Is The Music Industry Dying?

As Richard Branson and Elon Musk discuss which records they’re taking on their spaceships you might be wondering if there’s any gigs up on Mars? Planet Earth has been through it’s share of tough realities but the hits taken by our beloved industry may feel comparative to being stripped of the oxygen we never thought we’d have to live without.

What some call decimation is actually the starting point for creation, and the unavoidable reality is that we had some really good times, but our foundations could have used some reinforcement. When it rains we still fill our festival fields, when a flight is delayed we postpone the show, and when a pandemic hits with an unknown end date we go back to the drawing board and figure out how to navigate a new music landscape. The evolution of our industry will go down in the history books, and it’ll be marked with a pivotal point of change driven by our love of live music. You can’t start a fire without a spark!

Stay with us as we address the elephant in the studio because inevitably the show must go on… virtually for a little but then definitely live.

The Ford V8 engine of live music – the impossible/i’m possible

When Henry Ford had the idea of creating the first V8 engine, his engineers informed him that he was straight trippin to which he responded with “do it anyway.” After a year and a half of discouraged reporting “it’s impossible” and Ford hitting back with “keep going anyway,” the impossible was indeed made possible in an almost overnight stroke of genius, which was a year and a half in the making. Industry forever changed.

I know we aren’t all millionaires but we have an industry of professionals alongside an economy which depends on our live music sector rooting for us, and even though we haven’t figured out the perfect method yet, the answer could present itself any day now. As we progress past the vaccine discovery phase into the vaccinate everyone initiative, creative endeavours will take precedence in the last part of the year to put systems into place for restoring our industry. Even though it can be difficult to percolate on new ideas for opportunity, especially with an ever-evolving virus on the loose, we need to be reading up and planning our grand comeback, so we can recoup as fast as possible.

It may not seem like it, but we actually made some gains this year

Our industry faced a 75% decrease in 2020 as our scene lost its crucial live music component and we’re all still suffering from phantom whiplash every time the news reports another lockdown followed by a list of show cancellations. And yet, despite our live music sector, ARIA’s March figures showed that music recording sales grew by 7.3% in 2020 with an obvious increase in streaming services and a vinyl comeback of 32%, which will officially surpass CD sales by year’s end.

As a whole, streaming figures are 50% higher than reported pre-COVID numbers, and PwC global accountancy firm’s Industry outlook from 2020 to 2024 projects an 84% growth to $19 billion as concerts come back to complement all of that music we’ve invested in. The path from here to normal could happen in less than a year once we get the go-ahead. The overall switch to consumption costs gives us strong vibes that Australians relied on music to get them through a really tough period in their lives. The connections they’ve made with up-and-coming musicians who’ve managed to breakthrough in an essentially blacked out industry is proof that loyal fans will be at the doors to greet them when the time comes. We just need to hang in there.

The first step to growth is admitting that we had a problem

While it could be argued that the industry’s growth kept our venues consistently filled and provided thousands of job titles and millions of jobs, our ‘fixed growth’ mindset may have allowed us to board a ship while feeling comfortable enough to leave our life jackets at home. Due to uninterrupted soaring growth in the live music sector, our tried and true methods didnt really warrant the ‘how can we do things differently?’ discussion as we enjoyed inevitable fixed projections for ticket sales from $22 billion set to increase in natural demand to $38 billion by year 2031. But with one fell swoop, the COVID wave wiped us out and left us scrambling for the life rafts that just couldn’t cater to all of us.

Our Industry also wasn’t growing fast enough to provide opportunities for innovative career progression as our flooded live music sector held down the forte to provide instant job opportunities for a business model that worked as effectively for festivals like Woodstock as they did in today’s current ‘If the music is there, the people will come’ market. Quantity of people over the quality of the industry event left a lot of musicians feeling burnt out, unseen and underpaid as well as our venues being understaffed and overcrowded.

The music industry was booming, but what about the midtier artists?

Gig culture and a rigerous tour schedule is enough to satisfy the itch for doing what you love but there’s more out there, work better not harder as they say. Let’s be real, shows weren’t the defining factor in an artist’s success story anyway as the gap between successful international artists and local touring acts left our musicians feeling like shoe-ins and warmups for the main event, even on their own turf. When you have to rely on foottraffic from the right event to skyrocket your career, you’re essentially leaving your chance of success in the hands of wandering fans stumbling across your gig at a festival show until you accumulate enough fans to gradually sell out your own events.

