Imagine a day without any music. No pop tunes on the radio when you wake up. No country twang on the way to work. No Christmas carols playing while you shop downtown. No nighttime jazz as you drift through the evening. Imagine how odd our world would sound without music. Now take away art, too. And books. Extreme, yes, but it’s a world brought to mind this week as I reflected on the rate at which local businesses are closing and local artists are struggling.
There’s always been an ebb and flow to business. One shop opens, another closes. There are some that open that you expect won’t make it to their first anniversary, and others that leave you in shock when they close their doors. But we all know that the market is changing in fundamental ways; internet sales are outpacing traditional retail sales, yet consumers are clamouring for niche stores and high quality service.
More and more people in my social circle are focusing on spending their money locally, which gives me great hope for the entrepreneurs taking the risk on opening local shops. The landscape will continue to change, but perhaps will find a balance that ensures we continue to have neighbours who create and supply our goods and services.
But with all the talk of shopping local, I very seldom hear my friends mentioning local music, art, and fiction on their to-buy lists. I know a lot of full-time musicians, as well as many music professionals who still need to work another job to pay their bills. I’ve been aware for some time that it’s a hard, hard industry in which to make a living, particularly in a country such as Canada where touring is an enormous expense. But I hadn’t stopped to truly consider the impacts of the past two decades of technology on these artists. Then, a post from local musician Christine Melanson brought the topic front and centre. She shared that, in order to buy herself a $2 cup of coffee, people would have to listen to a track of hers nearly 300 times via a streaming service. Just as ecommerce is disrupting the traditional retail industry, it’s wreaking havoc on the music industry. As a listener, you might love non-committal immediate nature of streaming services, but please give a thought to what you’re giving away.
In her post, Christine also shared the thoughts of Canadian musician Danny Michel. After 25 years working as a full-time musician, he says this is the first year he’s been worried about his career security. His current single, Purgatory Cove, has been in the Top 20 for the last 10 weeks. It’s earned him a total of $44.99 in actual sales, and just over $3,000 from the more than 100,000 times someone has listened to it on a music streaming service. He wasn’t sharing the statistics to try to drive people to buy his CDs, but rather to highlight what’s happening behind the scenes with musicians. Michel writes that he’s spoken to “many brilliant life-long musicians … that are quietly beginning their exit strategy” from the industry because of these changes.
So, as a Christmas gift to your future self who might enjoy having music, fiction and art in your life, please gift a book, a painting, a CD, even a concert ticket this season. Then make plans to support these artists throughout the year, as just like the holiday spirit, we need to make this effort last for 12 months. One month of sales isn’t enough to ensure they’ll be here next Christmas, too.