The Devaluation of Music: It’s Worse Than You Think
In their many (justified) laments about the trajectory of their profession in the digital age, songwriters and musicians regularly assert that music has been “devalued.” Over the years they’ve pointed at two outstanding culprits. First, it was music piracy and the futility of “competing with free.” More recently the focus has been on the seemingly miniscule payments songs generate when they’re streamed on services such as Spotify or Apple Music.
These are serious issues, and many agree that the industry and lawmakers have a lot of work to do. But at least there is dialogue and progress being made toward new models for rights and royalties in the new music economy.
Starving artists have been affected by more than just piracy and streaming royalties
Less obvious are a number of other forces and trends that have devalued music in a more pernicious way than the problems of hyper-supply and inter-industry jockeying. And by music I don’t mean the popular song formats that one sees on awards shows and hears on commercial radio. I mean music the sonic art form — imaginative, conceptual composition and improvisation rooted in harmonic and rhythmic ideas. In other words, music as it was defined and regarded four or five decades ago, when art music (incompletely but generally called “classical” and “jazz”) had a seat at the table.
When I hear songwriters of radio hits decry their tiny checks from Spotify, I think of today’s jazz prodigies who won’t have a shot at even a fraction of the old guard’s popular success. They can’t even imagine working in a music environment that might lead them to household name status of the Miles Davis or John Coltrane variety. They are struggling against forces at the very nexus of commerce, culture and education that have conspired to make music less meaningful to the public at large. Here are some of the most problematic issues musicians are facing in the industry’s current landscape. read more