The Music Commodity

It’s hard for me, a consummate music junkie, to associate the words, ‘music’ and ‘commodity’. I’ve always thought of music as something “more”, but economic reality is hard to avoid. Just for starters, we’re awash in music; everywhere you look and listen, it’s being flogged commercially, free through file sharing, and otherwise.

Since the recording industry lost effective control of the distribution channels and recording technology itself became affordable enough for virtually anyone  – a basic laptop, a $100 interface and some software (usually bundled free with the equipment) – literally everyone can produce (and market) their ‘product’.  The Internet is the music store of the modern age.

The opening up of the ‘pipes’ to the market has encouraged many an aspirant to make themselves heard. And they’re doing so with a vengeance. I know of 13 to 15 year-olds who are having CD release ‘events’. Relative children (i.e. Taylor Swift) are even making huge inroads in the conventional record business.

Despite all the new freedom, not all is well in the music game. A recent conversation with a friend, a lifelong, literally world class musician, brought a stark reality to light: As the market floods with more musicians, many with incredible schooling, talent and ability, fewer and fewer are finding a way of making a living at their craft (think Phd-equipped cab drivers). He told me of a well known pianist, a household name in Canada for many years, who’s seen his performance fees drop by as much as 90% over the last decade.

It’s that gnarly old law of supply and demand rearing its head; abundant supply drives down the price (except, of course, for concert tickets for big name touring acts – so far). As with many other things (think CEO salaries, for one) the top of the food chain for some activities is relatively well-insulated against pricing pressures.

Hard to say what this all means and how it’ll wash out (remember the buzz about ‘high tech’ occupations?), but one thing’s for sure: Your musical dreams will be harder and harder to make real.

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