Not all of David Bowie’s prophecies have been spot on. There’s no sign of the “Homo superior” shoving aside Homo sapiens yet. And we’re still waiting for the Starman to put in an appearance. But one thing the late singer-songwriter and hero to millions did get right was the impact of the internet on the music industry.
“The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years and nothing is going to be able to stop it,” he said in a 2002 interview. “Music is going to be like running water or electricity.”
That’s pretty much how most young people consume music today. They used to file share and now, increasingly, they use online streaming services such as Spotify and Apple. Music has indeed become like a kind of utility.
But what about the impact of this digital revolution on the creators of music? Not long ago, some took an optimistic view that the internet would liberate artists. Bands would be able to cut out greedy record labels and sell to fans directly. Smaller acts would be able to promote themselves cheaply and effectively.
Some have tried this. For example, Radiohead left their record label, EMI, in 2005 and have released their albums themselves ever since, initially selling through their website. A decade ago Radiohead’s singer, Thom Yorke, questioned whether anyone needed a record company any more, adding that it would “give us some perverse pleasure to say fuck you to this decaying business model”.
Going it alone has hardly been a commercial disaster for Radiohead. Their albums have continued to sell strongly – and they now, of course, keep all their revenues rather than having to split them with EMI. The band recently established a new company, sparking speculation that they are raising money to finance a new album.
Other artists appear to have been empowered by the internet too. Last year Taylor Swift forced Apple to back down and pay her royalties for plays of her music on its streaming service during a three-month trial period for new users. Her clout and popularity were too much for even a company as powerful as Apple to ignore.
A group of major artists including Jay Z, Kanye West, Jack White, Madonna and Calvin Harris have clubbed together to acquire their own streaming service, Tidal.
But streaming doesn’t seem to be delivering much of a financial return to small artists. That is hardly surprising given that Spotify’s average “per stream” royalty payout is between $0.006 and $0.0084. You would need to have had a lot of songs streamed before you could even cover the costs of a recording session.
Relatively successful acts find digital returns pathetic too. Geoff Barrow of Portishead recently estimated that 34 million streams of his group’s music had earned him the sum (after tax) of £1,700.
Big artists complain about exploitation by the record labels, working in league with the streaming services. Taylor Swift wrote an article in which she urged all musicians not to “undervalue their art”.
Yet the financial interests of the superstars and the ambitious small performer are not necessarily aligned.
To understand why, consider how a small band or a new artist could possibly become as big as Radiohead or Taylor Swift. Online self-promotion works up to a point – and small acts have indeed embraced this. But to make a breakthrough, the promotion provided by the record labels still seems essential. Globally, the labels spent $4.5bn (£3.1bn) on marketing and investment in 2014 – a quarter of total revenues – according to International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. It is this investment that enables a minority of talented (or lucky) acts to hit the commercial big time.
Selling records is not, of course, the only way in which artists can make money. There are live performances too. And there have been many predictions of how the future of money in music lies in selling “the experience” to fans, rather than records.
Yet this comes back to the question of scale. If bands are to graduate to the profitable bigger venues, they still need heavy publicity and marketing to build their name. And at the moment the big labels, with their A&R people and financial resources, are the only reliable route to that. If a Bowie were starting out today then he would probably do exactly what he did back in the 1960s and try to get signed.
Despite their reputation for being rapacious, record labels are actually redistributive institutions in economic terms. They use the profits generated for them by a tiny minority of top acts to invest in breaking new acts. To this extent, the financial interests of the small artist are arguably more aligned with the record companies than those of the stars, who want to keep more of the surplus for themselves. (although whether record labels invest enough, or in the right acts, or with the right level of sustained support, are valid questions).
So how do the economics of the labels themselves look? The brutal impact of the internet and the MP3 file on record company revenues has been exhaustively documented. Global income peaked at around $30bn in the late 1990s and then started plummeting as digital piracy eviscerated the CD market. In 2014 sales were down to $15bn.
But now some see a stabilisation. Digital revenues are rising rapidly thanks to streaming royalties and legal downloads, through platforms such as iTunes. Digital revenues overtook sales of physical items such as CDs for the first time in 2014. Streaming revenue is around $2bn a year, up from zero in 2009.
If that growth trend continues, it is possible that the industry’s total revenues could start to rise again in the coming years. That could preserve the model of cross- investment of profits in smaller acts.
There are tentative signs that people are prepared to pay for the convenience of premium streaming services, rather than going through the rigmarole of illegal file sharing. Advertisers are forking out for access to viewers’ eyeballs on YouTube and listeners’ ears on Spotify.
