The music industry is facing an interesting puzzle these days How do
you run a business where customers do not want to pay and they do not
want advertising? From today’s Tennessean:
Efforts to sell music by subscription have mainly failed.
Yahoo recently gave up on its Music Unlimited subscription service
and sent its customers to Rhapsody, another struggling music provider.
But traditional radio’s offer of free music surrounded by audio
advertising also is being rejected by a generation that resents
“They want to be the program director, and they insist that the
program be free,” says Jerry Del Colliano, a professor of music
industry at the University of Southern California and a former
executive at Top 40 WIBG in Philadelphia.
Warner Music, fully aware that the days of charging for recorded music are coming to an end, is now pushing for a music tax.
This isn’t the first time someone has called for a music tax. Peter
Jenner argued for it in Europe in 2006. Trent Reznor said the same
thing last year (as did the Songwriters Association of Canada)….
But Warner Music is doing more than just talking about a music tax.
They’ve hired industry veteran Jim Griffin to create a new entity that
would create a pool of money from user fees to be distributed to
artists and copyright holders.
We may be witnessing the end of the structure of the music industry
as we know it. The mass produced, mass marketed music is becoming a
relic of the past. And what does the future hold?
The predictions from the Institutue for the Future about the future of small business might offer a glimpse into the future of music:
Today, there are 26 million small businesses in the U.S.
that generate roughly $5 trillion in annual sales. If they were a
country that would make them the 2nd largest economy in the world!
Those numbers will continue to grow over the next decade as small
businesses re-emerge as artisans with even more economic force.
Artisans, historically defined as skilled craftsmen who
fashioned goods by hand, will re-emerge as an influential force in the
coming decade. These next-gen artisans will craft their goods and shape
the economy — through upswings and downturns — with an effect
reaching far beyond their neighborhoods, or even their nations. They’ll
work differently than their medieval counterparts, combining brain with
brawn as advances in technology and the reaches of globalization give
them greater opportunities to succeed.
What would a musical artisan look like? Probably a lot like James Lee Stanley.
My wife and I first heard James Lee Stanley at a “coffee house” in
the 1970s when we were attending the University of Wisconsin — Stevens
Point (WAY up north!!). James Lee was one of many songwriters who made
the circuit performing on college campuses at coffee house events. (As
a note of Entrepreneurial Mind trivia, I played in a couple of coffee
house sessions myself). The songwriters/musicians got a small payment
from the school and were allowed to sell their record albums (for the
younger generation — that is what we used to call “vinyl”).
Fast forward to 2008. One of my winter projects was to convert many
of our old vinyl albums into digital. When I got to our collection of
records from our coffee house days, I decided to “Google” the
songwriters to see what happened to them. Many had faded into obscurity
before the Internet was able to immortalize them in digital splendor.
James Lee Stanley on the other hand was alive and well and still
making the circuit. He had survived as an artisan in the music
industry. He’s got a website. And he has a blog offering
“tips, hints, clues and info for the artist in us all.” His blog
chronicles the life of a musical artisan offering his thoughts on
touring, performing, writing, studio work, contracts, stringing
guitars, and so forth. He still writes music, still records and still
Why does he continue to perform for well over thirty years? Not for possible fame and not for financial wealth.
What I know is that following your bliss is more rewarding
than making a bunch of money at something you absolutely hate doing. I
don’t feel that I’ve wasted my life or that I could have been more
successful at something else. I love what I do and I love trying to get
better at it and I love it that at my stage of life I still have so
much passion for what I do and I love how vibrant and alive it keeps me.
So what is the future of the music industry? I hope it is not an
industry propped up by government intervention as Warner Music would
Instead, I hope that it is an industry sustained by talented artists
– and successful artisans — who help us understand love, heart ache,
happiness, sadness, joy, despair. I hope it is full of people like
James Lee Stanley, whose view of success in his career is one we all
can learn something from, be we musicians or be we entrepreneurs.