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November 1, 2010

These things will change, can you feel it now?

In the 1996 Australian Census, 4910 Australians listed "instrumental musician" or "singer" as the main job they were doing in the week before census night and 217 nominated "composer". By 2006 these figures were reduced to 29 musicians and 11 composers.

However, there were 541 businesses "comprising record companies, distributors, manufacturers of recorded music, music publishers and sound recording studios active in the field of music" in 1996 and by 2006 there were 855 sound recording studios and 678 recorded media manufacturing & publishing businesses. Further, in 2006 more than half of these (58%) were non-employing, or solo owner-operated, businesses.

This represents a major industry restructure and is repeated all over the Western world. It is the result of the increased affordability of production and distribution technologies discussed in Part 1, combined with a trend for schools and colleges to provide training in how to use the new technologies and a trend for advertisers to sync to chart hits rather than musicians who write and record jingles. It is a great opportunity for musicians to enter the market and build a small music business.

There are less full-time professional musicians but more semi-professional and part-time musicians and, consequently, more services helping those musicians to do their thing. This is exactly the redistribution that Chris Anderson's Long Tail theory predicts and it has been occurring since DJs playing records were found to be more cost-effective than live musicians for gathering audiences for broadcast or at dance halls.

Recently, the decline in full-time employment of musicians has caught the attention of the blogosphere, with Tommy Silverman complaining about "hobbyists" who "clutter the music environment with crap" and destroy the fortunes of full-time musicians. What he's really saying is that it's much more difficult for the major companies' handful of big acts to dominate they way they used to - even with their massive marketing budgets - while more modest acts like Corey Smith have risen to comparative prominence by playing well-written songs live and forming meaningful relationships with their fans.


The music industry is reverting to the cottage industry it was before technology created a temporary scarcity of access to musical experiences. The new industry will be typified by a huge number of amateur and semi-professional musicians, a smaller "musical middle class" of almost-professional and professional musicians making a living from some combination of several music-related revenue streams, and a very few people who can make a decent living as full-time music stars.

This post is one section of Part 3 of Dr Huge's "How the record industry got it so wrong". The latest version of the complete ebook can be downloaded here and a hard copy can be ordered here.
Posted by DrHuge at November 1, 2010 9:49 AM

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