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Updated: May 6

Music consumption is higher now than at any time since around 2006. The download format is now antiquated, and the consumers concept of music ownership is largely a thing of the past. We’re firmly embedded in the streaming age. According to a mid-year report by Nielson in 2019, streaming accounted for 78% of all music consumption. Streaming has been pivotal in returning our industry to growth and years of decline are now behind us.

This has brought about other changes as a result. We’ve moved into a post-album economy. The song is taking centre stage as streaming algorithms and playlists drive discovery. In many ways this is liberating – artists can jump off the two-year creation-delivery cycle and release more content and take more creative side steps in doing so. Local music trends are able to find global music audiences and non-English language tracks are breaking through more than ever before. There’s much to be excited about in the big picture and I maintain that there’s never been a better time to work in the music industry; change presents a wide-open door of opportunity.

Of course, the impact of COVID-19 is apparent. Although recent reports of Spotify reaching 130 million paying subscribers is great, we should also remember that a subscriber increase does not necessarily lead to a streaming increase. Global streams from Spotify’s Top 200 chart dropped around 11% in the week commencing March 13th – that’s when many countries around the world began lock down measures.

Why would this happen? Some may assume that if people are at home they’d be listening to more music. But if we take into account the abrupt decline of commuters, bars, shops, restaurants and so on that would have been streaming music (often on a loop) the data makes sense. But we should look at these numbers alongside other more positive metrics. In that same week we saw a spike in video streaming of around 14%. Perhaps instead of streaming music on a commute, people are choosing to stream music on visual platforms when at home. Indeed, Deezer reported that their daily spike had moved from rush hour (7am) to between 9 and 10am. This seems indicative of that consumer change.

Another fascinating pivot has come from radio. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in radio listenership. The BBC reported an 18% increase, and Global similarly saw a 15% rise. US radio stations have reported even more impressive results. But why is this? Streaming music on platforms like Spotify isn’t a communal experience right now. Playlists are generally listened to alone. Radio on the other hand has a sense of community – people listening together at the same time. In uncertain times I think we appreciate such shared experiences… and radio has the added benefit of being able to include news updates. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned for DSPs from radio when life returns to normal – how do we build social connection into a streaming platform?

With streaming down, and concerts, tours and festivals cancelled, musicians are facing an unprecedented challenge, and often financial hardship – that’s undeniable. My entire career, be it as a director of SMB: The School of Music Business, artist manager, or board member for Jump: European Music Market Accelerator, has been about highlighting the huge role music plays in the fabric of our lives. The people that create, manage, promote, release, administrate or protect music, are massively important. They need to be supported at all times, but particularly during times like these.

It’s to the credit of the incredible music industry we’re in, that many companies and organisations have stepped up to the challenge. Bandcamp waived its revenue share early in the crisis. A relief fund has been set up by Spotify and they’ve implemented a new method for fans to donate directly to artists. Help Musicians UK, PRS For Music, PPL, BPI and others have all launched initiatives, donated and generally done truly noble work. Government’s need to do all they can to protect musicians and music businesses and recognise the nuances of our industry and how artists monetise, to ensure performers and stakeholders don’t fall between the cracks of any financial support available.

In the industry, it’s the live music sector that has been hit the hardest. With live concerts, festivals, and any large gathering, cancelled or postponed, the implications are far reaching. Live Nation and AEG have suspended all tours. Major festivals such as SXSW, Glastonbury and Coachella are off. Many independent festivals and venues are fighting for survival. It’s smaller venues that face the biggest challenge. A venue with a 200 capacity simply won’t be able to implement social distancing measures that look likely to be imposed for some time after the lockdown. Musicians Union report that UK artists have lost £14 million in earnings during March alone. We’re waiting patiently for the nightmare to end, but at a governmental level, as much as possible needs to be done to ensure these creators and businesses can survive and come through the other side.

