New Research: Independent Musicians Face New Challenges in Digital Age

Musicians at SXSW 2014You heard the rumors: there’s no money in music anymore. Bassist, drummer, keytarist. You are hosed. The only music you’ll make is the tap, tap, tap drumming your fingers on the surface of your cubicle-enclosed desk.

Or not. You’ve probably also heard that the digital age offers a wide-open creative landscape replete with opportunities, free from corporate interest. Send music to fans on the opposite side of the world in mere minutes. Make an album at home, in your jammies with your own recording software. Put it on an online streaming service, promote it and watch the dollars roll in.

Wait—which one is right? Maybe it’s time to take a more scientific look at indie musicians in the digital age.

Brown Paper Tickets Music Doer, Billy Geoghegan and University of Central Florida Professor Kevin Meehan, PhD co-authored the published paper, “DIY Noise and Compositional Horizons: Indie Musicians and Promoters in the Age of Digital Reproduction.” Other studies on music in the digital age zero in on high-profile artists. Geoghegan and Meehan explore digital reproduction at the grassroots level, “where smaller, independent, emerging and DIY musicians operate.”

Their research shows that while digital technology means that the cost of recording, manufacturing and distributing have dramatically decreased; corporate control and mindset still are an issue—even with DIY and independent musicians.

Musicians, creative types, digital entrepreneurs will likely relate to this research published in summer of 2014.

The authors conducted surveys with indie musicians and promoters and used a breadth of sources for their research. Attali’s Noise: The Political Economy of Music provides the framework for the argument. Geoghegan contributed anecdotes from decades of experience in indie records, live shows, booking and managing tours.

Indie Musician Research Highlights
The essay covers sound quality, promotions and what the emphasis on touring means for the future of the musician. For purposes of one brief blog, it would be impossible to include everything, so here are a few key findings:

Artist-Audience Relationship Changed with Digital Tools Like Social Media
In the study, 75% of quantitative survey respondents agreed that digital technology improved the artist-audience relationship—ease of reaching fans was found in the top pros of digital technology.

But respondents of the qualitative survey felt that though social networking helps promotions, the interactions aren’t authentic. A quotation from one survey respondent, “It’s still all about networking, and pre-digital networking may have been less convenient and less far-reaching but each connection had more gravity behind it.”

Building Fans and Notoriety More Complex Now
Some survey participants expressed that digital technology actually makes it more difficult to attract fans and there’s more pressure to conform to corporate business models. “There is more, not less, pressure to succumb to having PR, a tour manager, and all that because the music press, the blogs, the venues, and the local promoters are increasingly less likely to respond to an inquiry from an actual band … the pressure to take on some kind of business model from above has been increased rather than decreased by digital technology.”

Don’t be shy. Comment away with your thoughts and experiences. What have indie musicians gained and lost in the digital age?

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