BEN HAMMOND: Public misconception of the music industry

Audio engineer explains why he feels many up-and-coming bands and touring professionals are finding it tough right now.
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I was reading an article on Music Week the other night that really shocked me. It shows, quite graphically, the sorry state of the record industry.

I know that all of you are more then aware of the impact that the Internet and illegal downloading has had on the music industry, but what troubles me are the views of some fans – a feeling of contempt towards artists as they use $100 bills for toilet paper, and are all driving Rolls Royces into cocaine-filled swimming pools, so “they don't need my money.”

They spend their time complaining about the same festival headliners each year, moan about Simon Cowell’s latest project repeatedly topping the charts, and yet sit and watch most of their favourite upcoming bands slowly decline and split up.

The truth is the entire music industry is now based on a product that has become worthless because the general public chose to steal it. Illegally downloading music was heavily glorified and people such as Lars Ulrich (pictured) were publicly damned for trying to protect not their own income, but an entire industry that was on the edge of collapse.

Due to having to survive on a fraction of the income it once did, the music industry cannot now put anywhere near as much money into upcoming acts. This means that major labels are not interested in the long term growth of a band, as they cannot gamble budgets. The few upcoming bands that do sign to major labels are mostly being dropped due to not hitting the album sales they need to recoup the small advances they have struggled to make a record with.

With all this in mind there are no new acts that are capable of taking on the likes of Metallica and Iron Maiden, who themselves wouldn't have been anywhere near the size they are today had it not been for the major record deals they signed back then. The much more lucrative industry helped them to market their music and brand to a level that provided longevity.

People get sick of these bands playing festivals over and over again so don't buy enough tickets and festivals subsequently get cancelled, but there are no new bands worth 80,000 tickets. In a climate where tickets sales are dangerously low, how can you expect promoters to take an 80,000-person risk on new bands who have precious little presence in the press?

We have lost the much-coveted Christmas Number One slot to The X Factor as the TV exposure leads to the meagre records sales required to top the UK charts, which then puts "the artist" in front of the general public and brings the fame that generates the income needed to sustain the artist and/or create the next five-minute wonder. Because this is the only exposure the general public have to music, they believe that is the extent of their choice. How about buying a record and help real hard working bands take this on?

Bands struggle, despite what the public think. It's not a source of unlimited income, they don't drive Porsches, or live in mansions. They struggle to break even when touring, but this is the only way of making money due to music theft. Because the industry doesn't see income from record sales, it now has to take money from touring income to be able to provide the services that the bands need to progress; this makes touring even less cost effective.

On top of this, taking time out to make the next record is a period where the band will make £0; combine this with them having to use what they do make (or the small advance that they will struggle to pay back) to hire a studio and the people needed to make an album, means that in most cases it has to be done as quickly as possible. Producers cannot make a living on points alone, if at all anymore, so they need their payment upfront, which again ramps up the cost of making a record. Everything about making records now is compromise, but this in no way stops the public bashing as the new album isn't as good as their last one.

Even bands that "stick it to the man" and take the independent route still need management, PR, distribution, legal teams, booking agents, touring crew etc...These all cost money, and this money has to come from somewhere.

People are now giving away their music, not out of choice, but because there is no other option. Beyonce’s latest giving away of her new record is a well thought out publicity stunt that will push her back into the forefront of the music press, which will in turn result in ticket sales. If someone told you that tomorrow your salary will drop to a tiny percentage of what you get paid now, but you will have to work twice the amount of hours to get that tiny amount of money, you would tell them where to go. So what then if you had no choice?

Most of your life is spent listening to music, be it on TV, radio, iPods, films, ringtones, background music in restaurants, shops, lifts, waiting rooms, but what happens if people just stop making music? Everyone needs to make money to live, and this is an industry after all. If music stops paying, it won't get made. This may sound a little extreme, but how long until this is the case?

The fairy tale of music lovers giving up their lives to share songs simply does not exist. Living costs.

The temporary upshot of all this was a resurgence in live music and touring, however we now find ourselves in a largely over-saturated market. This itself has had a huge impact on what we as touring professionals do. Ticket sales are very low at the moment, from small club bands to large arena acts having to make the decision of using their full production and putting on what they believe to be their best show in a half-sold arena, or downgrading back into academies. Management are cutting costs everywhere and job sharing is becoming a given – be it FOH engineer/tour manager or tour manager/driver/merch – and some are simply cutting crew members full stop.

A new generation of crew networking entirely on Facebook, and claiming to do every job on the tour (and you get their rusty LDV convoy for free in the process) now seem to be getting a scary amount of work that in the past would have been way out of their league, but as quality decreases, so does expectation. I see so many support bands now doing big tours with “crew” who really have no idea. Given all of the above, it's understandable that bands are trying to save money at every turn, but with the record industry failing to find a way to regain value in music, where do we go from here? Money going down further, with people having to do every job until the standard is for bands to tour with one member of crew until they hit arenas (if ever?)

Could being the best FOH engineer or monitor engineer you can be become something of the past? And if you can't production manage or tour manage in the process, will your talent be disregarded?

Obviously many bands continue to tour with full well-paid crew, but what about the expectations of our future employers?

Website: www.facebook.com/benhammondaudio
Twitter: @benhammondaudio

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