RocketSong‘s Ezra Greene takes us through the modern economics of a song and looks at the tools and technologies that are democratizing the song creation process.
Part One: The State of the Song:
Today, more songs are being created and distributed than ever before.
The sheer volume of this is mind-boggling. There are more than 40K tracks being uploaded to Spotify every day. But with this comes two important questions:
Why and So What?
In answering both these questions we will take a deep dive into the modern economics of a song. How technology and globalization have made the costs of song creation more palatable, and how they have contributed to make the upside of revenue from songs more enticing.
These “economics” of a song have changed greatly, and their effect on the musical artist is profound. Music is a joy, it is an art, it is a reward and an escape, but it is also a business and at the core of that business is the song. The song can be star creating (take Lil Nas X, for example) and as the life-blood of the streaming revolution, the single song has never been more important and central.
“Music is a joy, it is an art, it is a reward and an escape, but it is also a business and at the core of that business is the song.”
The music industry is going through a massive change, but one undeniably positive singular change is that the song is being unlocked. It’s never been easier, throughout all of history, to create and make money from a song.
Part Two: The Creation Process
In these days of distancing, isolation and quarantine what is a musician to do?
The same routine still sits at the core of a musical life: writing, recording, reworking, releasing and performing songs. As we all know, making a song is not just coming up with a hook and then scribbling lyrics down on a computer or notepad. It involves sourcing musicians, recording, mixing, mastering, releasing and a myriad of other steps. Keeping this process efficient and scalable is paramount and vital.
Helping to that end are the many new tools and technologies that make song-creation easier and more artist friendly than at any other time in history. Which leads to the great, simple, one-word question: How?
Let’s start with songwriting.
For decades, the Bob Dylan-influenced cult of the singer-songwriter dominated the record industry, but in recent years music producers like Mark Ronson and Diplo, and celebrity songwriters like Ed Sheeran and Sia have achieved a level of prominence that has changed this dynamic. Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Luis Fonsi, Teagen and Sara, and The Weeknd all sing songs that other people have written. This has opened the doors for songs to be created by a whole new swath of talented musicians.
In fact, to show you the current state of things here’s a recent quote from a Rolling Stone interview with Blake Shelton:
Rolling Stone: You wrote more for this album than any other. But songwriting has never seemed like a huge priority for you.
Blake Shelton: I’m not the biggest fan of my own writing. I’m really hard on it, for two reasons. I think when you’re an artist in my position, I have the opportunity to get my hands on some of the greatest songs written, because I know all these incredible writers in Nashville. How foolish would it be not to take advantage of that? We’re talking about some of the best writers in the world. I want to make the best album I can humanly, possibly make. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that? I don’t need a part in the publishing. I just want my record to be good.
But you don’t have to be an internationally known artist like Mr. Shelton to have access to collaborators, co-writers or even songs themselves. Over the past decade plus, we have seen a great movement towards the democratization of the song creation process thanks to a proliferation of online services, tools and apps. From collaboration technologies to beat and sample licensing platforms and song marketplaces like RocketSongs, where unreleased, high-value song demos written by professionals are now made readily available, the songwriting process is now available to all.
“Over the past decade plus, we have seen a great movement towards the democratization of the song creation process thanks to a proliferation of online services, tools and apps.”
The recording of songs used to only take place in studios, limited to those with connections and the wallet for expensive tools, rentals and hirings. Now, artists like Billie Eilish are making songs in their bedrooms and on buses. Indeed, the music production process has been truly unlocked. A musician with a sheet of lyrics and a guitar can now use free software like GarageBand to record their vocals and strums. They can then share these stems with a fellow musician anywhere via the internet and have that collaborator add in their respective vocals/instrumentals. This process continues and iterates for minimal cost.
Additionally, with a marketplace like Spotify’s SoundBetter, those musicians can find a local mixer or engineer to finish or polish their work. Or, if a local professional is not available, the files can be sent (as before) to a professional anywhere in the world. If neither of those solutions work, there are automated AI driven solutions which can provide mastering or finishing services through simple upload/download workflows.
