The internet: is it good or bad for music?

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Music is one of the many industries that the internet has massively transformed.

In 2014, the global recording industry, according to music industry watchdogs IFPI, derived 46 percent ($6.85 billion) of its revenue from digital channels, a number equal to physical sales revenue.

In less than two decades, nothing in music production has stayed the same: recording, publishing and distributing have all been reshaped.

While the internet solved many problems and widened the audiences of many musicians, it came with many more problems that are yet unsolved, especially in the MENA region where the industry has not been picking up to the changes, leaving many artists unprotected.

All these issues were put to the table during the Disrupt!Music! bootcamp which was held at Zain Innovation Campus in Amman, March 24 - 26.

Disrupt! Music!

After launching their first Disrupt event last year in Amman, MidEast Creatives returned this year to power Disrupt!Music! in collaboration with local organizers Feesheh, Indiepush, and Belbaleh.

Arthur Steiner, project manager at MidEast Creatives, believes that the event is meant to bridge music with creativity and technology.

“We think that the youth in this region mix between technology, culture, music and entrepreneurship through cross sectors”, he said. “They don’t think in strict borders. They look into how they can combine technology with music with content to create an impact in the societies”.

The event hosted Dutch music entrepreneur and author of “The Soundcloud Bible”, Budi Voogt, and Abed Agha, founder of Vinelab, a digital media company.

The 56 participants were split into 25 teams, each to present innovative music oriented businesses. Three ideas ended up winning a total of 6,000 euros (US$6,700) in addition to Zoomaal credit, and prizes from Zain and Oasis500.

The first prize went to an instrument manufacturing company, the second to a music social networking app and the third to a talent platform.

The judging panel, judging
Judging Panel from left, Shermine Sawalha from Malahi, Muhannad Bursheh from SAE, Luma Fawaz from Oasis 500, Rasha Barakat from Zain.

What about piracy?

According to the Institute of Policy Innovation, the US loses an annual $12.5 billion to music piracy.

Music piracy  is on a viral rise and nobody can stop it; it is cheaper, faster, and has become part of the  listener’s culture.

“In our region, piracy is serious, but the laws are catching up,” explained Agha. “The moment platforms like Anghami and Apple music create more convenience the listeners will have the reason to pay. Our audience is not used to paying for content but eventually they will have to pay”.

Unlike Agha, others are trying to accept piracy rather than fight it. “Piracy is something we have to accept. There is nothing we can do about it. It’s always going to be there. We have to find other ways of monetizing the process,” elaborated participant Christopher Mullender who is a sound engineer and producer.

According to Yacoub Abu Ghosh, a Jordanian musician and composer, who basically pirated his own work a few years ago when he uploaded his album for free, the problem for alternative bands is not online piracy, it is the absence of royalty regulation and the low demand compared to pop music.

From his part,  American musician Steve Albini is against the whole system of copyright and is ironically a hard core piracy supporter.

“I reject the term ‘piracy’”, he wrote on Reddit, “it’s people listening to music and sharing it with other people, and it’s good for musicians because it widens the audience… which has created a huge growth in live music performance, where most bands spend most of their time and energy anyway.”

Discussion panel hosting from left Shermine Sawalha from Malahi, Egyptian singer Rami Issam, Jordanian singer Hana Malhas, Lebanese singer Zeid Hamdan, and Indiepush founder Mohammad Ismael.

Alternative ways to monetize

Since piracy has ripped off the possibility of making money out of album sales, there needs to be other alternatives for income in order to guarantee sustainability.

“I think we will never ever be able to control music. It has to be free whether we like it or not. So let’s keep it free and try other ways to make money, like concerts, festivals, and donation,” suggested Atef Malhas, of the band SemaZen.

1. Streaming

Rather than buying tons of music, streaming services such as Napster, Spotify, Deezer, and Anghami make it easier for listeners to get music at a much cheaper rate and at the same time protect the artists by paying them royalties.

However, some have criticized that streaming platforms are more beneficial to record labels than artists themselves, who barely get paid down the line, and eventually get stuck in multiple layers of bureaucracy and corporate corruption.

American musician David Lowery expressed his frustration about this with his article ‘My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale!’

2. Gigs

Before online distribution, gigs were used to promote the sale of physical CDs, explained Abu Ghosh, but after the internet took hold, the tables were turned. Albums are now used as a promotion for gigs. And that, according to Abu Ghosh is healthy because it helps create a community.

Along the same lines, Mullender’s idea is to create a record label that shifts monetizing procedures from recording to concerts. Most artists can’t pay for a proper recording he said, and so his record label would greatly reduce the financial burden at the recording stage, and would depend on concerts later on.

Music surviving the digital age

The integration of the internet has opened the door to unlimited innovations and technologies that have intensely directed the human experience whether for better or for worse.

Financial sustainability amidst waves of piracy and royalty violations has become the main challenge in front of the the complex music evolution.

“In order to really disrupt the industry, we need to have it sustainable for people that can go beyond having it as a hobby, so that they can choose to make a living out of it,” noted organizer Mohammad Ismael.

Pouring entrepreneurial values and technology into the music ecosystem, is considered by many, a good strategy to fill in the gaps and solve sustainability problems. Successful examples include ROLI’s seaboard, and Mogees.

“Entrepreneurship is almost like a separate bubble and then there’s the art scene which is in a separate bubble as well,” said Steiner. “What we are trying to do with Mideast Creatives is merge those two bubbles together and see where there is an overlap, and if there is friction, it means there’s something interesting going on.”

Feature image via Pexels.com

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