How many times have you seen a headline with these phrases?
“Musicians need our help”,
“Most are struggling to survive”,
“Please provide relief or musicians will be forced to abandon their craft so they can pay their bills”,
“Without your help, venues will close” and so on…
I understand the stark reality we all face. COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges of musicians and the music industry. But it didn’t create them. Before the pandemic, the industry resembled an hourglass, rather than a pipeline. And behind these headlines are people, families, livelihoods, emotions and stories. They all deserve support, because everyone matters.
The Music Industry In A Pandemic Era
I have read this over two dozen articles that contain some or all of the aforementioned phrasing. I have also read about the rise of other sources of value in music, such as social value, or creative value that have grown over the past few months. Musicians are finding new ways to connect. Racial inequity in the business, which was (and is) rampant, is being addressed. Good things are happening. But at the same time, 90% of music venues may close in the globally. The global independent music festival sector faces collapse. And these are galling, heart wrenching realities.
These challenges, however, are being made worse by how they are being framed. A narrative is being further entrenched in our dialogue and discourse that treats music and the arts in general as a victim. This is making it worse. It needs to change! An implicit bias frames how we view the value, or lack of value, of an amenity. Scarcity creates value; if there’s little of something, it has to be in demand. Music is ubiquitous. Everywhere. Always. I’ve written about this before. And with it comes implicit biases related to valuing it. Again, clean water is only important when you don’t have it.
Stereotyping Music As Profession.
I am sure many of my music industry friends share a similar experience I had frequently as a teenager. When I began working in music, the majority of people in my social circle (friends, their parents, and teachers) told me & inferred that such a pursuit was a risk. Without context, I was taught that the pursuit of music as a career is risking a life of hardship. I know that for many of those who do pursue music, this is a fact. Words like “assistance” and “relief” and “support” have infiltrated every mention of artists in this moment. Even where the industry has resorted to self-mythologizing, the tentative note of worry appears. – The New Yorker
But why is this? Is it down to us not consuming music? That can’t be, we consume more of it than ever before. Is it because music isn’t a part of our lives? Nope, tell me one wedding or funeral you’ve been to without music. Is it because we don’t care? Hmm, no. Why would we all put stereos in our cars & homes? This is because we have built an industry & ecosystem that disassociates the content from the creator. The content is revered. It is a key contributor to social cohesion, but those who create it are not key workers. No health care. No benefits. Work for ‘exposure’. And music, while recognized as a social good, lacks an economic framework that tackles these challenges.
Relegation of Music in Modern Day Governance & Development.
No countries have Ministers for Music. Few have Music Export Offices. A raft of nations lack transparent intellectual property legislation or regimes. The most listened to platform for music is YouTube, the one that pays creators the least. In an intergovernmental context, music is what is hired for a reception or a benefit. How the artist got to that moment is not important, so long as the artist shows up. We lead with a narrative that makes it acceptable to treat music as charity, not an investment; as ad-hoc, not intentional; as experiential, but not infrastructural; as something we need, but not something we need to invest in.
Considered Economic Benefits of Music?
Yet, consider that:
- Music rights are recession proof.
- Music is one thing – along with food – that transcend racial, ethnic and other differences and has the power and influence to unite. We need more of that right now.
- There are over 20 revenue streams for music rights that have been counted, according to the Future of Music Coalition’s work from a few years ago. I am sure there is more now.
How Do We Report to Incite Investment for Music?
I propose we write new headlines. How about:
- “Local authority invests in music venue as part of its economic growth and recovery strategy”.
- “N.B.S.S.I. recognizes supporting Ghana’s music ecosystem is not relief, but investment”.
- “Local government spearheads a plan to better protect intellectual property, so money made from music made locally remains in the community”.
Until we change our language and instil a mindset that recognizes music as not only a driving force for recovery, but also a source of revenue now, a right that requires investment, not just an amenity that’s there to be enjoyed, the better we all will be. I want kids today who want to pursue music as a career to be encouraged to do so. This is an opportunity. A worthwhile investment!
Credit: Music Pharmacy // worded by: Michael M. Wood.