Are Musicians Benefiting from Music Tech?

Posted on February 23rd, 2012 by Kristin Thomson in What We're Learning. 12 Comments

On Monday, February 13, 2012, FMC’s Kristin Thomson participated in the tenth San Fran MusicTech Summit in San Fransisco, CA.  Drawing upon Money from Music survey findings and artist interviews, we presented some data about the impact of music/technologies on musicians’ careers and their earning capacity.

We started the presentation by describing the project’s methodology. The research involves three data collection methods: in person interviews with about 80 different musicians and composers, financial case studies based on verifiable bookkeeping data, and a widely distributed online survey.

We also underscored that this study is not about label market share, or consumer spending, or measuring an artists’ social graph. It’s about individual musicians’ earning capacity. It’s about what they end up putting in their pocket, and how it’s changing over time.

Then we did a quick overview of the survey respondent demographics.

Then we focused on three key findings related to musicians’ relationships with music/tech. Note that this is just a tiny sliver of the information that we’ve been collecting through this benchmarking effort. View the range of revenue streams that we are studying here.

1. Emerging technologies have had a significant impact on musicians’ careers.

This might sound like we’re stating the obvious, but it’s an important point when you think about the range of technologies that musicians and composers have embraced in just 10 years.

Whether it’s being able to compose, zip and deliver recorded tracks to a filmmaker in Los Angeles, or sell music using Bandcamp, or keep in touch with fans via Twitter, our interviewees and survey findings suggest that emerging technologies have had a significant impact on the way they organize their careers, and how they make money.

A jazz manager told us how he thought technology had leveled the playing field:

“It’s not a novel observation on my part, but technology has leveled the field of distribution to a great degree.”
– jazz manager

An indie rock sideman described how technology had given him the tools to be more self-sufficient:

“There’s enormous structural differences from the day-to-day blue-collar existence of the musician in terms of how you organize a tour.”
  – indie rock composer, performer, sideman

Our interviewees had many additional comments about the impact of technology on their careers, which we will include in future releases.

Technology use and awareness

On the survey, we tried to measure musicians’ awareness of and comfort using various technologies.  On this slide you can see that 50 to 70 percent of respondents were “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” using technologies for common musician-related activities.

There was the most consensus around using technology for “promotion” (69%), and for “connecting with fans” (68%).  Clearly, there are many ways that musicians can easily use technology to do this, whether it’s a Tumblr account, or Twitter, or Facebook.

But it’s also worth noting that 31 percent of survey respondents said they were not using technologies to distribute or sell their music.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but not when you think about the broad array of musicians and composers who participated in this survey.

There’s an army of musicians working in the US – from film and TV composers, to salaried orchestra players, to session musicians, to teachers – that have career structures that don’t involve them making a direct profit off of recorded music sales.  For example, a session violinist who was paid for her time in the recording studio would never see money from digital sales for the recorded work, nor would she be responsible for using technologies to make it available online.

This should in no way diminish their value as musicians, nor serve as a condemnation of any particular music/tech business model; we simply need to remember that the community of creators is large, diverse, and specialized and, for some musicians and composers, questions about how technologies have helped them connect with fans or sell music are simply “not applicable”.

Digital tools

We also asked survey takers about whether they used certain tools, services and technologies. We split it into two  buckets: (1) tools and software used to record music and (2) tools and services that help musicians promote, distribute or sell their music.

Here’s what survey respondents said about technologies they use for recording. Note that this question listed about ten options, and included an open ended option at the end, in which survey respondents added in more tools. Below are the top five responses:

Interviewees also talked about the value of these studio technologies. They have made them more efficient, and able to produce top quality work in their own studios. A New Jersey based singer/songwriter told us:

“Digital recording. ProTools, Cakewalk, Sonic. The fact that I can go into the studio and make a song that is radio-ready, totally produced, for two hours of studio time…”
  – Kevin John Allen

For the question regarding technologies that help with marketing and sales, the survey listed about 30 different tools and services, plus the option of an open ended response. Here are the top ten results. For our survey respondents, Facebook, artists’ websites and YouTube are the most commonly used tools.

The musicians we interviewed mentioned the same technologies frequently: Facebook, websites and YouTube in particular.  For this musician, Facebook connections have led to more collaboration, and more offers for her as a freelance player:

“I have to say, Facebook has been phenomenal in terms of live concert generation. I’ve received a lot of invitations to collaborate with other people through my contacts on Facebook…”
  –freelance performer/recording artist

Emerging tech’s impact on their careers

We also asked survey respondents to rank the impact that emerging technologies have had on their careers as musicians.

We had them rank things on a 5 point Likert scale, from strongly agree to strongly disagree. There were ten options on the list. For readability, we have combined “strongly agree” + “agree”, and “strongly disagree” + “disagree” on the chart below, and have listed the five for which there was the greatest agreement.

Some of these are really empowering answers.  66 percent of survey respondents agreed that technology allows them to communicate directly with fans, while 54 percent said it helps them collaborate with others, often remotely. And 56 percent said it helps them self-manage their careers.

But, not all responses were positive. 37 percent said their “day-to-day job was more about promotion than creation”; we have heard similar complaints from interviewees and other musicians who feel like they are regularly juggling a dozen different duties and responsibilities.

And, 64 percent also agreed that “it’s more competitive than ever”. This is something we heard in the interviews as well. Technology has removed hurdles and bottlenecks and leveled the playing field, but it has also allowed a lot more musicians access to the marketplace. Naturally, that increases the noise, and the level of competition.

We heard this clearly from film and TV composers, who have benefited greatly from the ever-dropping price for technology, but who also face constant pressure from younger composers who will do similar work for a lower rate:

“I go, ‘You’ve been paying me quadruple that to do this much music, how can you…?’ ‘Well that’s what we’ve got, do you want to do it?’ ‘No.’ That 20-year-old kid will say, ‘Of course.’ And he has the same ability now because he can do it all in his laptop with a little audio interface in his bedroom and a couple of mics and he only spent $1000…”
  – film and TV composer

A final note on the chart above: about a fifth of respondents (20%) said that the questions about communicating with fans, or collaborating with others, or promotion were simply “not applicable”. This harkens back to a point made previously, and serves as a strong reminder that there are many creators in the US for whom using technology to “sell music” or “communicate directly with fans” does not apply to their career as a musician, performer or composer.

The survey questions and interview responses strongly suggest that emerging music/technology has had a measurable impact on their careers as musicians and composers.  Revenue generation aside, technology has made them more self-sufficient, given them the ability to connect directly with fans and peers, and leveled the playing field in general.

12 Responses to “Are Musicians Benefiting from Music Tech?”

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