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The music industry post-COVID will face meltdown and chaos, then rebound.

Before the COVID pandemic Music was still a $74bn a year industry, despite digital change, and spent $15bn a year on new recordings.

But big labels were already in crisis, threatened by streaming services which already generate $8bn a year in revenues. American music revenues collapsed from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009, but began to recover after slashing costs. 

Over 50% of their revenues in some nations already come from digital streaming, which grew 45% in 2017 in the UK, with overall revenues growing by 10.6%.  But then COVID-19 hit, which resulted in three big changes.  

1. Firstly, more time listening at home

2. Complete freeze in live performances

3. Production challenges - great difficulty in bringing groups of musicians, writers, producers and others together to create new music.

Post-COVID most music industry revenues will once again be from live events

Just before the COVID pandemic, 60% of music industry revenues were from live performances, up from 33% in 2000.

And live music will return.

Indeed the more virtual our lives, the greater the premium for breathing the same air as real musicians.

That is why buskers on the street continue to earn significant amounts if they are talented.

Despite talk of NFTs / non-fungible tokens, based on blockchains, being used to protect music copyright or in licensing, their use will be very limited over the next 5 years, mainly held back by massive energy requirements to run blockchains.

Live music will be a $30bn industry by 2025, growing 3% a year

Expect a rebound once regulations relax post-COVID with more blockbuster tours, each playing to more than 5 million people around the world, typically grossing over $600m.

Most successful artists will generate the bulk of their income from live events, sponsorships, commercials, film scores, celebrity appearances, and so on.

More top artists will give away their music, aiming to use it as a way to grow income from these other sources.

Expect major upgrade in quality of Music Streaming

Ironically, and independently of anything related to COVID, as streaming swept the world, the quality of the listening experience collapsed, with far lower resolution of musical data today compared to music CDs. – using 1980s tech.

Speakers and headphones in most people’s homes are capable of far better reproduction than the poor signals they are now being fed most of the time.

Expect a major upgrade of online sound by 2025, as we have been seeing in video streaming and satellite TV.  

At the same time, expect further growth of retro vinyl and cassette sales, mainly by Millennials.

Music industry will be flooded by home-based album production

Young listeners expect all music to be free – or nearly so. The music market will continue to being flooded by highly talented home-based musicians, artist-entrepreneurs churning out millions of hours of free entertainment, building their own online brands, in the hope of being ‘signed’ by a big label.

This kind of micro-production was of course boasted by lockdown.

Many unsigned artists will continue to earn a basic income from Spotify and other streaming platforms.

Blockchains to protect music and artwork - non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

Expect a lot of talk about using blockchain to protect art and music, but this is unlikely to take off before 2026 because so inefficient from the energy point of view.  

For example, Bitcoin has hardly taken off but already consumes more power than the whole of Finland.

William Entriken is one of the authors of the NFT protocol for Etherium, which is like BitCoin, but admits it is completely unsustainable as a copyright mechanism for the music industry or the art world.

If you manage to create a new BitCoin for $50,000, you have effectively pumped $50,000 equivalent of carbon into the atmosphere, in the energy used to create it.

And every BlockChain entry uses huge amounts of energy too.

Expect a shift away from Proof of Work (cracking an algorithm using huge computing power) to shift to Proof of Stake, but these are complex things.

In any case it will not protect music creators from derivative music, where an element of a chord sequence, or part of a phrase is adapted into a new work.

In the meantime, expect an explosion of Patent Trolls or Copyright Trolls - we have already seen this in manufacturing, and now shifting to music.

Machines that invent millions of variants of note sequences, and try to include them all in copyrighted music, to make it almost impossible for any new music writer to create an original sequence without being prosecuted for theft.

Big Labels will continue to dominate global album sales

In the past, big labels used to invest in lots of small bands, hoping one or two would really take off, but in future they will sign very few, after early success online.

Labels will continue to dominate global album sales well into 2025, but 85% of their revenues will come from a handful of ultra-successful bands. Most up-and coming artists will be forced to bypass labels altogether, and sell direct, working with promoters and event organisers.

Continued boom in music streaming platforms

Expect over 150 million people to be paying for unlimited streaming via services like Spotify by 2022 (Spotify alone already has 87 million paying subscribers, over 6 million in the UK) – but most musicians will earn less than $0.002 per play.  

Expect streaming services to become more like traditional radio stations, playing curated lists, influenced by media campaigns by big music labels.

Radio music will continue to thrive 

Radio will continue to enjoy huge audiences, because it is convenient as background entertainment at home or in the car.

Another reason is the feeling of companionship, with tens of thousands of others listening to the same radio show.

But clubbing will face a tough future in nations like the UK, because so many younger people already preferred sitting at home with their mobiles on social media, to going out to get drunk or take drugs, and party all night, before anyone had even heard of COVID-19.

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