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The CD Buyer That Disappeared



For a long time New Age music artists and labels did not feel the impact of the new music economy. The real drama in our parts of the forest was not illegal downloads (roughly the period from 1999 to 2009), but the fact that the CD format lost most of its value for the casual, adult listener because of new and legal digital formats (2010 till today). Or, as an industry insider told me; “Suddenly people were listening to YouTube while doing yoga.”

There is something profoundly true about this Enigma quote; Things are changing. But nothing changes. And still, there will be changes soon. This is also the case in our genre. Have the recent changes in the business been more damaging for New Age music than most other genres? I asked a couple of industry insiders, and their answer here is yes. Reason; The number of no-concert, album-only artists are very high (these artists are mostly dependant on album sales), and there is not a big demand for HiFi-recordings within our genre (which has partly saved other alternative genres). Also, the major change here is that older audiences too stopped buying CDs. That happened just recently, over the last three years or so.

Artists to blame?
You might say that artists that don’t do concerts and only rely on CD sales have themselves to blame. Since the launch of Napster in 1999, it has been pretty obvious what would eventually happen; The CD format would become obsolete. At the moment, neither paid downloads, streaming music or the remaining CD market give the same revenue as yesterday’s music market. The result is that artists now have to work harder for less money. It will also lead to fewer studio recordings, fewer artists participating on each album.

What do artists make when their music is played on YouTube? This is a hard question. My best guess will be that almost no one in the New Age music business earns anything here. There have been some reports that very high number of playbacks leads to almost nothing – this according to The Guardian (October 2012):

Ellen Shipley, the co-writer (with a 50% share) of Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is a Place On Earth reported receiving $38.49 for the 2,118,200 streams the track had accumulated on YouTube in the last quarter. For the over 330,000 hits her ‘N Sync track I Drive Myself Crazy had on the video site, she received $4.31. “I can’t even buy a pizza for that,” she pointed out. Another songwriter reported getting about $80 for 9m YouTube streams.

There are some reports that Youtube now are giving more back to the artists – but this depends on the artists’ and labels’ ability to identify used songs and participation in ad networks. The Guardian (January 2013):

Anyone who has ever tried to get unauthorized versions and videos of their music off YouTube knows that filing take-down notices is like playing Whac-a-Mole, as new versions pop up almost immediately. But now, with YouTube’s ad partnerships, record labels are discovering a better solution: monetising them.

YouTube is a fantastic format, and also a great promotion tool for artists. By uploading a few songs from a new album artists give people get a taste of the complete albums. The problem is rather the volume of artists thinking the same, and the fact that full songs are posted. The days of 30 seconds clips are long gone. With the easy creation of channels and playlists, we – the audience – get a complete music service for free.

This is all consequences of the new music economy and there are no roads back. To please the music buying audience of today and tomorrow artists and labels will have to create more interesting ways for us to enjoy their music. We all love live music, and all kinds of fan merchandise is as popular now as 10 years ago. In other words; artists will have to do more than uploading a video to YouTube hoping that people will buy the full album.