Trying to understand reality

July 30, 2021Posted ingeneral thoughts

Let’s face a current problem in the music industry: Musicians don’t make enough money. Or do they? And, do they even have to?

A pretty normal, and contradicting, view coming from striving musicians is one where art is the most important thing to them and because of that they should be paid to make it, but they won’t compromise enough with doing what’s needed to make that money. It may sound cynical, and of course different levels of this beavior exist – many are better at understanding economy than these, and a few even manage to earn a living by uncompromisingly doing their own thing – but a widespread viewpoint from musicians today is that they deserve money, even if people don’t want to give it to them. Like there was a way to be an entrepreneur with all the pros (the money) but without the cons (working to meet people’s needs). (I also understand that music doesn’t need to be an entrepreneurial thing and instead could be financed with taxes or similar). While I sometimes can relate to the frustration, and while I always can relate to the never-ending desire for money without doing anything, ignoring reality isn’t the best start to achieve something.

It’s usually the low revenue from streaming in particular that’s viewed as the problem. Big companies like Spotify are painted as greedy entities who aren’t giving musicians enough money – all this although Spotify didn’t make any profit at all until 2019. Is Spotify only bad? Not really. They’re not only good either. What we can say is that the fact that you don’t earn as much on the actual music listening today as during the CD age is most likely true, but who’s the bad guy in the scenario (if even any) is unclear. Is it the consumers refusing to pay more than $10 for all music in the world, or is it the streaming services not paying enough?

When discussing these issues, some beliefs are considered to be true and are therefore hard to question. Beliefs like that you should pay for listening to songs, and that you use copyright to protect songs. These are considered obvious truths, even though the modern music industry they’re based on is relatively new (since the 1900s), and copyright by no means is a perfect system for protecting music (it also seems to get worse laws written about it for each new technological advance). There are even pretty valid argument for completely abolishing intellectual property and paying for the production instead of the consumption of art (stated by this video). Despite all counterarguments, bringing up the idea of changing the current economical and IP (intellectual property) related systems is easily seen as a threat to musicians, since the belief of copyright protecting musicians and only treating them well is so strong.

Why is questioning these beliefs so hard? Maybe because imagining a different reality is hard. Few people could foresee the modern inventions before they came. World records are said to be unbreakable but get broken anyway. Science gets its whole system overturned at regular intervals even though the system was defined by the most intelligent people in the world. These paradigm shifts happen because one person discovered something the others couldn’t imagine, a detail that wasn’t even used in the calculations the others did to decide what’s possible and not.

And here we are today, getting proposals signed by artists who are confused by why money isn’t flowing to them like in the 80s, and accepting laws written by politicians who have a hard time catching up even with early 2000s technology. While young people in the forefront are starting to leave the last decade’s innovations behind and prepare for the upcoming unimaginable changes, people in (and out of) charge don’t, or refuse to, understand what has happened with the world in the last 20 years.

So, having a false world view is a problem when forming the future, but believing too strong in an existing one can also be an obstacle. And, to be able to actually change the situation to the better while trying to catch on to the rapid world development, it could be a good idea to discuss what’s actually important. Is the sharing of culture important enough to not let EU laws run over the whole concept? Is culture more important than money, or is money the basis on which culture is created? Would it be worth sacrificing a big part of musicians’ salary to put all the world’s music in people’s pockets for free? There are obviously no clear answers. However, I think we should watch out for the constant one-dimensional “more money to artists” preaching, not because it’s a bad idea, but because it’s constant and one-dimensional.