And then there’s platforms like Splice and BeatStars where beats, hooks and samples can be licensed and sold to multiple parties, and anyone can find amazing artists and producers to collaborate with. All online. All immaterial of time, location or industry connections.
Obviously the last step in song creation and perhaps the one we need to spend the least amount of time on. With a finished song, musical artists no longer have to rely on distribution channels that were heavily gated and full of bureaucracy. Now, distribution is a near-zero cost process open to anyone with a song, whether you’re self-releasing or working with a next-generation company like AWAL or CD Baby.
Putting this into context:
The song creation process used to be best represented by the iconic Capitol Records Building, whose impermeable outer walls represented the inaccessibility of the music creation business. Memorable in image, this building also represents the anachronistic past where in order to get access to the great engineers, producers, singers and songwriters (who worked in that building) an artist needed to have:
- A record label deal
- A “connected” lawyer
- A well-known music manager
- Lots and lots of money
If you didn’t have those contacts and if you didn’t live in Los Angeles, New York or Nashville, then you had your work cut out for you and your chances of creating great songs were severely curtailed.
Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.
Now, with the click of a button, an aspiring musician dreaming of becoming the next Adele or Bruno Mars can employ the production tools, distribution channels, or songwriting professionals used by the superstars themselves. The only gate to success now is talent.
Part Three: What to do with the Finished Product
There’s an old adage from the music publishing business that represents an unfortunate truth of the entire OLD music business:
80% of revenue comes from 20% of the songs.
The story was if you didn’t have a record label deal you could play your songs to your friends and family. Maybe perform it at a local bar, if you were really lucky. But that was it. That just sucks. Even those with record label deals had their songs controlled and manipulated by music executives who would decide which tracks would see the light of day.
But musicians, bands and music companies are now starting to view their catalogues as “assets”, and new technologies are emerging to create value propositions and monetization plays for all the new songs being created.
“Musicians, bands and music companies are now starting to view their catalogues as “assets”, and new technologies are emerging to create value propositions and monetization plays for all the new songs being created.”
Let’s start with the sync market. For those new to this world, sync refers to a music synchronization license that is needed when a third-party (e.g. a YouTube video, a TV show, a feature film) wants to have music included in their production. As more video content is created, more music is needed across the globe. As content production grows globally, especially in China and India, so will the corresponding revenue opportunities.
The cousin of these sync libraries are the royalty-free marketplaces and sample licensing platforms. It used to be that royalty-free music catalogues were synonymous with second rate music, and samples used to be unattainable thanks to the legal and procurement costs. Now, both of these lines of thought are happily anachronistic. With the ascent of hip-hop and highly produced pop songs, beats and hooks are more important than ever. Thus a flood of musicians and singers are searching for the underlying music for the next “Old Town Road.” These platforms not only offer musicians revenue, but also the opportunity to bolster their resume and develop their music-making craft.
Finally, there are marketplaces like the aforementioned RocketSongs, which allows songwriters with high-quality professional demos a new place to find cuts for their songs. Via a license which keeps copyrights with the original composer, what used to be a closed corporate A&R process is now open to singers and bands across the globe.
Find out more at www.rocketsongs.com
Thanks for this. I was hoping you would address a differnt “Why?” question.
That is: Why create more songs when there are already so many, more than one could listen to in a million lifetimes?
So, that’s what the 2nd half of the article was suppose to justify, but it’s only a partial (and seemingly poorly conveyed) answer.
The other part of the answer, and the easy one, is that it’s an art. Paintings are still being painted in the digital era. Opera’s are still being written in a time of lesser patronage and public funding. Music is made, because musical artists are artists.
The other part, is that you can now monetize your music in a myriad of ways. Not only that but new monetization paths are springing up all the time because conception and transactional costs in digital are always going down. Synch, Licenses, even samples are new ways of creating revenue to offset production costs.