Is the Music Business Ready for a Revolution?

Musician Paul J Clark interviews with Jacqueline Jax about the changes in the music business and how indie artists are managing those hurdles.

As an indie artist, what do you think is going to happen in the next 10 years in music?

Three significant things are happening in music today. The first and perhaps most significant is that music has become a commodity. Consumers expect it to be low cost or free. The second is that the barriers to entering the music market have significantly declined. The costs of production and distribution have decreased dramatically. It used to be that an artist needed either a label or some other major financial backing to even make music. With the internet and digital recording technologies, that’s all changed. Anyone can make music and put it online. The market is free to select the best content. The third thing that has changed in the music industry is the full adoption of streaming services as the primary means of music consumption. These three factors have dramatically increased the supply of music to the market and at the same time provided innumerable channels for consumers to get it.

It used to be that you had to hear your favorite song on the radio or buy the recording. Everything is different now. All of these critical factors have put pressure on the major labels. The commercial music business is largely still operating off the old business model. This is reflected in the low-risk content being produced.

I will make a bold prediction. I will give you a headline. Here it is. The old business model is dead. When is the last time a musician or group defined an era? What will we remember about this time 10 years from now?

The Beatles defined an entire generation.
Jimi Hendrix sacrificed his guitar at the altar of freedom with his historical rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Michael Jackson moonwalked right off our TV’s and into our homes.
Kurt Cobain reminded us that we smelled like teen spirit.

Who is standing on the watchtower sounding the voice of this generation? Are all the titans gone, replaced by a small army of b sides from the bargain bin? There’s a void waiting to be filled, a mold asking to be broken, a million streaming subscriptions begging for more. It’s going to be filled and when it happens, the world will never be the same.

What do you think are the current hurdles artists face?

It’s a great time for artists, especially indie artists. It’s never been easier to make music and release it for anyone to listen too. With the right song, persistence, and the right opportunity, there’s a fighting chance you can attract an audience.

There’s so much competing for our attention, all the time, everywhere. The TV plays in the background while we type on our laptop computers with one hand and check our smartphones with the other.

As an artist, you have to constantly create new content and reengage your fans. It’s also very difficult to make a return on investment, especially as an indie artist. With streaming services paying artists less than a penny per stream, the audience has to stream the same song ~115 times just make the revenue that one digital sale makes. That’s a ton of streams. Those that do music professionally tend to have multiple part-time jobs they use to support themselves and their families. So in that regard, the obstacle is real-time. At some point, every artist has to decide how much it’s worth to them, what sacrifices they are willing to make.

At this point in your career, what do you feel is missing for you to have the future you want in music?

I’m turning 40 this year. Honestly, sometimes I think about retiring from music. I mean like, I think what if this is all just a distraction? What if I focused more energy on my professional career? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life? Because I can tell you this much. Music doesn’t pay well, at all and I have mouths to feed.

I was talking about this with a friend of mine recently who did music professionally for over a decade and has since retired from the road. I said, “Do you ever feel like you have more to give like you’re supposed to do something more?” He paused for some time before responding. These are my words not his but he said, “No, I don’t. I’m done.” And I was like, “I feel like I still have something to give, something I’m supposed to do with music. I don’t feel like I’m done.”

At the end of the day, I guess somewhere deep inside I’m still the kid that said he wants to grow up to be a rock star but never quite grew out of it. It was cool when I was a teenager but I’m not sure if it’s cool at 40? But then I remember why I wanted to be a rock star. It was never about being cool. It was about being myself, about doing what I love, what makes me happy. It was about a power chord raising the hair on the back of my neck, a melody giving me goosebumps, a lyric putting into words what I could only feel. So pass the cane, the walker, meet me at the geriatric center, I’ll be there chasing this thing down until I’m done.

I have a great life. I feel super blessed with my professional career, my family, and my friends. So I think I’m different than say someone in their teens or early twenties looking to do music full-time vocationally. As much as I would love to go on tour, to do music full-time, it isn’t something I would say is a goal. I just want to continue to create music, to be heard, to connect with others. I would love to be part of making music that is heard on the radio. My goals are to create music that people love to listen to. I plan to grow my streaming audience, to pursue licensing opportunities, and to collaborate with other artists.

What are you most looking forward to this next year in your music projects?

Right now, I’m laser-focused on promoting my new single “Afterglow.” I’m working hard to get the word out. I think there’s a lot of people like me, who miss the music of the ’90s and would connect with this. So it’s about trying to find those fans. I’ve also got a version of “Afterglow” called “Afterglow Symphony” which is a stripped-down version of the song with just strings and piano. I think that has to synch licensing potential. I have several projects in various stages of development so stay tuned!

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Music Stories, Songwriters journals and Personal Interviews : Editor @JacquelineJax