Music is doomed, right? Wrong. Record sales may have been slowly declining throughout the twenty-first century but we now have an entirely different music industry. With declining record sales, there will always be a discussion about bands living on the breadline. This is not something that has come about recently.
Most musicians have never had any money; we are just alarmed at the number of people who are willing to steal the music they treasure, that is all. Out of the ashes of declining record sales, however, has been born a whole new musical landscape. Live music is on the increase, even if (as Daniel discusses below) certain evils may come out of this. The live music boom has also led to the festival boom, which is a form of both exposure and financial income – Tame Impala funded their entire last album on festivals alone. As well as this there are more creative ways of making money, as discussed opposite – and at the end of the day everyone loves a t-shirt, if nothing else. Put simply: the music industry is fine, it’s just evolving.
The Price of Being a Fan
With the Rolling Stones announcing their 50th anniversary tour with tickets starting at £109, it has to be asked whether priorities are changing in the music industry and if more experienced artists are now just for the elite.
The Rolling Stones had claimed that this tour was for the fans – can that really be true when tickets are being sold online for up to £11,000? The band itself are set to make an extortionate £15 million from the tour. They are celebrating their 50th anniversary and have one of the most lucrative music careers to date, so the desire for this extra money is by no means a necessity and is most probably just personal greed.
Many artists would now argue that with the increase in illegal music downloads it is a necessity for the band to go on tour as a way to make money. Ed Sheeran argues that because he only sold 1.2 million copies of his album + legally – compared to the 8 million who downloaded it illegally – he argues that charging over twice the price of the album for tickets is justified. Yet according to BBC Newsbeat, the number of illegal downloads has decreased significantly over the last 5 years. There was once a time when tours were just a way of promoting albums and the chances of making money from them was slim, but now bands have the ability to make significant profits out of both albums and tours. It is the fans who finance these extras and yet, after buying the records, they can’t afford to see them live.
As well as this, numerous bands reform after long periods away and the only opportunity to see them is at festivals. Although they themselves are not explicitly asking for high priced tickets, for those wanting to see them £100 will be an expected minimum price. Festivals themselves have rocketed in price in recent years, from the average weekend ticket in 2000 being just £80 to the more substantial £200 that are more common today.
The Libertines were considered to have inspired a generation and their final performance to date was at Reading and Leeds. Though not to sound hypocritical I bought a ticket for the full weekend, not just to see the reunion but also to see Blink 182. Was it an expensive venture just to predominantly see these two bands? Yes, undeniably. But do I regret it? Not at all.
However, I don’t believe that loving the gig justifies the high prices that stop many people from seeing the bands they love perform live. This is the downbeat conclusion about the ever-increasing cost of the music industry: regardless of price, the venues will still sell out and the artists will still perform. It would, however, be nice for these more well-known bands from time to time to make their gigs accessible to all their fans, rather than just those who can afford them.
In a time of rising digital sales (a third of all albums are now sold digitally), how can musicians utilise this new online market?
The music streaming service Spotify is one of the most notable examples. It has been claimed that Spotify pays artists 0.0025 pence per song listened to and 0.026 pence per album. Spotify thus acts as more of a promotional tool. The ‘try before you buy policy’ can potentially generate a larger fan base and encourage sales of gig tickets and records.
The old-school concept of giving away music has similar consequences. Sales are boosted due to the level of potential exposure that can be generated. YouTube can be thanked for its role in establishing the careers of unsigned artists, such as Justin Bieber, who has sold 15 million albums as of May 2012. Bands can upload videos for free and broadcast their music to a potential audience of 800 million individual users per month. An additional bonus is that corporate enterprises pay artists to advertise on their music videos.
Similarly, the self-release of records is becoming increasingly popular on websites such as Bandcamp because this minimizes the revenue shared with record companies. Selling records on Bandcamp means that the musicians receive 78% of the record sale, as opposed to the 70% of royalties received through purchases on iTunes.
Active use of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, can help bands achieve exposure by effectively promoting tours and records, which is likely to retain the interest of the musicians’ followers. Former Dresden Dolls member Amanda Palmer claimed to have made $19,000 in 10 hours on Twitter through a live video auction of her possessions and a guest-only gig.
Merchandise, but not as you know it
The strange world of music memorabilia is filled with a plethora of wonderful and eccentric items. Bands have released a huge variety of merchandise for their most passionate fans, everything from badges costing less than a pound to unique goods worth over a million pounds. It would seem that the creative juices that flow into a musician’s lyrics can be transferred into the merchandise they create for their followers.
Anyone attending a gig or who simply loves a certain group’s music appreciates something symbolising an attachment to their favourite band. Few things express these sentiments better than the various sexual products on offer to more adventurous fans – several groups have sold self-branded condoms. If this doesn’t provide the closeness desired, German industrial metal act, Rammstein sell a deluxe box set of their album Liebe Ist Für Alle Da. The kinky kit comes complete with handcuffs, lube and six dildos, each measured and designed supposedly to the specifications of the respective band members’ genitalia.
The most valuable memorabilia are unique pieces, many of which can be unexpectedly lucrative. A Britney Spears pregnancy test was sold to gambling website The Golden Palace for £2,500 after being found in her hotel bathroom. Often pieces belonging to a deceased artist can prove to be the most valuable. John Lennon’s psychedelic 1965 Rolls-Royce Phantom V sold for a record £1,768,462 at a 1985 Sotheby’s Auction.
My own collection of memorabilia includes several setlists and signed albums. These individual and personal mementos represent moments in time, tell stories and embody my love for music. Whether they are a one of a kind pieces or factory-produced, memorabilia is an interesting and creative way of letting music aficionados show true adoration for their idols.
Liam Coleman, Daniel Jones, Grace Marsh and Joe Izzard