Guitar players not getting fairly paid for their content is a growing problem today, as existing platforms are taking a huge chunk of their profits. It’s clear that the answer lies elsewhere despite the many, many alternatives who basically offer the same inefficient model in a different package. It’s long overdue to put the power in the hands of guitarists.
We live in an age where guitar players are making a less than satisfactory profit on the original content they upload and share with their audience online. High-profile lawsuits against music giants like Spotify and the troubled financial state of guitar companies like Gibson are an indication that something is very wrong in the industry. Guitarists feel they are being taken advantage of and, what’s even worse, they can barely afford to make a living let alone purchase expensive equipment. The market is slowly closing in, leaving room for few to thrive. But where and when did it all went wrong?
The digital music revolution started with Napster — a pioneering P2P service, which set the road for new digital distribution giants such as Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and others which have flourished using similar concepts. The rise of affordable recording hardware and software spawned countless garage and basement studios worldwide and gave creative outlet to hundreds of thousands of new independent musicians who could now record and sell their works at the click of a button. The Internet should have been a godsend to independent musicians and creators of replicable works right?
The Problem in a Nutshell
The reality however turned out to be quite different. With very little money to be made, guitar players face the following problems in the digital age:
- The expected quantity of sales (CDs, mp3 and content downloads etc.) turned out to be a lot less than projected. The rise of Napster taught people that you did not necessarily need to pay for the music content you wanted. This mindset spawned a host of sites with pirated content, torrent trackers and other peer-to-peer services where content was readily available at no cost to the user and at no financial benefit to the creator
- Global Audience. In the digital content age — the majority of those who otherwise would be “music fans” or “guitar fans” instead of shelling $100 to buy ten CDs or downloadable albums — often chose to buy a starter audio interface and become recording artists themselves. That’s the thing with being an independent artist — anyone can do it right? And while there is nothing wrong with that — the result is tons and tons of new music related digital content flooding the distribution channels.
- Content Quality Ratings. While in the good old days you could take a look at the Billboard 100 list to see who the best artists were and buy their works — how does one know which of the thousands upon thousands of independent artists are actually good today? It’s all relative, right? Wrong. The quality of music content just like the quality of an automobile can be objectively measured. But no one is doing it.
- Channels and cost of distribution. The majority of critical issues facing the music industry today stem from a few sources, but distribution channels for original content remain a key problem. More importantly, a large portion of the creators’ earnings are being withheld by the platforms that host the content. Also there is limited artist visibility. The leading streaming music companies — YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, Amazon Music, iTunes, and others — have been routinely accused of treating artists poorly through duplicitous contract structures and low payments. All of that has created a low-trust environment.
Those and many other less significant factors contributed to the result of the endgame — those artists who had dreams of earning big by selling their music and content on the internet had to scale down their expectations to more realistic goals. How about earning a decent average wage? Turns out that’s not realistic either. How about earning minimum wage — that should be fairly easy, right? After all, it takes almost no skill to start flipping burgers at a major fast food company, while learning to play an instrument, learning at least some songwriting, composition, computer music recording and production — realistically, takes a minimum of a few years of hard work no different than obtaining a college degree. Unfortunately, statistics show that artists earning even minimum wage selling their music related content online is becoming the exception not the rule.
Guitar players currently lack a centralized hub online that is a default for music fans, thanks to the erosion of MySpace Music. Facebook was once viewed as a replacement for MySpace Music, but never materialized as such. What’s even worse, Facebook charges artists to reach their own fans, a move it defends as necessary given massive increases in Timeline posts that are overwhelming users. On top of this, Facebook is no longer the social media of choice for Millennials and the younger generation, which dramatically decreases the target audience of guitar players who are posting their content on it.
The business model of the popular guitar content online retailer JamTrack Central attempts to address some of these issues, even if purely for its own gain. JamTrack Central is cherry picking established top-tier guitar players who already have a massive following on YouTube. The now global framework of the “guitar battleground” effectively means one thing — every guitar player is in competition with every other guitar player in the world. One is no longer up against local players in their home town, even their home country. It’s gone international. And only the top cats get paid, never mind the hefty cut to the platform — the top tier players still earn. But that’s great, right? Having an opportunity to compete one-on-one with the greatest players from around the globe? Attempting to earn money in a global boxing ring without weight divisions? Not really. Even a seasoned guitar player attempting to compete in selling their content against guitar legends such as Guthrie Govan, Tom Quayle and Martin Miller will fare not much better than your local ma&pa store attempting to put Walmart out of business. And while those are some truly amazing guitar players — it’s a fact that come hell or high water — they will be making money with their craft. And rightly so. Now, what about the rest? Should only the top cab drivers in a city get paid? Should only the very best doctors earn a wage? How are aspiring and up-and-coming guitar players supposed to physically survive while pouring their time and energy into mastering their craft? By bussing tables? Driving for Uber? Working part time at Guitar Center? How is that working out for you?