The music industry has changed drastically over the past several years. Gone are the days of being discovered by an A&R executive and getting signed to a major recording deal. Bands and musicians today are getting signed to indie labels or hoping for their big break on a show like The Voice
or America’s Got Talent
. And instead of having their new albums and videos funded by record label bank accounts, musicians are relying on crowdfunding and merchandise sales.
Unfortunately, an article recently published in The Atlantic
doesn’t offer much encouragement. In the article, Derek Thompson reports that 77 percent of revenue earned from recorded music is distributed among the top 1 percent of artists. In other words, the Beyonces and the Taylor Swifts are getting the biggest slices of the pie while the remaining 99 percent of bands and musicians
are left with crumbs.
Having access to the huge music libraries held by services like Spotify and Pandora gives music fans a lot more control in what’s hot and what’s not, but this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Thompson writes “If you give people too much say, they will ask for the same familiar sounds on an endless loop, entrenching music that is repetitive, derivative, and relentlessly played out.”
He uses songs such as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” the most played song of 2013, as an example. Compared to the most played song of 2003, “When I’m Gone” by Three Doors Down, Thicke’s hit single received 70 percent more air time.
The problem is not our pop stars. Our brains are wired to prefer melodies we already know. (David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that at least 90 percent of the time we spend listening to music, we seek out songs we’ve heard before.) That’s because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something—whether a song, a painting, or an idea—the more we tend to like it.
However, there is hope. Music trends change and artists are able to reach a much wider audience than they could a decade ago. And although many musicians do have dreams of making it big someday, not all of them are willing to sacrifice their art in order to make cookie cutter pop songs just to get there.
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