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Indie Music 2020

crystal_ball2_bmwPreviewWhat To Expect From the Music Industry Over the Next Decade

‘Tis the season to put out retrospective lists. Albums of the year. Songs of the year. Indie controversies of the year (Matthew Friedberger said what about Radiohead?).

But this year, in particular, is a special one. It’s the end of a decade. The world ended in 2000 and we’ve been living in a post-apocalyptic wilderness ever since. Which means that 2009’s indie darlings have to fight for recognition on lists that are looking back at a whole ten year block of music.

And the last ten years have been an interesting thing to witness. If we are living in some sort of post-apocalypse, it could be defined as the world that comes after one dominated by major labels. Sure, they’re still flailing around out there in the bosom of capitalist America, but more and more, the industry is being shaped by indie labels, indie musicians, and indie music fans. So while a retrospective of the last ten years brings back some great memories, what I’m really interested in is what we can expect from the next ten.

Will trends continue? Will 2020 be a world in which multiple boutique labels dominate without dominating? Will small business and websites sponsor indie projects like albums and tours, much in the way that they sponsor sports teams and events today?  Will physical music delivery formats be a vague memory, and will albums themselves be replaced by procedural / generative music? Or will the vinyl revolution continue, leading to a rift between old-school album lovers and digital fanatics?

As we’ve seen over the past decade, the opportunities for dramatic shifts, not only in musical styles but in industry trends, are endless, particularly when influenced by the constant evolution of technology. To find out more about what the next ten years are going to sound like, I spoke to some of the best indie music bloggers on the web today. Here’s what they had to say:

“The split between those who follow mainstream music and those who seek out underappreciated work will widen. Additionally, we’ll see a mix of algorithmic recommendation (Pandora) and human-curation come to be how we find new music we love.”

–    Paul Irish, Aurgasm

“Although I do not think the selling of physical CDs will completely die out, more people have become comfortable with buying their music digitally. The result of this has forced people to use the internet to discover new music and use music blogs and magazines as a reference point. The power that word-of-mouth music blogs now have as a whole rivals other mediums like radio and TV, and you will see a lot of record labels pushing their artists onto the blogosphere for attention.”

Blas Yaselli, The Music Ninja

“Over the next decade, the meaning of “record label” will change significantly. Currently, labels are still desirable to indie bands, but in the near future, ‘micro-services’ will directly offer PR, distribution, management, and booking support to independent musicians without them having to give up their rights. These companies will serve more or less as a new form of record label, but this time around the artist will have much more control.”

David Isaacson, IndieMuse.com

“I think indie music specifically has a lot to do with the industry’s push towards the digital format. Indie groups who couldn’t afford CD pressing and packaging and what-not were able to get their music out there to the fans via the almighty MP3, through their Myspace pages, sites like Purevolume, and blogs like the one you’re reading right now. Digital album downloads are going to be the next big thing, and it’s obvious that the bigger labels and bands are already embracing this idea, Radiohead being the perfect example. The CD is starting to look a lot like the cassette tape did back in the mid to late 90s. Vinyl on the other hand will live on forever, and I will fight for it’s right to party til the day I die.”

–    Travis, Newdust.com

“What I would love to see over the next decade is a community where I can easily find everything I need. For example, in Ray, when he needed the backup singers with that specific tenor, “the industry” had no problem finding it. When services are available to artists on that level, you can say goodbye to the Majors. With no overhead or fatcat CEOs to feed, the service will be affordable and the competition healthy.

Indie artists have the same tools as the majors available to them, but they lack access to the professionals that have the know-how to make the machine go.

What good are all the streaming music services? Currently they are wasting the technology. It’s like me building a car in my garage to compete with Toyota and then taking it to the dealership (streaming music service) to sell my product. I’m going up against an industry that has a 90 year head start. What are we thinking?

We need the keys (people) to the factory to compete. Once we have a superior product, then we make the rules.

Technology is leveling and continues to level the playing field.”

–    Duane Charles, CEO, Gighive.com

“Right now, a band can record a good album in their basement and create a scene for themselves on a national and global level much more easily than in the past. I think this will continue to happen over the next decade.  Once the CD becomes completely obsolete, which I think will in the next ten years, bands will have a harder time finding a reason to be on a major label. They’ll see smaller labels as being questionable too. Releasing albums with the band’s own income will be easier. Then the band will be able to hire a PR team on their own which will make labels virtually useless.

We’re in the middle of watching the music industry go through some major changes. The major labels are not on board at all. They’re refusing to accept this new evolution of the industry and will fall by the wayside because of it. Small labels will fall into that problem as well, since a lot of them are owned by major labels, anyway. So to answer your question in a nutshell, I think the labels will start falling by the way side. To see an example of that today, look at Metric‘s album Fantasies. It’s one of the best albums this year and they released it on their own.”

