You’ve likely had the experience of buying a phone or a computer that within a couple of years is categorized as old, perhaps even to the point where new applications won’t run on it. This phenomenon of rapid obsolescence of technology is known as Moore’s Law, which implies that computers become smaller, faster and cheaper at an exponential rate. This law may annoy you when it comes to your mobile phone, but it is at the root of the changing power dynamic between musicians and recording companies.
Changing Power Dynamic
John Branca explains that artists have much more power in agreements with recording companies than they used to. Contracts are shorter, and the artists have more freedom. Previous agreements have restricted artists’ creative choices, limited artists with whom they could work, restricted their fans’ access to them and left them without ownership of their own material. Advancements in technology give artists viable mediums such as YouTube and Instagram through which they can release songs and promote their music themselves, which drives a rebalancing in the power dynamic to the benefit of the musician.
The past century is filled with examples of artists who were on the losing end of deals with their recording companies. Little Richard, for instance, was given just $50 plus a half a cent for each record sold for the song “Tutti Frutti”. By the time that song had sold half a million copies, Little Richard had earned just $25,000. You may wonder why Little Richard would sign such a deal, but deals like this were commonplace within the industry for a long time. Since the record companies held all the means of music distribution, artists wanting to get records out to the public had to sign whatever deal a record company would give them, or they just wouldn’t be able to get their music out.
Advancements in technology have given artists the option to make and promote their music completely by themselves, perhaps forever or maybe as a first step. Being a DIY musician comes with many powers that artists on record labels either don’t have or have limits on. DIY musicians have sole decision-making authority with respect to the type of music they make, when they go on tour or what they want their branding to be. They can choose who they want to work with and who they don’t. They own everything, including their connection to their fans, so they can decide how much time they want to spend connecting with fans and through which mediums. Finally, they don’t have to worry about information being restricted from them, and they have complete ownership of their overall direction and future.
With musicians having a realistic choice to release their music by themselves and still be successful, recording studios are pressured to offer artists more lucrative, shorter contracts, balancing the power between the two parties and even tipping it to the side of the musicians. Fans who love their musicians win as well with greater direct access to their favorite artists.