The Friday Morning Listen: Emmylou Harris – Hard Bargain (2011)

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This week, Boston’s Berklee College of Music hosted the Rethink Music Convention. The official conference subtitle was “Creativity, Commerce, and Policy in the 21st Century.” An NPR segment on the conference featured a terrific quote from OK Go’s Damian Kulash on the proliferation of these types of meetings: “Since nobody knows how to make money in music anymore, the only way to make money is to talk about how you’re going to make money.”

Yeah, it’s kind of funny … except that it’s not. It’s sad. Sure, part of me has no sympathy for the major labels and other hangers-on (ClearChannel, LiveNation, both subsidiaries of the Ramjak Corporation) — these are the companies who have been hurt the most. When you read something about “the collapse of the music industry,” that’s who they’re talking about. At the Rethink conference, there was plenty of chatter about new models of business as well as how parts of the old label structure might fit into the future of music. The thing is, I’m pretty sure that nobody knows what’s in store for the future, except for the fact that music is not going to die. As for the quality and quantity of great new music, if you think that there’s nothing good out there these days then a) you’re not paying attention b) you’ve given up or … uhm … I think that’ll do it.

The contraction in the music industry is both commercial and cultural. There aren’t as many “big” bands as there used to be. And as ubiquitous as music is (in film, video games, ringtones, and other places), it feels like it’s nowhere near the center of our culture. Maybe it’s the split attention spans, maybe it’s the lack of great new music (people do perceive this — I obviously disagree), but things certainly have changed. Is it a temporary phenomenon? That’s hard to say. Technology played a large role in the collapse transformation of the music industry, so who’s to say that it won’t be right there in the middle of a future revival?

And that’s one issue right there: How do people discover these new artists? Technology is already playing a part, with Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, and many other sites acting as a conduit. It does take a little digging but if there’s a certain kind of music you’re partial to, there’s somebody out there makin’ it.

Back to the main point: how will musicans make money? Touring? Crowdfunding? Direct digital sales? I don’t know. I guess I’ll just keep buying as much independent music as I can while waiting for the future to arrive.

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