The streaming income revolution only used to come in handy when you reach the top of the commercial charts but the new viral artist discovery method has given hope to talented artists even when the odds seemed stacked against them. Hate it or love it but the new reality is that TikTok stars are born every day, and in a happy twist we get to witness small miracles during our new daily feel good scrolls. It’s not uncommon to stumble upon good news like Olivia Rodrigo setting the record for 15 million streams of a song on it’s first day or newly signed artists like that kid who quit his job at Trader Joes because he just scored a music deal from a viral hit.

Sometimes things need to break down, so they can get better including the redesign of

a fuller music package

Just like a Kylie Cosmetics rebrand, sometimes you need to wipe the slate/individually delete 8000 pics on Instagram clean so you can build something better. Give us more venue sponsorship and multi-industry collaborations! Tech companies and musicians were brought together in a mad cross of the minds to bring us the live music experience in our homes while we couldn’t get to it in person. Sure, endorsements and sponsorships are generally reserved for large festival events but venues have the capacity to have rotating rosters on the weekly, therefore bringing in more customers in a year and touring more artists than a festival could without the added cost.

As VR was forced to establish itself in a hurry, fans adapted to the experience and immersed themselves in online gig culture. They dished out the dollars for Twitch livestreams which were once reserved for gamers, and bunkered down to admire beautifully engineered and interactive set designs for Vevo concerts of their favourite artists.

Aspects like stage design and venue location, increase in artist acquisition by labels, as well as the reinvestment into merchandise and vinyl already gives us a snapshot into a more wholesome package deal alongside many evolving job opportunities within our venues, and for our artists.

Get your ideas ready, and If plan A isn’t working out then go to plan B

Let’s break this down, you write lyrics, play instruments and even handle your own productions but you can only make music by playing live? I’m not saying give up the best part about playing music, I’m just saying that you could make millions from producing music for the video games you’ve been playing while you’ve been waiting for live music to come back. Or writing vocals and lyrics, teaching online music lessons (hello Fender Play), or selling your music to large companies for ad campaigns and whatever else companies use music for. As we noted earlier, we’re emerging from survival mode and beginning our ascent to Operation Thrive, and we all know that the most innovative will be the first to gain the support to start growing those ideas. Get your music ready, update your venue business plan, work on your sound engineering and set integration skills because we out here!

Understand that Government funding is there to encourage us while we figure out how to get better

Efforts from the Australian government with over $135 million investment into restarting our live music industry has been allocated with the intentions of keeping our venues open long enough to return, and to set up new opportunities. With $125 million from those efforts allocated to the RISE Program, support is being offered to tour managers, performing artists and festivals shut down in 2020 so that large scale events have access to those who are qualified to elevate an event, which is a great show of quality execution moving forward.

Support Act is the largest Australian charity exclusively providing crisis support for performers and crew through one off cash grants in the hopes of alleviating stresses from limited JobKeeper payments. With their CrewKeeper and MusicKeeper initiatives and focussed mental health resources, they’ve recieved support in the form of $10million from the Australian Government as well as APRA AMCOS, Spotify, Netflix as well as many musicians.

In more immediate efforts, check out the Live Music Office website for current government funding rollouts across the Commonwealth as we hit the currently extended lockdown periods to see how performers, venues and crew can gain access to more support.

Lastly, we’re all trying to find sustainable ways to get back to it

ARIA and PPCA Chief Executive Officer Annabelle Herd put it quite eloquently last month by stating that “even though the funding is a great start to support, we need to find sustainable ways to open, rebuild and regrow,” in response to the newest support package from the government. In their recent pleas for policy change, it was noted that with a 4% capacity and no artists having completed a full leg of their national tours, more permanent solutions needed to be put in place for us to gain traction.

Consider this the thinktank before the explosion of a whole new live music Earth. Then we’ll see if Elon Musk and Richard Branson still want to live on Mars just as it’s getting good down here.

Watch this space. (See what I did there.)

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