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Home > Letter from the Editor's Desk: November 2006

The Internet Killed Rockdom as a Career Choice

Do you want to be a rock star? Do you want to make a career out of selling records and playing stadiums around the world? Do you have caviar wishes and champagne dreams? Are you old enough to get my last reference? We have some bad news to report – you picked the worst decade in history to choose rock or pop music as a career choice.

Every time you listen to your iPod or the latest MP3 downloaded from, remember that you’ve helped to kill the very industry you hoped would sustain you. We as serious musicians have chosen work that’s almost as non-lucrative as being a master painter (no, not the house painting kind). Look at how our own use of technology and innovation has seriously hurt our industry:

1. Too much choice.
It’s never been easier to publish your music thanks to the Internet and home recording studios. Anyone can record their band and share music on and countless other web sites. Further, any artist with even a modest budget can manufacture their own CDs and get them distributed online.

Historically, when you got a record deal, it took a sizable capital investment to get your music in front of a prospective audience. This barrier (cost of entry) helped to limit the competition somewhat. But now that it’s so inexpensive – nearly free – to make your music available, rather than trying to be heard above the voice of 1,000 other bands, you’re fighting to be noticed above 10,000 new artists. Just think how many great musicians aren’t heard because there’s too much noise competing for the listener’s attention – and half of it is crap! There is too much new music to sift through in order to find a handful of truly great, pro-level musical artists.

2. The singles mentally has killed the album.
Kids today have a singles mentality. It’s bad enough that most of them think it’s their right to download music for free, regardless of who created it. Parents and educators are doing a poor job overall teaching children that unpaid downloads and copies of music is actual theft of creative work. I’m not saying that parents have to teach their kids about copyright law, but teach them about respecting the effort that artists put into creating their products – and help kids understand that artists need to be compensated by those seeking to make use of their products (just like any other business) or else they won’t be able to afford to make those products any more.

Thanks to download services reaching back to the days of Napster and LimeWire, the majority of music listeners have developed the habit of just listening to singles. Lots of great music is being ignored with this singles mentality. Online music stores like iTunes or the new Napster, Rhapsody, etc. have spawned an industry of music fans just buying singles. People aren’t as interested in downloading full albums, probably because in the aftermath of 90’s garage rock, post-grunge America got used to bands only having a handful of good songs and lots of sub-par filler material. Of course this ties into the fact that it’s so easy for barely-talented bands and artists to get their music distributed these days.

Today, many record labels find it more profitable to put out multiple EPs from bands. Record four or five songs; put them online for sale. Then, write another EP. Rinse. Repeat.

Artists have begun to strike back, though, not only writing concept albums with cohesive musical themes (Green Day, Angels & Airwaves, Dream Theater, Marillion, to name a few), but also making special download options available such as bonus tracks and videos in exchange for people purchasing their entire albums instead of just downloading the hit singles.

Still want to be a rock star? Think about how many $.99 downloads your band needs to sell for you to make some actual career-worthy money, and don’t forget that only $.30 of that will actually get to your band. Split it four or five ways, take out taxes… and if you’re putting out CDs independently, what is your plan for getting an audience to discover the music and purchase it?

Of course the industry has an answer to this – tour, tour, tour. In the 80’s, numerous bands got rich selling records without touring. Today, touring, selling merchandise, and licensing songs for film, television, and video games, are the only ways to make big money, but you don’t get big-paying tours unless you’re selling lots of records. It’s a vicious cycle.

With radio regimented into narrowly focused formats, and mostly not playing unsigned artists (satellite radio brings us hope, though), it’s not easy to get heard by the massive number of people you need to reach become a super star, despite it being so easy to make your music available to listeners. If you’re a young musician set on becoming a rock star, we wish you the best of luck, but consider some alternate career path that has more tangible job options so that while you’re struggling to climb to the top, you can at least afford to buy all the great pro gear we’re constantly telling you about.

If you’re currently going the independent artist route, are you finding success getting the word out to fans about your music? Talk about this with us in the forums, and if you’ve got a great CD, feel free to send us a copy for possible review (see our Music Reviews section for details). And don’t forget to shamelessly plug your band in our “Bands, Musicians, & Music” forums. We’ll do what we can to help you spread the word.

Scott Kahn—Editor in Chief,

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