Steve Lukather has released a passionate critique of the state of the modern music industry. His main concerns are,
- Low artist earnings (particularly from streaming)
- Saturation of the market with low quality
- Lack of investment in artist by labels
- Death of the album
It might seem easy to dismiss this as the bitter cavilling of an old man (he jokes about being, “108 this year”) he is 58, but Lukather has been recording for 40 years and has played guitar on many several seminal pop and rock records. He is perhaps best known as part of the yacht-rock combo Toto. In addition to this he has performed on over 1,500 recordings by other artists. He embodies the expert behind the scenes musician as well as anybody I can think of.
He also cares about musical culture this is clear from his message. It is worth considering what he has to say, but perhaps filtering it through an understanding of his specific viewpoint.
Streaming Doesn’t Pay for Artists
Lukather says he is not making any money from streaming royalties. Given his output that is shocking. If streaming is the future then it doesn’t seem to benefit artists with huge back catalogues. This is a big problem. By most measures Lukather is one of the most successful musicians around. He has earned the respect of his peers and is in some ways the ultimate industry insider (as a musician). Yet he is not benefiting from the streaming revenue model.
Some of the problem is just in how streaming has been set up, royalty rates are low, and some of the problem as Lukather says is in the old chestnut of record label accounting. Artists signed to labels get even less as the label takes their (significant) cut.
Streaming looks like it will be good for the companies operating the streams, Apple, Spotify, etc., and perhaps for publishing/record companies that control massive catalogues of music. If 40 years of active work doesn’t get you a meaningful slice of the pie what hope do emerging artists have? Continue reading
I am not in love,
But I’m open to persuasion
With the launch of Apple’s streaming music platform there has been much talk about the value of music. Many musicians are worried at the rise of streaming culture as it will impact on their earnings and ability to fund making more music. Music is more than commerce and more than a recording. Culture is not just a thing of the present. It is a web that spans time, links people together and defines us through our tastes.
I recently found a video of Joan Armatrading performing Love and Affection at Glastonbury in 2008. The performance is on the Jazz/World Stage on a sunny day, and it has stuck with me. This captured moment from seven years ago has become my version of Keats’ grecian urn.
This four and a half minute video sends me spinning off into a web of thoughts, looking back to 1976 when it was recorded, seeing the contrast between the Joan Armatrading then and the woman performing the song 32 years later, looking at the resonance the song has on the audience in that sunny field in Somerset and seeing them as a visible indicator of the power of the song and the woman. Continue reading
Contortionist, posed in studio, by Thiele’s Photographic Rooms, ca. 1880
via, George Eastman House Collection
Music history is a vast topic. Even confining yourself to popular music post 1952 leaves large vistas to navigate. If you include classical music you have 1,500 years of territory to cover and folk music is as old as people or possibly even older.
Standard practice has been to start at the beginning and work forward from there. The problem with this is it seldom works in fostering engagement. Convincing young people that Buddy Holly and The Crickets were challenging and revolutionary is not an easy sell. Convincing them that Orlande de Lassus is something to care about is vanishingly difficult.
Geoffrey Himes, writing for Smithsonian.com, looks at studying popular music backwards. He traces a path backwards from Sam Smith to Mary J. Blige, and onwards to Aretha Franklin and, ultimately, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Working this way people are gradually acclimatised to increasingly alien music like boiling the proverbial frog. He’s right, and not just regarding popular music. Continue reading