–    Doug Harrison, Indie Today

“I think because of the ‘openness’ and outreach of the Obama administration and just the flavor of the times, ‘world’ or international music, instruments, and culture will play a much bigger part in Indie music.

Also, I think music will become more confessional and honest. There will be less useless drivel and more of a seeking and hopeful lyricism by more artists.

The hope is that just as the the new Sufjan CD included a DVD, book, and View Master disk, more artists will present their work with more interesting and diverse media formats. Hey, let’s taste the music!”

–    Ron Cuellar, Heroes of Indie Music

“I think recent stylistic trends like ‘chillwave’ and other sample-based forms of production may precede the imminent abundance of technology in the upcoming decade of music. The emergence of DJ Shadow and Avalanches a decade or so ago kicked off the sample movement in independent music, and lately artists are beginning to fuse classic influences with new technology that provides them with seamless sample-based options. Panda Bear, Dan Deacon, Bradford Cox…all the latest ‘big names’ in the independent scene are prime examples of this. If artists can follow in their path and refuse to solely rely on this new technology, we could be in for some great bursts of creativity never seen before.”

Mike Mineo, Obscure Sound

“One thing that really caught my attention in the last week is that Apple purchased lala.com, which says to me that the biggest online music retailer will be moving to a more subscription-based model and will start allowing and encouraging users to keep their music in the cloud. This probably means that an obsession over storage capacity will give way to prioritizing bandwidth and constant connectivity.

As an independent musician, I always champion the dissolution of music prisons (DRM, mainstream record stores, horded music collections) because they prevent the flow of media and subculture from reaching the listener. When everyone’s music is in the cloud it will hopefully be easier to exchange and access new streams, though maybe the opposite is true if iTunes wants to tell you how to manage your music.

Another thing that I’m pleased to see happening at Bandcamp.com is that they are offering high-resolution versions of their artists’ music. This is an exciting trend because for all the joys of the mp3 craze it has caused a real devaluing of the high-fidelity listening experience. Listening to 128 kbps is like injecting bit-rot into your brain.

That is all in the next 2 years. After that, it’s anyone’s game. A few ideas:

  • Cell phones become a significant music production platform. They’ve already become home to demos and sketches for nearly everyone I know. I’m still waiting for the first #1 megahit produced on an iPhone.
  • Auto-tune is going to start to sound really dated.
  • I’m listening to how recording/producing is changing in indie music. Something that’s gone along with the loss of fidelity in the mp3 generation is that crisp and clean recordings aren’t so precious anymore. That used to be the signal of a professional studio but now a digital recording in a quiet apartment can be cleaner than an old studio recording with tape hiss (though now we have computer hum). So people are becoming more and more creative with how they are introducing noise and space into their recordings. Artists are getting more and more sophisticated with recording technology. I assume that most bands start recording themselves these days, so when they start working with a producer, they already have a developed idea of how they should sound recorded.
  • I’m heartened that the indie music scene has seemed amenable to real sonic experimentation and I foresee that only developing further. There is still somewhat of a mandate for rhythm but on top of that you can do nearly anything and people will be interested. People are getting used to massive amounts of parallel input and maybe that opens up avenues for composers and songwriters.”

César Alvarez, Music is Free Now

And there you have it! Predictions on everything from sound experimentation to music distribution and recommendation systems. The one constant? Everyone agrees that the heyday of the major label – and perhaps, the music label itself – is at an end. The next ten years should see indie music flourish in ways we could never have imagined even a decade ago.

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  1. [...] rest is here: Indie Music 2020 ebusiness, ecommerce, income [...]
  2. good read. I agree with what most of the people above stated. Here are some things I feel will happen. There will always be a physical median for music because some people love to have a tangible object (remember when you got your first cd, it was so amazing to have something cool with extra stuff--linear notes, art, etc). Also labels will become smaller in numbers. If you look at what has happened so far in the past 10 years, you will notice that the artist has become a "corporation" of sorts. Branding marketing, that whole DIY mentality is happening more and more. So I feel in the next decade "artists" will solicit money from people similar to venture capitalists to get their music up and going, then take it from there, much like a business does now a days. And of course with the advent of digital technology and the rate at which it evolves, this will become easier and easier. The only thing you have to watch out for is that the music doesn't get watered down due to the easy accessibility to music creation technology.
  3. Great insights from Dave! Music lovers, bloggers, artists and corporate entities should take note of this gighive article.