a set price, I’ve searched bargain bins, sales and cut price offers to find the most competitive prices. Personally, I believe a punter needs a hook to invest in a three minute melody. They need to have heard it before, or to be invested in the experience the genre can offer before making the purchase. I like albums because they offer a listner a rounded biography of a sound. As if entering a home with many rooms.
    For sociability I don’t think the playlist can be beaten.Nowadays I like music which reminds me of happier times. I’ve become a lyrics hound. I’m more comfortable buying what I like and less likely to seek out obscure acts. I go elsewhere, far away from pop music, for my odd, incongruous choices. When I was a teenager, anything different would draw me. To the point of bad taste. When I became a Christian; or re-became a Christian; I was challenged in my music-buying model. Suddenly it was important to me that the process of buying and listening to music, from start to finish, had integrity. It may be no coincidence, and is a sore inconvenience, that since I have pursued meaningfulness in my auditory sensory world, my mac has been hacked to the point I fear it is irreparable. And is presently out of action. I won’t moan about the scrambled, wasted binary digits which could have filled my ears with happiness and my heart with joy if it were not for a malicious code which has infected my software; dragged my heart, like a stone, and cursed my ears to infernal silence- were it not for the Radio.If I were living my digital life again I would be prepared to pay a small fee for a service which introduced me to breaking acts and delivered them automatically to itunes via download, especially if the package could bundle in some protection from bugs. Most often I buy on CD over download because of the problem I have had. I think where trust is an issue, there is no incentive to invest wholesale in buying music as a hobby and to me it doesn’t matter where the insecurity enters the transaction process. If the record company is dodgy or the band has a bad message or the software the distributor uses is faulty, I’m scared off already. It’s worth pointing out the music industry has seen less of my insignificant purchasing power since I developed scruples. I’ve never been the boy in the basement. But someone needs to bring the Romance back.

  • Beth

    Sorry – silly windows removed all the formatting from my comment.

  • Ray

    An interesting topic, the way the music is at present is structured to the traditional model, with the Internet this has changed someone can record a song and can be a worldwide hit via YouTube without having a manager or recording contract. The problem is how do they earn a living from it. File sharing sites and illegal downloads mean that artists are robbed. Technically it may still be illegal to copy a CD onto your computer as it infringes traditional copyright laws.

    Technology has evolved faster than the music industry has adapted and it is interesting that vynl is making a return, when I was young the only way you could listen to music was either by the radio or you bought an album or 7 inch single. Part of the experience was the artwork and the cover. All we get now is a micro version and that is a loss sometimes a bought an album just for the artwork.

    At present I prefer downloads for the simple reason as I do not have the room as between my wife and myself we must have in excess of 300 CDs

  • Guest

    As far as I was aware I thought that plays on Spotify were classed in the same way as when a venue plays recorded music, so artists receive royalties per play through PRS. That way they do receive some money for the plays, it’s also a good way of promoting your music and potentially increasing your fan base as more people have access to the music, which would hopefully have a direct effect on the the sale of tickets to live performances etc which is where artists make most of their money! 

  • Hey Vicky, I disagree with a lot of my other musician/artist friends on this one. I LOVE Spotify (and google music or play or whatever it’s called now). I pay for the Premium Spotify version. I know artists aren’t getting a TON from those royalties, so if I find myself really listening to an artist repeatedly, I buy a digital copy and add them to my Google Play playlists. I did that with Mumford and Sons after listening to them on Spotify for a couple days. As a general rule, I don’t listen to album. I prefer “playlists.” My whole method of listening to music revolves around the “music as life soundtrack” model – which usually doesn’t involve listening to whole albums. I buy cd’s ONLY to support artists in person.

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