The Future Of Music


This transformation has been driven by the Internet and new technologies including Napster, iTunes, file sharing, Bit Torrent, email, instant messaging and Twitter.

How can musicians of today and of the future prepare themselves for a career in this dynamic marketplace where many of the business rules of the past have been eliminated and new rules are being invented every day?  At Berklee College of Music, the world’s largest music school, we think about these issues every day as we prepare students for successful careers in music.

The challenge facing recording artists and record labels is the idea of being able to sell recorded music in significant volumes. That business is clearly under a lot of pressure. CD sales continue to fall. Digital sales have started to emerge but they are not replacing CD sales. And digital sales online are certainly starting to level off after the growth of the last few years.  So the idea that one can record music and distribute it and make money as musicians and labels have done in the past is not necessarily going to hold true any longer.  That is a huge challenge to any business that defines itself as a record label, and changes the fundamental economics of the music industry.

Quite possibly there won’t be any recording revenues available 10 years from now, or if they are available, they will be available in a totally different way. Music fans will be purchasing music as part of a subscription service or a utility like a cable television subscription or from an Internet Service Provider, so that is a fundamental change in the music industry that the industry has to cope with. We are already seeing services like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora emerge to deliver music to fans digitally for either a subscription fee or through the support of advertisers. Long term, musicians will need to figure out a strategy for how they are going to make money in the music business if recorded music as an engine to drive sales is no longer the dominant revenue stream.

What we call the music industry is only about 70 or 80 years old, and it has largely been driven by the radio, then vinyl recordings and cassettes and then CDs. But 70 years ago, there wasn’t really a music industry based around recordings. Instead, it was based around live events and concerts and parties and that’s where musicians made money if they made any money at all in music. In some respects we are going back to a model where recordings are not the primary source of revenue, but instead it is going to be more of the interaction with the audience and the experience that musicians create that fans can enjoy. We are starting to see this happen online already with live webcasts and concerts broadcast over the Internet. There will be a lot more experimentation with live online events in the next few years as artists explore new ways of making money and interacting with their fans.

Advice for Musicians
My advice for artists, songwriters and producers moving forward, first and foremost, is that you have to practice, you have to be great and you have to write incredible songs. Your music has to be wonderful, and that is the main thing you have to focus on. If you don’t do that, your chances of success are extremely low. The Internet is a highly efficient means of rewarding a quality experience, so if you’re not great, you’re probably not going to have a career as a musician.

The second thing is to have a business partner. It could be a business associate you work with who helps you manage your business, helps you figure out how you’re going to make money, learns the new technologies and how to exploit them and helps get you in front of audiences and helps you promote yourself.

Ten years ago we created an online school called focusing on delivering online music education, via distance learning. Most of our online students are active in the music industry and are struggling to retool their skills and knowledge to take advantage of the changes affecting the way that music is produced, marketed and distributed.

The online courses and programs are all about creating music, writing it, recording it, mixing it, arranging it, editing it, mastering it, and using software and other technologies to help produce and distribute music. We have a lot of performers studying online, improving their skills, learning different instruments, learning both beginning level and advanced instrument techniques and different styles of music and how to perform.
We also offer songwriting courses, for people involved in writing or composing for film or television or video games. We also offer music theory, harmony, ear training, site reading, critical listening, to help people understand how music is put together to both help people appreciate music more and to be better at creating it.

Our students are people from all walks of life, some are people who are working in the music industry full time or part time and many are people where music is a very serious hobby for them, so they may have a job, like a office worker or a doctor or lawyer, and music is their passion on the nights and weekends.

What we have worked on at Berkleemusic, is that we have had the ability to create a lot of very future oriented curricula as we developed the online courses. These online music courses are very, very fresh.

The music business and production curriculum in particular is very forward looking in terms of what is happening in the music industry today – how to create your own music company, publishing company, market yourself directly to fans, how to use new web based technologies to generate income. We are training the next generation of musician’s at Berklee and look forward to an exciting future of music.

The Power of Free Music
One of my favorite examples of the power of free music is the band Pomplamoose. This California duo has created a new video format called the VideoSong, providing a glimpse into the process of recording and creating music. They have posted these VideoSongs on YouTube and have received tens of millions of views that have lead to sales of their digital songs and publishing contracts to produce soundtracks for commercials for Hyundai and others.

Artist Services
Topspin is one of a new breed of companies that provide services to musicians to help them pursue their careers.  Topspin connects artists to their fans with interactive tools that help bands market, sell, and track their results across the web.  Topspin lets artists spread their audio and video content around the web and on mobile devices, and interact with their fans, helping them turn their art into business and fans into customers.
Dave Kusek is Vice President of Berklee College of Music and the Co-Author of The Future of Music. He is a digital music executive and is responsible for helping to create the market for digital music.

He founded the first music software company, Passport Designs, which made it possible for musicians to record and produce their music at home. Kusek is also a co-developer of the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) industry standard that opened up electronic music to millions of people. Kusek is currently the CEO at where he has created the world’s largest online music school teaching over 15,000 students a year globally. Dave Kusek is a frequent speaker at Midem, MacWorld, Comdex, NAMM, AES, IEBA, NBC-TV, the Nightly Business Report, NPR, and the BBC.