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It’s Complicated: Being a Musician in the 21st Century Requires So Much More than Music

by Dan Daley • in
  • July 2019
  • Last Word
• Created: July 10, 2019

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Photo by Thomas Ulrich

The first great technological paradigm shift for musicians occurred when they went from saving up their money to go into the studio to, instead, using that money to buy the studio, in the form of home recording platforms that have gotten progressively smaller/faster/better/cheaper over time. It was a momentous inflection point: musicians were now recording artists on their own terms. They had to learn a lot of new skills (and make some difficult assessments as to whether they were really able to be both their own engineers and producers, too), but for the most part they did. In the process, an entirely new MI category was created, as pro audio entered the music shop.

But if adding production to playing skills was a big deal, it was nothing compared to what musicians in the second decade of the 21st century have to contend with. Building a career in music requires not just talent and technical chops, but now encompasses a constantly widening range of online and social media resources. These putatively enable musicians to monetize their musical talents, by selling recordings they’ve made or promoting gigs they’re going to do, or promoting themselves as music teachers. However, the sheer scale of all of this may leave less and less room for the actual music.

A Day In the Life

A typical indie musician now may spend time on Bandzoogle as he or she cobbles together a website that accurately reflects their talents and differentiates them from others in their genre(s). Then it’s on to Spotify’s Artist Insights, the streaming giant’s analytics tool designed to help musicians understand who’s listening to their music over the platform, and let musicians tailor the content on their websites to better reach audiences and sell merch, tickets, and recordings. Next stop: BandsInTown, which keeps audiences up to date on the timing and locations of live shows, also engaging them through videos. (You did remember to make a video, right?) Make sure you also do Songkick, a mass automated updater that brings that same kind of info to fans’ Spotify, Shazam, Bandcamp, Pandora, Hype Machine, and other mobile apps. GigMailz is basically MailChimp for musicians, and woe to the guitar chimp who forgets to maintain a current mailing list to maintain constant engagement with fans. And of course, don’t forget SoundCloud, for those fans who haven’t yet signed onto Spotify or Apple Music.

The list could go on and on, and it does. Musicians are bombarded by online career accelerators that may or may not boost their professional fortunes, but will certainly cost them, in dollars for those services and in terms of the time it takes to learn and implement the nuances of each of these resources. MI retailers can help with this surprisingly burdensome digital workload by becoming aware of it and talking to customers about it. Just the local MI store is the clearinghouse for scuttlebutt about the relative merits of instruments, amps and accessories, it can also help customers navigate a bit of the maze of online offerings they face as they develop their careers. You don’t have to become an expert in online career accelerators, you just have to know they’re one more thing that musicians have to face in the digital landscape.

I cannot let this month’s “Last Word” go without a shout-out to MI retailer All County Music store in Tamarac, Florida, west of Ft. Lauderdale, which worked with Conn-Selmer to provide 50 band students from 50 South Florida schools with $50,000 worth of trombones honoring Alex Schachter, one of the victims in the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in nearby Parkland, and a ‘bone player in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Eagle Regiment Marching Band. The specially designed Alex Tribute Trombones, engraved with a motif combining Alex’s name and a trombone icon, were awarded during a ceremony on May 11 at the store. For the event, 50 band directors from the region’s schools were asked to nominate students to receive the instruments. All County Music, which also has a store in Pembroke Pines, has been the go-to for school band directors in the area for over 40 years. Props to All County Music president Fred Schiff and Conn-Selmer company president John Stoner for their generosity.

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