“Today, in the age of FaceBook, GOOGLE, and Amazon, it’s hard to tell how a new and growing musical artist could make it in the way we did,” Young wrote. “The Tech Giants have figured out a way to use all the great music of everyone from all time, without reporting an artist’s number of plays or paying a fucking cent to the musicians. Aren’t they great companies!!! It makes you wonder where the next generation of artists will come from. How will they survive?”On the other hand, Neil, I don't know if you have noticed, but some artists are doing rather well. The top three last year were:
- Sean Combs, $130 million
- Beyoncé, $105 million
- Drake, $94 million
So what is Mr. Young doing wrong? The fine arts are a very awkward area for social justice ideologies. They assert the underlying principle of economic equality, but the only way to achieve that in the arts is to tightly control all artists' earnings as they did in the Soviet Union. Because even if you hinder artists by making them conform to rigid aesthetic criteria such as "socialist realism" the talented few will figure out how to make great art notwithstanding. It is always the case that, in the arts, there are a tiny minority who excel and the vast majority who merely do journeyman work. In the Middle Ages when most artists were anonymous and there was only a rudimentary free market in the arts, no-one made much of a living from it. With the Renaissance came wealthy patrons with developed tastes and artists, even musicians, started to have some earning power. This system lasted up into the early 19th century in music with Mozart and Beethoven being the first to start to move away from noble patronage. Schubert is an example of a great musical talent who made virtually nothing from his music.
With the 20th century came entirely new income streams. Commissions from wealthy patrons were rare apart from donations to musical institutions, such as opera and concert series. These institutions would pass on a few crumbs to composers now and then. More and more governments, especially in Europe, set up bodies to grant money to artists and institutions.
But something else also happened in the 20th century. Due to the development of recording technology an entirely new way of commodifying music was developed. An early recording artist like Caruso could make more money from recordings than from concerts because he could only give one concert a day, but he could sell thousands of recordings. By mid-century recordings of popular music were, for the first time, outselling recordings of classical music. By the time Elvis Presley and the Beatles arrived, the economics of pop music dwarfed classical music entirely.
So now we have the top ten musicians, all in popular music, earning between fifty and over one hundred million dollars a year. This is many, many times what musicians were able to earn in previous eras. Doesn't that shed a rather ironic light on Mr. Young's remarks?
He should have been saying something like, "wow, musicians now can become fabulously wealthy, wealthier than even the richest potentates in past eras; the only problem is that some technology companies make even more money!"
The interesting question that comes to my mind is exactly how does one earn over $100 million dollars in the music business? Details, please.