Musicians living on the breadline, permanently no more than a utility bill away from fiscal meltdown. It’s an abiding historical reality, one that hasn’t been improved with the arrival of music streaming services, notorious for paying minuscule compensation to artists.
But could that be about to change? Today, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter...
... and CEO of financial payments innovator Square, announced that the latter was acquiring a majority stake in Tidal, the high quality music streaming service majority owned by JAY-Z and his select band of fellow artists.
Equally intriguing is the revelation that JAY-Z is joining the board of Square. What does he bring to that particular table? A massively motivated new customer base, it would seem.
Square has made no secret of its desire to grow beyond its initial mobile payments brief. It says that investing in Tidal will allow it to create new financial tools and payment systems - probably best not to use the word ‘instruments’ - specifically targeted towards musicians.
And it will be specifically musicians, rather than the music industry, that will be uppermost in Square’s mind. Anybody who’s heard Dorsey speak on the financial services industry will know that disruption is his uber happy place. The music biz is clearly his next target.
But it doesn’t take much imagination to join the dots and see that there are other, equally seismic changes that are happening in parallel, and which presage the direction music financing is heading.
Last month, Dorsey and Jay-Z also launched a bitcoin development fund - primarily aimed at Africa and India. And today the Kings of Leon released alternate versions of their latest album in the form of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that will be sold for just two weeks.
Essentially a form of cryptocurrency for creative assets, NFTs use blockchain tech to offer consumers special bonuses, tokens that are tradable once they come off sale. In the case of KoL’s NFT offerings that includes goodies such as front-row concert tickets, digital downloads and unique digital album art.
The really important point to clock, however, is that NFTs can be sold directly by the artists to their fans. The revenue they make, they keep. That's a revolution in the making, right there.
So, in short order, we now have new payment systems + bitcoin + NFTs appearing on the musical landscape. Individually they’re intriguing but viewed collectively, they could initiate truly monumental changes to the established music industry order, redistributing money vastly more equitably than in the past.
So will making music still be a guaranteed one-way ticket to a lifetime of poverty? Almost certainly if you play guitar as badly as I do.
But for the more talented among us, maybe not. To paraphrase Dylan, the times may just be a-changin’…