In a recent Billboard article entitled Analysis: Are Musicians Losing the Incentive to Create?, Glenn Peoples takes issue with the RIAA’s position that a drop in music sales correlates to a drop in the number of professional musicians. From 1999 to 2009 the recorded music shipments reported by SoundScan dropped from approximately $15 billion to $7.8 billion. Similarly, the employment of professional musicians dropped from about 45,000 to 37,000. The RIAA infers from this data that professional musicians are motivated by selling records and because records sales have declined, professional musicians have left the industry.
Peoples correctly points out that the use of SoundScan data as a conclusive indicator of the decline in newly released musical works is flawed, however his reasoning is incomplete. He failed to recognize that SoundScan is becoming an antiquated system that a significant number of independent artists have opted to forgo – despite the fact that registration with the SoundScan system is free. With the panoply of online retailers such as iTunes, Amazon, MySpace Music, etc., or wholly-independent shops maintained on an artist’s website, SoundScan, which is primarily associated with the brick-and-mortar flavor of retail, is becoming obsolete. Therefore, the number of shipments of SoundScan registered records used as a basis for the RIAA’s position is far from accurate in today’s marketplace because it does not report the innumerable releases of the independent artist community.
More importantly, the elephant in the room here which was not mentioned is the fact that it is the RIAA whose entire existence is dependent upon records sales, not modern musicians. It is because of this that I find the RIAA’s use of flawed statistics to point its finger at musicians as being motivated by money to be particularly offensive.
As a former professional musician, I will be the first to admit that, yes, money is one motivating factor in what drives an artist – but only to the level that one’s needs are met. Beyond that, purity of the art often trumps additional income as a motivator. For the RIAA to assert that musicians are creating less – already a flawed assumption – and that this decline in productivity is because we do it for the money is repugnant and self-serving.
The subtext of the RIAA’s argument is that consumers must pay for music or musicians will stop creating it. Anyone familiar with my blog already knows that I passionately believe every artist should be paid for their creative contributions, but the RIAA is not arguing on behalf of the creative community here, it is fighting for its only parasitic survival. Without record sales the RIAA cannot survive.
Musicians will never lose the incentive to create. We are motivated by an internal compulsion that only the creative community can understand. It is the reason an author may wake from a deep sleep and run to her notebook to jot down some inspired concept for a new text or a dancer will practice to the point of total exhaustion. They do this because the art compels them to, not for money. In fact, if you are motivated by money I couldn’t think of a less worthwhile profession to enter than the arts.
A clear line should be drawn between the business of selling records, upon which the RIAA relies, and the motivation of a creator. Artists create because they are compelled to do so. Whether consumer support their bounteous efforts dictates only if an artist can sustain an existence by their art, not whether or not they should continue to create.