It looks very much like the CV-19 situation is going to put a dampener on this year nearly as much as it did last year, and one industry that is going to feel that effect like a hefty kick in the nether regions, is the entertainment industry. I am already seeing concerts I booked in 2019 for 2020 being moved to 2022 and it does not make me happy, although I must confess, the idea of being holed up with 20,000 people in a giant arena right now is not high on my list of priorities. So how will our friends in the entertainment industry turn an honest buck? Surely everyone is at home streaming music 24/7 these days, that’s gotta be a good thing right ??

I read the other day that Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” album has become the first album to break the 10 Billion streams barrier on Spotify. Wow. That is an absolutely phenomenal number. Ten thousand million streams of an album from an artist who started off as a humble busker is something that even the most dyed in the wool Dad rocker (apparently some people find that term offensive ?) has got to begrudgingly respect. Let’s look a little bit at those numbers. Spotify pays a whacking great $0.004 on average per stream. Divide (I refuse to use the symbol) has 12 tracks so we need to figure out how Spotify came up with that headline. Is it that every track has been streamed 10 billion times, or is the cumulative track count of tracks on that album has in total hit ten billion? Well according to this wikipedia article the Shape of You (i assume that’s the standout song here? I confess, I don’t own this album in any form) has had around 2.7 billion streams so I think the latter is correct. So in order to work out how much the busking billionaire has made, we can simply multiply 10 Billion by $0.004…which is $40 Million dollars. That’s a lot of money.  So streaming is healthy then?? Promotes music well ? 

Well not everyone agrees. Peter Frampton, who i think we can all agree is “pretty darned awesome” made less than $2000 from 55 million streams. Yes you read those figures right. Not all of that comes from Spotify, platforms like Youtube (apparently popular with some for free streaming) pays less than 1/10th of what Spotify do, and they are not alone. David Crosby, erstwhile happy hippy who has now become something of a Social Media alienator par excellence, has been moaning about this for a long time, and I think we can all agree with him on this point. Probably not on many others he’s spouted recently but definitely this one. 

I was chatting to Andy Wood, who’s album “Junktown” is one of my favourite albums of the last few years, and I asked him how well he was doing off streaming during our last chat. I think he laughed out loud for about 10 minutes on that question. He has found a way of monetizing his talent in the temporary no-gig world we live in which I will touch on later.  I also saw a very impassioned video from a friend of Wampler Pedals where the talented individual in question basically echoed the fears and pain of many artists. The bottom line here is streaming is fantastic for consumers and the top 0.001% of artists, but it is nothing other than a tiny income stream for most artists. Without income, our artists lose their ability to create – because we all need food, and when your art doesn’t pay the bills, you have to look elsewhere. 

The list of streaming successes for Spotify et al show another worrying trend – one that I’m sure won’t come as a surprise – that the days of the guitar hero seem well and truly numbered. I grew up in an era when there were so many talented guitarists in the charts (remember when they were relevant?) I couldn’t keep up with them. To this day I am still discovering music from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s that I didn’t have time to catch up with when it came out. But out of the top 10 streaming artists worldwide, the only 2 that stood out to me as purporting to play the guitar are the aforementioned Mr Sheeran and, er, Taylor Swift. Yet Fender are reporting that last year was the biggest selling year in their history for new guitar sales. Maybe there is hope? Perhaps the proliferation of electric guitars into the hands of the locked down masses will also find their way into younger hands and maybe, just maybe, the next generation have some new tricks up their collective sleeves. I sincerely hope so.

Which begs the question, how do we support our beloved artists through this global pandemic? Well I mentioned earlier that Andy had found a way of monetizing his talent – and that is via Patreon. Artists are turning to this, and other platforms, with insights, lessons, skills, and just the ability to hang with them, and it is proving a useful stop gap. Heck, I think you can even watch some of them playing games via twitch etc. Trust me, if we ever do anything similar, you want to see a typical gaming session with Brian and the team, since we occasionally have the odd work “meeting” over a few rounds of team deathmatch, and it’s generally poorly executed strategically and very, very funny!  Also get some physical merchandise. If you like an artist, if you stream their music daily, go buy their official merch, or even better, buy some vinyl or cds. What better time than now to rediscover the pleasures of a simple vinyl platter paired with a good old pair of analogue speakers? I know it’s easy to stream stuff for your subscription fee, but if you really like an artist, try and go that extra mile. For extra credit, buy something blatantly ill fitting and ridiculous and insist on wearing it at inappropriate times. Like my Iron Maiden t-shirts I insist on wearing despite being somewhat larger than when I was a kid. Even better, go and buy an artist’s signature pedal, or guitar, or amp – chances are they get a cut (or if they are a superstar, maybe a charity gets a cut) and you get awesome gear to play. Win Win! But most importantly, keep playing guitar and keep learning new tricks on the fretboard – because a world without guitar heroes is not one I look forward to.