Modern problems require modern solutions. What do technological advancements in the music industry have to offer to up-and-coming artists?
Illustration by Agasha Kankunda (Graphic Designer, The Continuist)
By Jessica Adelson
Content Creator (Non-Fiction), The Continuist
The rise of the coronavirus pandemic brought with it a destructive wave that forced every industry on a global scale to reimagine the fundamental structure of their business. The companies that have found success during these times of uncertainty are those who have been able to shift their content onto a virtual platform, allowing for a safe alternative by eliminating the risk of public exposure. But of course, this poses an overwhelming dilemma for those businesses offering a service or experience. Among this category we find a sector that generates a substantial contribution to the creative economy, yet is now considered to be “dying”: the music industry, or more specifically, the live entertainment industry.
To understand the severity of the impact of Covid-19 on the music industry, it’s important to break down how musicians earn income. As we know, the easiest way for fans to experience music is through Apple Music or Spotify, although an article on the Visual Capitalist revealed that the reality for musicians is they are actually earning on average $0.00437 per stream. The only artists that can really make a profit of any mentionable value are those considered to be at the top of the industry. So, how do musicians make an income? The answer is touring. By starting small -- performing at open mics, bars, clubs, opening for bigger bands, etc… -- artists build their brand and attract a fan base. According to BandBasher, after service fees, taxes, and any venue expenses, musicians take home 90% of the ticket revenue. As the fan base grows, so does revenue.
In 2016, Hill Strategies published a report that indicates the median income for a musician was $17,900. For reference, in Canada, the poverty line for a single adult is approximately $18,000. Needless to say, now that touring is off the table (taking with it 50% of their regular income), the average income is hitting concerningly low levels.
Many are feeling remorse for the indefinite loss of concerts and the spillover effects impacting revenues for businesses and individuals. This begs the question: will the live entertainment industry ever be the same as it was pre-coronavirus? Some may answer “no”, and although this change may seem detrimental presently, perhaps it may prove beneficial in the long term. Throughout history, the music industry has adapted alongside society and technology. From sheet music, to radio, to vinyls, to CDs, to iPods, to streaming, this progress has innovated the ways we interact with music. We are now living at a critical point in time in which we rely on virtual content more than ever. By utilizing the technological resources available to us, we have the potential to resurrect a dying industry and allow it to evolve into something so much greater. The following three companies are examples of new and innovative concepts that could have an immense impact on the future of the music industry.
The first company is Wave XR, a virtual entertainment experience. They describe their concerts as “interactive, immersive, and social concerts that allow artists and music fans to express themselves and connect in new ways.” They had a recent rise of popularity with John Legend’s fundraiser performance “A Night for Bigger Love”, where his live movements were expressed through an animated replica, and fans could “attend” the show on any available streaming platform. Wave XR has already organized shows for artists such as the Weeknd and Lindsey Stirling. Through hosting these concerts on an online venue, it allows for a level of creativity in terms of production value that exceeds the limits of what is physically possible. Although these events are currently only streamed on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, they have the potential to expand into the virtual reality realm. By putting on a VR headset, fans could have a first person point of view of a concert as if they were actually attending. This would be beneficial to the musician as it provides a cost effective alternative to paying the many fees associated with touring. Additionally, they wouldn’t be restricted to capacity limits of a physical venue, allowing tickets to be sold without hitting a “sold out” point. These revenue opportunities would allow musicians to lower the price of tickets, a favorable feature for fans. Furthermore, no longer would audience members purchase an expensive ticket only to be seated in the back row -- a virtual experience could ensure that purchasing a ticket is securing a front row seat experience.
The second company is one that has worked in creative collaboration with Wave XR -- Strangeloop Studios. This company has introduced a “virtual artist label” called Spirit Bomb. In other words, they create a digital character that functions as the face of an artist's brand. This idea has already proven to be hugely successful by Gorillaz, a band that consists of four animated members. Audiences seem to be fascinated by the concept of a virtual character as there is an unexplainable mysterious element accompanying them. Another notable figure on this topic is Lil Miquela, a digital “influencer” who currently has 2.8 million followers on Instagram. The numbers speak for themselves -- a virtual artist label could prove to be hugely successful as it capitalizes on a concept that continues to engage audiences, especially during this point in time where artists are unable to personally interact with their fans.
Lastly, Tribe XR is a company that describes themselves as a virtual DJing platform. They are already taking advantage of the opportunity for VR performances with the added experience of music education. Through putting on a headset, a user has access to a “near-perfect replica” of DJ equipment without the considerable costs involved. Tribe XR provides the opportunity to learn new skills, create original music, and host a concert.
There is hope for the future of the music industry and for the musicians who rely on touring revenue to make a livable income. In the meantime, fans are being encouraged to donate directly to the band, or through platforms such as Bandcamp (where the artist receives 85-90% of revenues) if they are in the financial position to do so. Although we are still in the early days of creating alternatives to live concerts, the companies mentioned above are just a few examples of how the music industry is growing and adapting as necessary to the changing times, allowing it to not simply survive, but to grow into something bigger than ever before.