It has been an unforgiving year, 2020. Cassettes died ages ago and CDs have long given in to consumption via digital downloads and online streaming. Hence, most film and non-film industry musicians have been depending on live performances for making money. The pandemic hasn’t helped.
Closure of performance spaces across the globe shut the revenue streams down for most of the live musicians. As in other industries, there was no plan B for this industry as well. So, like everyone else, recording artistes and musicians took to social media actively — not just to promote their music, but also to perform for their audiences remotely. Studio artistes took a while to figure out a way to record and produce music at home but a lot of them began successfully producing high-quality content without stepping into a professional production environment.
Relatively better off were artistes signed by major record labels. They were able to release music and music videos and promote them well on all possible platforms. However, it was a difficult year for independent artistes and independent record labels that suffered due to no live bookings and severely low payouts from various music and video streaming platforms. Disturbing news kept trickling in too — several musicians considered changing careers to support themselves and their families. If at all the pandemic has helped in any way, it has been in highlighting the foundational problems with the industry and the way artistes are exposed to audiences and monetised.
Interestingly, music consumption increased drastically this year — a news report suggests that the subscribers of music streaming services grew by around 40 per cent. But unless it leads to enough revenue to support artistes financially, they cannot become part of the winning marquee. Most music streaming platforms are designed to be dependent on revenue from advertising, which is, in turn, dependent on a lot of other factors than direct support from listeners.
We haven’t reached this abyss overnight. Successive governments have seen music, or arts in general, as less important areas. Corporates, on the other hand, have been using the arts to create large advertising platforms. This is similar to how the live music business is largely dependent on the food and liquor business, where food and liquor are the products being sold using music as a tool, instead of music.
This particular time, unfortunately, isn’t very favourable for people who see music as a form of expression. All new platforms favour the supply-and-demand style of music manufacturing and artistes are forced to reposition according to the popular music consumption platforms and their formats, instead of being allowed to compose what they feel like. In an excessively hype-driven environment, musicians are nobody’s concern. In an environment designed to discourage honest artistes and entertain shiny music with low shelf life, who will rethink the future of music?
— The writer is a music director