The scattershot nature of these events and lack of consistent regulations from country to country (much less region to region) makes for an unsure time in the industry, as visions of a more permanent return enter the near future. In the United States, many venues are still waiting for federal relief
to come from the Save Our Stages Act and I’ve already received emails from venues in NYC that are clearly eyeing how to pivot their spaces beyond just being a music venue while fully populated concerts are still off the table. The highly fragmented semi-closure of global live music is likely to be the norm for the rest of 2021. Now, on the recorded music side of the industry, 2021, like 2020, could be another year of record growth.
How about this headline: ‘IFPI Global Report 2021: Music Revenues Rise for Sixth Straight Year to $21.6B
touted this headline in a deep dive into a report put out by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a global trade organization representing the likes of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other national recording organizations. The analysis by the organization showed that despite the coronavirus crushing live music, streaming continued to grow and see more international growth, along with a stable decline, rather than a freefall, of physical sales (in particular in Japan). The IFPI’s perspective is that the global record industry experienced a couple of hiccups but revenues didn’t stumble off a cliff, and musicians may be struggling without touring, but white-collar professionals are still cashing checks.
Last April, I devoted an entire newsletter to the topic of live music when it was still very much up-in-the-air what was about to happen with the industry. And I wanted to highlight my closing passage
Far be it from me to find the silver lining during a thunderstorm, but the future of live music is likely to be much smaller in scope than it’s been in decades. This opens up the opportunity to see if it’s possible for spaces that hinge so much on advertising, environmentally destructive festivals, and uneven artist and staff compensation to change for the better.
Others over the last year clearly were also reassessing the current live music political economy. Eilidh McLaughlin, Eva Fineberg, and Fallon MacWilliams wrote a report titled ‘Last Night a DJ Took a Flight
’, which looks at the environmental impact of DJing on the climate, in particular via international plane travel. What’s so interesting about the document is that while it doesn’t pull punches, it can be a rallying point to look for local talent. This contrasts to many macro record business trends of increased intermeshing of now international music firms and assuming that live touring must hit the biggest, highest paying, markets. Though much of these conversations will continue at the local level, I’d be interested to see what might happen with these even if just within electronic music.
The other small, but notable, response to not only the last year but deeper worker struggles within the record industry. In March, workers at the Secretly Group announced they were unionizing
with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 174 and received voluntary recognition from management. A representative expressed to Billboard
a desire for this to kick off a bigger wave of white-collar worker actions: “We absolutely hope this inspires others to unionize. For many of us, it didn’t seem like an option, so hopefully, we showed the wider independent industry that it’s possible. You don’t need to start one when things hit rock bottom.“ That last sentence is key, especially when considering the recent IFPI report. Right now record labels are racking in tons of cash and certainly, workers should make sure they’re well compensated as the industry continues to boom. The fallout from the coronavirus will continue to be felt for years to come but there are already a number of clear signs of where the industry is trending and though these two initiatives are small, it hints towards what could perhaps be a more equitable vision.