Outside of perhaps the 90’s, the music business has never made that much money off of album sales.
Albums were the way to keep the buzz going and get some extra cash on the top with re-releases, but it was never the main point of revenue for the lion’s share of the industry’s history.
Touring and merchandising were the revenue points worth money to anyone, and musicians, historically speaking and by volume, usually didn’t fare well.
The top tier did, but don’t for a minute think that was because they just signed a contract, made a big hit and collected tons of money. Most had to fight for every nickel in the business.
Many musicians aren’t aware that folks like Tom Petty had to slug out huge legal battles to win their control and get their authority to earn money on their music. That was one of the reasons that independent studios started popping up in the late 80’s and early 90’s - because of, in part, Tom Petty’s battle and everyone taking note and deciding that they didn’t want to be screwed like that either - which they all were being screwed like that.
For most of music history, the musicians have been performing monkey’s. If you’re not out there performing, then you don’t get money.
If you refused to tour, then you likely made next to nothing.
Harry Nilsson is a famous tragic case of a reclusive musician who really only made money due to writing songs for other people and getting in with the industry social circle and being known in that community as a great song writer. Even still, through the rough and tumble world of the industry, by the time he died his estate had to file bankruptcy. This in spite of multiple top hit songs pressed and sold.
The thing is, contracts - even today - usually state things about compensation, or shared burden.
So the musician gets paid a bunch of money up front for signing, and everyone goes nuts buying things.
And then they hit the road on tour, get back and find out they’re nearly broke because their contract stipulates that they share a portion of the touring costs.
Which, if they spent a bunch of their money means they’re likely immediately in debt, or if they didn’t spend any, far less wealthy or nearly out of money by the end of everything.
Then the studio offers them another contract, which they really don’t have a choice but to take because they’re out of money, and rinse/repeat.
Jared Leto actually made an entire documentary ranting about this vicious cycle and his personal experience with it through 30 Seconds to Mars.
In the end, he didn’t win. He just renegotiated his contract to slightly better terms that absolved his debt to the studio to some extent and kept on going.
CDs were the period of time where things changed a bit and album sales became a staple of monetary gain.
You still had to rely on touring for money but for very different reasons…tours became marketing, and CD’s became huge, making up somewhere around 95% of the industry’s revenue.
It was a bubble. Bubbles pop.
It wasn’t a real or solid revenue stream; it was temporal and based on a unique set of situations and technological conditions of a specific time. It was also incredibly fragile.
As soon as there was any other option, that model began to crumble.
Now we’re back to pre-CD models of touring like a vicious fiend (especially DJ’s!) to generate a revenue stream, while copies of music are back to being promotional material, or additional income rather than the main source of income. It’s approximately around 80/20 with touring being that 80, typically.
And that’s for huge international musicians. Anyone below that, pfff. You’re not banking anything. You’re making it, or scraping by and probably doing a lot of additional musical jobs on the side to fill in the gaps.
Below that layer, you’re basically guaranteed to nearly be in debt every tour even if you self-manage and operate - just by expenses alone.
There’s no musician being hurt by the egalitarian access to distribution of music.
The studios are being hurt, but it’s more like being reset back to the 60’s when you had a bit of physical copies to rely on, which no one cares about, and streaming (radio) play to generate a buzz and attention that coupled with a market campaign, and you used to that to fuel the return on investment of tours which generated a big batch of money, but through all of this, the ultimate bread winner has always been and will always be merchandise.
Michael Jackson’s huge pocket of money didn’t come from everyone buying albums, or even from him touring everywhere. Hell, he didn’t even tour that much after a while.
It came from his massive collection of smart investment strategies like buying the Beatles license.
He then took that and rolled that into a deal with Sony by allowing them half shares in joining up to make a new company (Sony/ATV), which then turned around and started gobbling up absolutely every possible asset they could get their hands on and skyrockets in the millions these days of songs they own the licencing and royalties on.
How big is it? Its appraised net value in trade is north of 1 billion dollars as an asset.
Michael Jackson was crazy, but monetarily he was pretty damn smart.
Instead of trying to make money off of his music, he looked at the idea of making money off of cultural staples in general and the marketing of merchandise around those assets for revenue.
He also rolled his money in real estate. Buying things like that ridiculous ranch weren’t just a pop psycho going all Mozart eccentric (let’s be clear…he definitely was doing that as well)…it was also a huge monetary investment which reaped him millions in net worth (keep that credit value climbing!).
Even with his insane spending habits, he still was a half a billionaire by his death (granted, he could have been a multi-billionaire without his insane spending).
Compare that against just being in the music industry as a professional musician and relying on just your music for making money.
Yeah, you’ll be broke.
Unless you hustle songwriting, and do that really fast (I’m looking at you Prince) so that you seed the industry’s artists with as much of your songwriting royalties and licensees as possible, you’re just not likely to get much money. Just playing music.
You have to pitch and pimp out your brand (looking at you Metallica - mother of all whores of Babylon…also known as doing business right).
Which means you have to make a HUGE buzz and get tons of attention.
So…basically, become a youtuber.
- In everyone’s face as often as possible.
- Constantly talking about yourself and what you’re doing.
- Constantly selling your branded merchandise, while simultaneously thanking everyone for their “support” and giving the virtual shoulder grab hand-shake assuring everyone they’re valuable and special to you.
- And staying relevant by pushing more “fake” product (e.g. your music) out the door which everyone thinks they’re there to “buy” even though almost none of them will actually buy your music.
So, no…I don’t think it’s a problem.
The only “problem” is for the listener. It can be a challenge to find things and it requires more effort on your part than it did when you could surf an entire genre of music through a few milk crates. Darn.
If anything, I think it makes it easier for musicians, actually.
If you want to make a couple of bucks off of your hobby on the side, sheesh. It’s never been easier to do that.
You used to have next to zero chance of making money off of your own music if you hadn’t made it.
Now you can monetize it right out yourself through any given digital distributor of your choosing, and not only that, you can also self license out your music for stock use (a horribly overlooked market by the way). Good luck doing THAT in the 90’s!
My 2 ¥.