State of The Music Business:Cornerstone 2011

Music executive John Thompson took an enrapt crowd of 50 aspiring musicians through a fascinating monologue on the history and the current state of the global music business.

John Thompson is the Creative Director for EMI CMG Publishing, the founder of Tru Tone Etc and the creative leader of The Wayside.  John Thompson has been a musician, music executive and music industry entrepreneur for nearly 30 years.  So he has lived through meteoric rise of the music industry in the late 90′s and the subsequent collapse of the entertainment juggernaut in the 21st century. John longingly refered to that as the “troubadour age.”

All of that changed in the early 20th century when mass production and distribution enabled sheet music to spread new songs rapidly across the country.  That is when an industry begin to develop around music and musicians began to make money from far reaching sources through royalties.

The entire process accelerated with radio, then mass produced phonographs with vinyl records, then television and then digital music until musicians became society’s wealthiest and most influential. That engine was tying to feed an ever bigger appetite by rushing artists to the front who had not fully developed.

In short, music moved from being about the craft to being about fame and fortune, so everyone wanted a piece.

The onset of effective digital distribution through the Internet brought all of that to a crashing fall.  With the loss of musical craftsmanship, the ease of creation and distribution have fed a pipeline of musical gold rushers into the market and consumers have responded by taking what they like and paying for virtually nothing.

According to John the music industry has shrunk by 65% in the past 5 years.

I think John Thompson is relishing the return to the troubadour orientation to music.  He encouraged the musicians to focus on their craft, build a tribe of fans and develop a lifestyle that will enable them to life on less than $25,000 a year.  He pointed to Gungor, Over The Rhine, Phil Keaggy and The Civil Wars as examples of artists who have followed the trobadour model to a level of success that will enable them to sustain their music careers for the rest of their lives.

Sitting in the middle of a field in in Illinois we were able experience a tour de force assessment of the music industry through the eyes of a true expert.  Only at Cornerstone.

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