As always, artists are adapting and finding solace in their creations and their audiences. The importance of human connection has long been at the core of how we market music successfully. Streaming services deliver listeners, but it’s not listeners that provide a strong revenue source, it’s fans. Musicians are using live streaming and a universal shared experience, to connect with an audience in an authentic and human way, turning casual listeners into devoted fans in the process.

It’s also interesting that sales of instruments and music making software has boomed during lockdown. With artists having the time and the ability to record at home, we could see a wave of new releases when life resumes, and possibly a growth in streaming numbers as a result.

What is certainly true, is that the music industry has proven itself to be extremely resilient over the last 40 years … and with support from consumers and governments, it will undoubtedly bounce back. We also recognise just how important music is! We mustn’t forget the songs, the performers or the song writers that we’ve turned to for solace and escapism, once life has returned to something resembling normality.

We should be extremely grateful to music, it's creators and our industry professionals.

Many music business professionals, and the artists they support, are adapting to new ways of working during the Coronavirus outbreak. The music industry is demonstrating once again how versatile, innovative and determined it can be – resolutely continuing the business of music, both rising to unforeseen challenges, whilst coming together to help those in difficulty.

Some major music companies are working to provide support during the pandemic. Bandcamp waived their commission on downloads and merchandise on Friday 20 March. Live Nation set up a Crew Nation Fund and PRS for Music launched an Emergency Relief Fund. Spotify contributed to various organisations including the W.H.O, and announced a fundraising campaign, committing to match donations. Billboard have compiled a list of similar initiatives coming from the music industry and are keeping it updated.

Artists are finding incredible ways to connect with their fans in genuinely meaningful ways. James Bay is teaching guitar lessons on Instagram. Chris Martin, Pink, John Legend and countless others have live streamed performances from their homes. Secret Sessions are running an ‘In The House’ series on Instagram every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 19:00, with artists introducing us to their homes, families, pets, and music! Participants of Triple J’s new artist program, Unearthed, have been covering each other’s songs. And playlists, including ‘Quarantunes’, aim to provide strength, humour and escapism.

Producers, songwriters and performers are utilising a vast number of tools to collaborate online. Alongside standard screen-sharing and video calling platforms, an array of music specific applications are finding favour such as Soundstorming, ProCollabs, BandLab, Splice and so many more. Artists are also using this time to hone their craft further. For example, SMB alumni, Jai Ramage, a renowned vocal coach (ITV The Voice/The Voice Kids) now hosts online lessons and is even running a regular open mic night on Instagram.

As an industry we are seeing a number of trends. The picture is evolving and is often territory specific, but streaming appears to be down approximately 10%, whereas video streaming is up nearly 15%. The BBC saw radio streaming increases of 18%, and Global similarly reported a 15% growth. Perhaps the sense of community that radio provides could be an interesting consideration for DSP development in the future. Understanding these shifts and recognising new listening habits is hugely important for artists and the wider industry, so we can adapt, respond and grow in line with market changes. That’s work that is directly addressed on SMB’s up-to-date, expert led courses.

Here at SMB: The School of Music Business we’ve worked tirelessly to create an incredible online learning platform so enjoyment, studies and successful course completion can continue during the pandemic and beyond. Our online courses take place live so you can interact with your tutor and other students in real-time! With high quality video and audio, live notes, quizzes, breakout group sessions and much more - our virtual classrooms provide a genuinely immersive experience, wherever you are in the world. Details of all of our courses can be found HERE. We are also hosting free weekly ‘Music Business Question Time’ sessions, details of which can be found on the SMB Facebook page. Lastly, we would like to take this opportunity to send a message of support and solidarity to all those affected by COVID-19; those in the music industry we love, and in all communities facing this global challenge.

Updated: Oct 10, 2019

We are more aware than ever of the environmental consequences of our actions - and the music industry has begun to take steps towards becoming as environmentally sustainable as possible. Artists such as The 1975 and Billie Eilish have recently committed to make efforts to address their own impact. The following infographic shows some of the environmental costs of music (US data) through the years, and provides a fascinating insight.

