Friday, December 5, 2014

Week Two: Jazz, indie genres may be unexpected casulaties of streaming

With musicians' album sales cut close enough to kiss this year ( in fact, only one artist hit the coveted one million sales needed to go platinum ), its little wonder many in the "biz" lament the impending doom of the music industry. But according to one musician, indie artists in particular have cause for concern: the advent of web streaming may just render them extinct.

The transition of Marc Ribot's self-described "free/punk/funk/experimental/psychedelic/post electronica" band, Ceramic Dog, into web streaming service Spotify netted a grand total of 112.80 euros in Europe and $47.12 in the US. Their album, "Your Turn," took a whopping $15,000 to produce.

You don't need to be a financial consultant to realize that this is over 14 grand shy of turning a profit. Now the question begs: did Ribot just catch a bad break, or does he represent the fate that will befall other indie artists?

Well, according to Ribot, it just might be both. "Now, maybe the market knows best, and the world is in fact better off without artists like me. I make no claims for my own work, but people need to understand what that means for the culture... If the type of music I make is no longer sustainable, you can kiss most jazz, classical, folk, experimental, and a whole lot of indie bands goodbye."

According to Ribot, while indie artists constitute 90 percent of working musicians, they represent only 38 percent of the total market share. Already representing an embattled economic front, their line of work is "just not sustainable" in the new digitized realm of streaming services.

My interest was originally piqued by this article because it proposed an unexpected consequence of the music streaming industry that I had never really stopped to contemplate. But upon further reflection, I can't say that I harbor the same doomsday sentiments as Ribot.

For one thing, the vast majority of musicians realize they cannot make a living based on their art alone. That still doesn't prevent many from doggedly pursuing their dreams, or even producing music as a fulfilling hobby. There will always be appreciative pockets of people who, irked by the homogeneity of the mainstream music selection, will seek refuge in jazz, folk, and indie genres.

In fact, Spotify, while probably not financially lucrative for musicians, provides another essential service - exposure. For many indie artists, this will be an opportunity to get their name out there and snag audiences across the world.

While it's no way to make a living, Spotify sure won't strike the indie genre dead. Rather than reduce musical subcultures to extinction, it might actually help to boost the exposure of little-know indie artists and revitalize the selection of music available to listeners.

Ribot, M. (2014, November 6). Is Streaming Good for Musicians? Retrieved December 4, 2014, from

1 comment:

  1. I had read this collection of "debates" when it was first published and the arguments made me concerned for genres of music that tend to produce fewer listeners but are still viable works of art. Will polka or jazz or bluegrass begin to die?