Business picture of the day
Business picture of the day
1/29 Marks and Spencer reports slump in profit hurt by clothing sales and cost of new food stores - Wednesday 24 May
High street stalwart Marks and Spencer has reported a more than 60 per cent fall in pre-tax profit in the year to the end of March, hurt by a decline in clothing sales and higher costs from opening new food stores. Pre-tax profit came in at £176.4m for the year, while sales were broadly steady at £10.6bn. Food revenue was up 4.2 per cent.
2/29 Apple named world’s most value company in tech-dominated Forbes ranking - Tuesday 23 May
Tech behemoth Apple has been named the most valuable brand in the world for a seventh consecutive year. The highly-regarded ranking, compiled by Forbes magazine, puts the iPhone makers’ brand value at $170bn, a 10 per cent increase on figure for 2016 and well ahead of second-placed Google, whose brand value has risen $19.3bn from last year to just under $102bn, according to Forbes. Tech peer Microsoft nabbed third spot, with a value of $87bn, followed by Facebook at $73.5bn. Consumer goods giant Coca-Cola rounds out the top five with a value of $56.4bn.
3/29 Diamond ring bought for £10 at car boot sale expected to fetch £350,000 at auction - Monday 22 May
A large, diamond ring is expected to fetch £350,000 at auction 30 years after its owner paid £10 for it at a car boot sale, thinking it was a costume jewel. The “exceptionally-sized” stone was presumed not to be real because 19th Century diamonds were not cut to show off their brilliance like today's gems. And so the owner, unaware of its value, wore it for decades, while doing everything from the shopping to the chores.
4/29 $110 Basquiat sold by Family who bought it for $19,000 - Friday 19 May
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting of a skull sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in New York, setting an auction record for American artists and providing a windfall for the daughter of two collectors who purchased it for $19,000 in 1984.
5/29 Peppa Pig owner Entertainment One announces 117 new episodes - Friday 19 May
The company that owns the Peppa Pig brand has announced that it is producing 117 new episodes for the popular children’s cartoon. The new series will air from spring 2019 and take the total number of Peppa Pig episodes to 381.
6/29 Property tycoon who banned 'coloured people because of curry smells' faces legal action - Thursday 18 May
A buy-to-let tycoon who banned “coloured people” from his properties “because of curry smells” is facing legal action brought by the equality watchdog. Millionaire Fergus Wilson, who reportedly owns close to 1,000 properties in Kent, sent an email to a local letting agency informing them of the ban. Commission chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said: “We have asked the court if it agrees with us that Mr Wilson’s lettings policy contains unlawful criteria and, if so, to issue an injunction. “As this is now formal legal action we will release further information at a later date.”
7/29 Nestlé foiled by Cadbury as it loses bid to trademark KitKat bar - Wednesday 17 May
KitKat-maker Nestlé has been foiled again, after a UK Court of Appeal ruled that the consumer goods giant cannot trademark the shape of its popular four-fingered chocolate bar. The ruling is the latest in a long running legal battle between the Swiss-based company and its rival Cadbury. Nestlé argues that the KitKat’s shape is “iconic” and should be protected by law but Cadbury objects. On Wednesday, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Cadbury, dismissing the claim.
8/29 Yorkshire is the best region in the UK for workplace happiness - Tuesday 16 May
The best region in Britain for workplace happiness and satisfaction is Yorkshire and the Humber, according to new research. London only managed to make it to number five for happiness and came bottom for work satisfaction, according to research commissioned by recruitment agency Robert Half. The findings may give pause for thought to many workers in the capital putting up with sky-high property prices in the hope of landing their dream job.
9/29 Andy Murray funds company behind world's first foldable bike helmet - Monday May 15
He may be almost unbeatable on the tennis court, but how will Andy Murray fare in the world of investing? On Monday, a company that claims to make the world's first folding bike helmet announced that the tennis pro was one of more than 400 individuals who had helped it raise nearly £700,000 on crowdfunding platform Seedrs. Morpher’s bike helmets fold and unfold, meaning that they can easily be slipped into a bag when not in use, catering to cyclists who find normal helmets cumbersome to carry around.
