This week I’m at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain. There will be some regular work-related meetings while I’m out here, talking about our study abroad options, and the four Masters programs. And this weekend, Berklee Valencia is hosting the DIY Musician conference, with speakers from the College itself, and from various parts of the music industry, including co-sponsors CDBaby (full list of speakers).
I’ve now been in popular music education long enough to see the students’ learning objectives change. In the late 1990s the goal of many popular music students – or at least those who were aspirant artists – was to ‘get signed to a label’. It was a time before Napster, iTunes, Spotify, YouTube etc, when artists’ incomes were still partly based on a retail model i.e. a cut of CD sales, plus royalty streams that relied heavily on administrative gatekeepers – major labels and publishers. The artist’s living wage was based on an advance, which was recouped from CD sales over time, with the goal of one day paying back the record company. Back then, Popular Music curricula covered these income streams, along with many of the learning outcomes they do today – artist development, music making and recording skills, songwriting (to some extent), and various academic subjects, including study of repertoires and the industry.
Today, the economic outlook for independent artists is very different. The upside is that there is greater access to self-distribution networks and self-marketing through online tools. The downsides are that everyone has the same tools, and the CD retail model is now receding into history.
The response from education, as any higher ed music curriculum designer will agree, is ‘entrepreneurialism’. Easy to say, but difficult to define as a set of learning outcomes. In classical music teaching, the curricular definition in many institutions is usually something along the lines of ‘monetise your chamber group or teaching business by having a website’. This is helpful to some artists, and it’s a realistic set of expectations for a classical musician trying to find alternatives to the oft-expected career path of auditioning for orchestral jobs. In popular music, though, new independent artists may need to navigate and consider a greater variety of income streams – including ad revenue, sponsorship, gig ticket income and merchandising, as well as the macro music industry income streams such as streaming royalties and (dwindling but still available) CD sales. Over the years the teaching has responded, perhaps with a bit of a lag, to the changes in the ways that artists are compensated for creative work, and the new revenue opportunities engendered by the Internet.
And CDBaby itself has changed its business model since its launch in 1998. As its name suggests, it was founded on the principle of democratising CD pressing and distribution, and making these services available to independent artists. Since 2004 it has also been an aggregator – a service that can, in exchange for a cut of royalties, distribute independent artists’ music to the usual streaming and download channels – Apple Store, Spotify etc.
So I’m looking forward to the forthcoming speaker sessions, to meeting lots of new people, to talking to the estimable Berklee faculty, and to hearing some new independent artists perform at this evening’s event at Veles e Vents.
Una Agua de Valencia, por favor!