Today: The music industry's future
This topic deserves a differentiated comment. One of my favorite bands, German gothic metal veterans Crematory, have recently been releasing a comment claiming that the group's upcoming record might be its last and that its album tour is going to be a farewell if album and ticket sales didn't improve. The band leader asked the fans to ''get off their lazy asses'' and support the band with led to an elevated number of controversial reactions. You can find the entire post on the band's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CREMATORY
First of all, it's understandable that it's frustrating for artists who have put so much creativity, passion and time into their project for nearly three decades to lose money every year, sell less copies of their art and see less people attend their shows. I can perfectly understand the drummer's point of view. Since I have known the band half of my life, seen the band in concert three times and bought most of their records, I don't take the message personally at all. My father or I are still going to buy the new album and if the band plays close to my hometown when I'm going to be in Germany, I will attend the concert, no matter if it costs thirty bucks or more. The band usually plays far over two hours, talks to fans after the show and offers a memorable experience. I know Crematory won't disappoint as they offer value for money.
However, the drummer's cry for help won't change anything and those who already didn't like the band or were neutral won't be tempted to support the band now. Some hot-tempered fans might even turn their backs on the band as a consequence. What was meant to wake up people could actually become the final nail in the coffin because it offended people. A quick look at the band's Facebook page shows that about two thirds of the reactions are negative. The positive thing is that people are now discussing the future of the music industry but nobody will be talking about Crematory anymore in a few weeks. Releasing such comments is indeed honest, liberating and straight-forward but the long-term consequences only make things worse.
The fans are not to blame for the group's financial problems anyway. Prices for records, merchandise and concert have constantly risen over the past few decades just like anything else while the salaries didn't truly follow. Those who have followed the band throughout all those years, bought their records and attended concerts have to spend money on more essential expenses these days, have become too old to attend concerts until late at night and have maybe not the energy to attend festivals with noisy crowds in the summer heat for one hundred bucks or more. Gothic metal is simply not as popular as it was twenty years ago either which means that most younger metal fans might not even be familiar with the genre in general or this band in particular. Crematory isn't the only band to go through these changes and this tendency is nearly impossible to be reverted. Another fact is that most people are traveling more these days than they did twenty years ago, so people want to have their music accessible at all times in a digitalized world to listen to it on their cell phones or computers. Some people don't have the time to listen to full records in their living rooms anymore and will instead listen to new music on the bus. It only make sense that people prefer streaming services, downloads or digital copies over physical products that might only collect dust on a shelf. Nobody wants to buy a product for a hefty price just to see it collect dust like in a museum. This might not be a healthy development for our society but that's just the way it is in general and nobody is going to change the world, especially not with a Facebook comment.
What can really be done to change the game? There are more options than one might think of. Here are a few that came to my mind immediately and I'm far from being an expert of any kind.
First of all, the labels in particular and the music industry in general need to adapt to these changes. Instead of producing music videos or lyrics videos that nobody will watch, short commercials on streaming websites or social media presences will lead to a more efficient marketing strategy.
Instead of giving interviews to print media that become less popular every year, one should cooperate with specialized fan magazines and popular people on social media to get more attention.
Music should become more available digitally for a certain price. Bandcamp would be the best current option for a band to get more popular and get more immediate profit at the same time. Crowdfunding campaigns offering unique gimmicks to fans are a great way to finance projects and records. Sticking with declining labels is less and less essential these days.
Being active on social media such as Facebook and Twitter but also specific forums will make a band more visible.
Offering specific gimmicks will also attract fan attention, such as signed copies for fair prices, an exclusive release with one of the few popular music magazines to promote an upcoming album, or boxed sets like the ones the band has released from their records Klagebilder to Revolution could be some ideas. All releases should include download codes offering high-quality digital versions of the record. If you want to sell physical copies, bonus tracks are mandatory and can be complemented by addition live discs, posters or even shirts.
Touring with a bigger band could also be an interesting option even if it might feel disgraceful for a band that has been around for three decades. Softer German bands associated to the gothic genre such as Unheilig, Rammstein and In Extremo are doing very well financially and opening for these bands would introduce a group like Crematory to younger audiences. It could also be an idea to join forces with similar bands with comparable issues and to have three popular gothic metal bands touring together for reduced costs per member. I'm sure a line-up consisting of Paradise Lost, Moonspell and Crematory would attract much larger audiences than if the bands toured on their own.
Obviously, all these changes need to be introduced and prepared progressively. A clever label or band would have started doing these things more than a decade ago already because the music industry as we knew it was already declining back then and streaming services and download portals were becoming more and more popular. But it's not too late to embrace change and adapt. Instead of being passive-aggressive over it, it would be much more efficient to be proactive and try out something new.
That being said, I will continue attending concerts, buy merchandise and purchase physical versions of my favorite bands' records but this philosophy only applies to a modest minority these days.