10/29 Morrisons will sell 'wonky avocados' for just 39p from Monday as demand hit record levels - Friday May 12
Morrisons will start selling deformed avocados at a third of the average cost of normally-shaped ones as growing demand and reduced harvests from major producers has pushed up prices in recent weeks. The supermarket said on Friday that it would start selling the misshapen and superficially blemished fruits for 39p each or £2.40 a kilogramme in the majority of its stores across the UK starting from 15 May until the end of the summer. Morrisons claims that its offer is the cheapest on the UK market and compares to an average retail price of £1.05 apiece, which is up from 98p last year.
11/29 Unilever develops technology to prevent billions of plastic sachets from entering into oceans - Thuesday 11 May
Unilever, the consumer goods giant behind brands such as Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Marmite, is making a big push toward more sustainable packaging. The company sells billions of products in single-use sachets each year, including cosmetics and food products, particularly in developing and emerging markets. It says that it has now developed new technology to recycle them, which will prevent packaging from ending up in our oceans or in landfill. Through a system called CreaSolv Process, the plastic from the sachets will be recovered and then used to create new ones for Unilever products – creating a full circular economy approach.
12/29 Euro hits a six-month high after Emmanuel Macron’s French presidential victory - Monday 8 May
The euro hit a six-month high against the dollar on Monday and US stock futures briefly touched a record high after Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential election, easily beating anti-EU rival Marine le Pen.
13/29 Princess Charlotte's John Lewis cardigan from birthday photo sells out - Tuesday 2 May
A knitted yellow John Lewis cardigan adorned with pictures of sheep has sold out after Princess Charlotte was photographed wearing the item, prompting a surge in demand from British parents wanting to dress their offspring like the young royal. John Lewis confirmed that the clothing item sold out online shortly after the photograph was published, although a coordinating prink dress, selling for £10 on the John Lewis’ website, was still available on Tuesday morning.
HRH The Duchess of Cambridge via Getty Images
14/29 Dubai becomes first city in world with own Microsoft font - Monday 1 May
Dubai has become the first city in the world to get its own front, the government announced on Sunday. The type face, simply called “Dubai Font”, comes in both Arabic and Latin script and will be available in 23 languages. It was created in partnership with Microsoft and is now available to Microsoft Office 365 users around the world.
15/29 Donald Trump administration loses trade battle over tuna as WTO lets Mexico hit US with sanctions - Wednesday April 26
The US has just lost a major trade battle with Mexico and it revolved around tuna. On Tuesday, the World Trade Organisation ruled that Mexico is allowed to impose $163m (£127m) a year in sanctions against the US on trade in tuna, ending a years-long dispute. The clash, which dates back to 2008, centred on the US insisting that any Mexican tuna sold in the US must have a ‘dolphin safe’ guarantee, meaning that no dolphins were killed by fishermen catching the tuna.
16/29 Luxury brand LVMH to snap up Christian Dior for £10bn - Tuesday 25 April
French billionaire Bernard Arnault moved to consolidate control over Christian Dior for about €12.1bn (£10.3bn), folding the fashion house’s operations into the LVMH luxury empire in one of his biggest transactions.
17/29 Euro and shares rally after Emmanuel Macron wins first voting round of French election - Monday 24 April
The euro briefly surged to a five-month high against a basket of currencies late Sunday after centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron won the first round of a hotly contested French election vote, an outcome broadly considered the most market-friendly. Immediately after the vote, the euro surged to $1.0940, its highest level against the dollar since November last year, before retreating to around $1.0869.
18/29 Barbie out of fashion as Mattel slumps - Friday 21 April
Mattel shares took a hit after the world’s largest toy company reported a much worse than expected sales slump dragged down by poor demand for key brands such as Barbie and Fisher-Price. Shares in the company dropped 6 per cent to $23.70 (£18.50) in after-hours trading in New York on Thursday after the toymaker reported a loss of $133.2m or 33 cents per share for the three months to 31 March. Barbie sales, which begun to recover last year after the toymaker introduced new dolls with different body types and skin colours, slipped again with gross sales down 13 per cent compared to a year ago - their second consecutive quarter of decline.
19/29 Government to sell Green Investment Bank to Macquarie in £2.3bn deal - Thursday 20 April
The British Government said on Thursday it would sell Green Investment Bank to a consortium led by Macquarie Bank in a deal worth £2.3bn. The British Government set up GIB, which backs green projects with public funds, in 2012 as a commercial venture to spur private investment in green projects. It has invested more than £2bn in projects such as offshore wind farms and waste management. The Government decided to sell a majority stake in 2015, saying it would give the bank more freedom to borrow, remove state aid restrictions and allow it to attract more capital.