I spoke to one expert, whose pioneering work has seen her become a thought leader on the topic, Gwendolenn Sharp of The Green Room. She works to make the music industry as environmentally and socially sustainable as possible. I met Gwendolenn in my work with JUMP European Music Market Accelerator, in which she is a fellow.

Matt Errington of SMB: The School of Music Business meets Gwendolenn Sharp.

Could you tell us more about the work you do with The Green Room and the positive impact it’s having?

After working for many years for various festivals, music venues, cultural organisations and environmental NGOs in France, Poland and Tunisia, I have founded a non-profit organisation called The Green Room, which develops tools and creative solutions to address a core problem, making the music industry as environmentally and socially sustainable as possible, while inspiring greater ambition and without compromising the essence of artistic field work and co-creative relations.

Besides supporting bands, managers, labels and touring agents, I am currently in the final phase of my fellowship with JUMP, a Creative Europe project supporting innovative ideas for the music industry. I am developing a Toolkit called Green Your Touring!, highlighting low-carbon tips, case studies, good practices and solutions for musicians and technicians on the road.

We have just launched a crowdfunding campaign at the MaMA Festival and Convention in Paris in order to help finance the toolkit and related activities.

Please feel free to check, support & share the Green Your Touring! campaign.

Environmental sustainability has become really important to many artists and is being discussed more than ever in the music industry. What changes can we all make, whether as business professionals or artists, to become more sustainable?

Start with something, even if it’s small. If you are in an organisation, start with a conversation with your team, and brainstorm about what could be the first steps you could take. Most events and organisation tend to try to solve the problems when they occur, but the best way to go is probably to implement long-term environmental strategies to prevent them. For artists, integrating these practices can make them more resilient to the fluctuations of the industry.

The UK has always been a great source of inspiration for us working with sustainability in the arts & culture field.

The UK has always been a great source of inspiration for us working with sustainability in the arts & culture field, with organisations such as Julie’s Bicycle (who have just received the WOMEX Professional Excellence Award 2019 for their work and commitment to environmental sustainability in the creative arts sector), Creative Carbon Scotland, A Greener Festival, Powerful Thinking… If you are an organisation, a venue, a festival, a booking agency, and don’t know where to start, you can definitely turn to them for advice and support. Thematic guides Smart Energy for Festivals and Events or the Raw Foundation’s Plastic-free Festivals and Events guide are available for free online and great sources for tips and good practices to be implemented.

Artists and organisations can also join initiatives raising awareness, advocating and taking action, like the Music Declares Emergency movement, or DJs for Climate Action, etc.

Many in the industry are making genuinely positive changes. What developments have you seen that are encouraging?

When they are aware of their environmental impact, the majority of professionals from the music industry, touring artists and crew behind the stage have limited time, information and resources, and don’t know where to get advice on how to face these issues.

The next European Forum on Music which will take place in Bonn next year will focus on “Climate Action: Music as a Driver for Change

The field of live music is caught-up in this very contradiction: the more you get your message and values across, the more physical impact it has on the environment. Bands are facing pressure to tour more and more, and it is very unsettling to try to uphold a high standard of environmental ethics with this nomadic lifestyle. Sustainability is not a trend, it is a necessity if we still want to be playing gigs on this planet in the future. We need to find creative, relevant and realistic ways to reduce this impact, tailored to the reality of the music ecosystem and short-term challenges.

On a European level, networks and organisations are also taking a step up and are advocating for change. For instance, the next European Forum on Music which will take place in Bonn next year will focus on “Climate Action: Music as a Driver for Change”.

Is there a role for the music consumer in eco-responsibility? What can fans do themselves to create change?

Definitely yes. For change to happen within the music sector, everyone, from the larger structure to the individual, needs to be moving in the same direction. In the same way festivals or artists can influence behavioural change, consumers can influence the industry. This can range from using your bike or public transport to attend an event, bringing your own reusable cup and water bottle, or being more conscious about our streaming consumption to boycotting art organisations funded by oil companies or even carbon-offsetting by donating to meaningful environmental projects.

Please support & share the Green Your Touring! campaign

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