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.