AFP/ Getty Images
20/29 Snap election threatens Government plan to finally lower energy bills - Wednesday 19 April
Energy customers face further delays from government in dealing with with soaring bills, MPs heard on Wednesday. Business secretary Greg Clark accused companies of “flagrant mistreatment” and “milking” their customers in a “broken” market, but insisted the snap general election announced by Theresa May on Tuesday meant he would “have to reflect on the timing” to lay out his long-awaited plans for a crackdown.
21/29 Pound sterling surges as Theresa May calls for 8 June general election - Tuesday 18 April
The pound surged against the dollar on Tuesday to its highest level since last December after Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted a general election on 8 June. When Ms May announced she wanted a new national poll, at around 11.05am, the pound instantly jumped, climbing to $1.2765 by the end of trading, up 1.62 per cent on the day and the highest since 13 December. It was also sterling's biggest one day jump since March 2016.
22/29 China's first quarter growth beats expectations - Monday 17 April
This aerial photo taken on April 12, 2017 shows farmers working in the fields in Yangzhou, in eastern China's Jiangsu province. ina's growth stabilised in the first quarter thanks to rising investments and a recovery in exports. cording to an AFP survey of 16 economic analysts, the gross domestic product expanded 6.8 percent in the first three months of this year
23/29 Rome’s Trevi Fountain generates €1.4m for city’s charities in 2016 - Thursday April 13
Rome’s Trevi Fountain was a veritable cash cow for the Eternal city’s charities in 2016, according to new data. The charity Caritas said this week that tourists tossed €1.4m (£1.2m) into the baroque fountain last year, helping to subsidise a supermarket for Rome’s needy
Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
24/29 Pret and Paul offer discount to customers who bring their own coffee cup - Monday April 10
French bakery group Paul and sandwich chain Pret a Manger will begin offering discounts to customers bringing in their own reusable cups, yielding to pressure from environmental groups concerned about the mountains of cardboard waste generated in the UK each year.
25/29 Doritos, Coco Pops, Peperami among latest products to be hit by shrinkflation - Thursday April 6
Bags of Doritos, packets Peperami and boxes Coco Pops have become the latest treats to shrink in size as retailers passed on surging costs from the Brexit-hit pound and rising commodity prices.
26/29 Cuban family making their own wine brand using condoms - Wednesday April 5
family wine business in Cuba is thriving thanks in part to an unconventional item being added into the fermentation process – condoms. As a result of the US trade embargo and other inefficiencies of Cuba's economy, thousands of basic household items are inaccessible to Cubans meaning that sometimes a little creativity is required to get the job done. At El Canal, a winery in Havana, Orestes Estevez and his family fill glass jugs with grapes, ginger and hibiscus, before securing a condom over each glass jug Allowing Heathrow to expand will create “a serious obstacle” to meeting the UK’s commitments on climate change and reducing air pollution, a leading scientist has warned.
27/29 'Pink Star' diamond sells for world record £57m in Hong Kong auction - Tuesday April 4
A rare pink diamond dubbed the “Pink Star” has become the world's most expensive gemstone to sell at auction, coming under the hammer in Hong Kong on Tuesday for $71.2m (£57.3m). The oval-cut 59.6 carat jewel, discovered in a mine in Africa by De Beers in 1999, is the largest fancy vivid pink diamond, categorised as “flawless” or “internally flawless”, that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever graded. It sold after a five-minute bidding war, that started at $56m, to Hong Kong jewellery retailer Chow Tai Fook at Sotheby's.
28/29 Stopping climate change could boost the world economy by £15 trillion - Tuesday March 21
Efforts to slow climate change won’t just keep the planet habitable. They will also boost the world economy by $19 trillion (£15.2 trillion). Investments in renewable power and energy efficiency will add about 0.8 per cent to global gross domestic product by 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency, or Irena, said Monday in a report produced for the German government. Governments are committing resources to green energy in a bid to keep warming within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), of pre-industrial conditions, in accordance with the landmark Paris Agreement on global warming.
29/29 'UK Disneyland' set to open in five years in Kent - Friday March 10
It’s the news British film-lovers and thrill-seekers have been waiting to hear forever - no longer do we have to schlep across the seas to get our fix of stardust and adrenaline, for the UK is finally getting its own ‘Disneyland’. The theme park will be the first of its kind in the UK, and is being created by film company Paramount at a cost of £3.5 billion.
Yet there remains profound uncertainty over the economics of the music industry. New technologies could shake things up yet again; the streamers may see their own business model disrupted.
As David Bowie would have appreciated, the one constant in the economics of music at the moment is change.Reuse content