Initially, Timbre Cierpke didn’t realize how much of her music career would center on logistics.
An independent artist, Cierpke (’05) is the front woman of her own band, Timbre, a “chamber folk” trio whose sound she says is a little hard to categorize. As a full-time musician, her schedule is like a puzzle—a different puzzle every week— and she’s often faced with the monumental task of finding a way to make all the pieces fit.
“I’m a full-time musician, but that looks like a ton of different things throughout the week,” she says.
It’s juggling that private lesson she’s teaching— sometimes in person, other times via Skype— followed by a studio session and squeezing in a little time to create string, brass and choral arrangements for other bands. It’s planning a tour, finding time to devote to her own music, scheduling studio time, and making a once-a-month trip to Jackson, Tenn., to perform with the Jackson Symphony, where she is the first chair harpist.
Add to that the logistics of hauling a harp around Nashville, much less the Southeast. But for Cierpke, it really is all in a day’s work.
“I’m doing quite a lot, and I have to work to balance my time,” she says. “In the end, doing so many different kinds of music allows me the freedom and flexibility to pick up and tour whenever I need to, where a 9-to-5 would keep me too grounded.”
Being an independent artist allows Cierpke to create the music she wants to create—“a visceral moment of beauty”—but she’s doing so without the benefits long associated with a label: managers, marketing, promoters, deep pockets and the reputation and influence industry professionals have spent their careers developing.
And she’s not alone.
In recent years, as wave after wave of technological advances began to change the way people access and consume music, some began to proclaim that the industry was dead. Major label deals became less sought after as musicians recognized affordable avenues to produce and self-promote music over which they would exercise complete creative control, while new online distribution models promised greater access to a wider variety of music.
But this isn’t the end of the music industry as we know it, according to two Trevecca Nazarene University faculty members—Dean Diehl and John J. Thompson. They say there’s never been a more exciting time to be a part of it.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGING
Once upon a time, most musicians yearned for that storied, elusive major label record deal. An artist would create music and look for opportunities to get noticed. Once label executives signed him or her, the label would provide the financing needed to record and produce an album, as well as organize shows and tours, create and sell merchandise, market and promote the act and get the songs on the radio.
Labels also have relationships with distribution companies, which act as liaisons between the label and retailers, making sure the finished album is available to the consumer.
In this system, success is defined by album sales.
But with the rise of the internet and its long relationship with music— first with file-sharing services and digital downloads, then streaming—the economic model the industry was based on, shifted. These newer economic models are built on song sales, number of times the song is streamed or subscriptions—and none of these models provide more than a few pennies on the dollar to an artist each time his or her song is played or purchased.
“The type of music, the way music is being used and consumed, it’s all different,” says Thompson, the associate dean of Trevecca’s School of Music and Worship Arts and creative director of E One Publishing Nashville. “The entire business model has shifted from ownership to access. Whereas I came up firmly in the ownership era, and I wanted every record ... now people really want to just have access to music.”
That desire for access is apparent in today’s world. We can listen to music via Bluetooth in the car and stream the latest albums at work, the gym or the grocery store. Most of us carry entire music libraries in our pockets, with digital access to our favorite songs at a moment’s notice. With advances in technology, artists can record a song in the afternoon and share it with fans via social media by evening.
In the “old” system, to have choice and control over the music you listened to, you had to buy the physical product. In this new era, that old value proposition is gone. We can listen to any song, at any time, in any place.
And most of the time, we can do it for free.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
For Dean Diehl, the director of Trevecca’s music business program and the senior vice president of Provident Label Group, a division of Sony Music, the shift doesn’t necessarily signal the end of the music business as we know it.
“I believe that five years from now, on average, people will actually be spending more on music than they did in the CD era,” Diehl says. “And companies like Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers will actually have more revenue than they had at the height of the CD era. But the challenge is, when we bought a CD then, that $10 to $15 was spent on a single artist. Now, we spend $10 a month, and it is being spread across literally hundreds of artists.”
That’s why Diehl says the future of the music industry won’t depend on revenue from recorded music.
“We’re developing a two-class system,” Diehl says. “One of the things we’ve learned is that in a streaming environment you have unlimited choice of music. When consumers are faced with unlimited choice, they don’t choose. They want somebody else to choose. So it’s all going to go back to the curators, the playlists, and they’re all going to agree on a handful of titles, so that’s one end of the spectrum: the global superstars.
“On the other end of the spectrum are going to be thousands of artists who make no money off of recorded music,” Diehl continues. “They’re going to survive by having great songs that get out to people for free, then they’ll survive through live music and playing shows. It will be a small amount of money, but they’re going to get to make a living doing what they love.”
“The artists I know who are making it work are the ones who treat it like a craft,” he says. “They’re excellent at what they do. They tell the news; they help people escape from their difficult lives; they bring people together. They’re playing house concerts and coffee shops, on street corners. They’re doing really innovative things.”
One of those “innovative things” is crowd-funding albums. Using services like Kickstarter and Go Fund Me, independent artists can invite fans to help fund their projects, providing some of the resources labels have traditionally contributed. Cierpke paid for about one-fourth of her last album, Sun & Moon, through pre-orders and pledges on a crowd-funding site.
“Crowd-funding gives fans the chance to be a part of the creation process, and I think there is something special about that,” she says. “Art is not created in a vacuum, but in communication with the world around us.”
THE FUTURE STARTS HERE
Clearly, the old rules no longer apply, but there’s no reason to despair. According to Diehl, the industry isn’t dying; it’s being reborn.
“As a person who studies marketing and trends, I’m getting to watch an industry be completely reborn,” Diehl says. “Because of increased access, more people are enjoying a wider variety of music than ever before, and advertising dollars are being channeled into music like never before through services like YouTube, Spotify and Pandora.”
Diehl predicts a combining of functions, where recorded music, music publishing, artist management and booking are consolidated into one-stop shops that provide all of that to the artist.
“It’s only through combining all that revenue that we can afford the investment it takes [to launch an artist],” Diehl says. “Unfortunately, the only thing that hasn’t gone down is the investment it takes to break an artist [into the industry].”
Both Diehl and Thompson agree that the reborn music industry offers an abundance of opportunities for artists and those who want to work in the industry, but it also requires something of them.
“The burden really shifts to the artist and the songwriter,” Thompson says. “It’s no longer going to be enough to be cute or attractive and have a good song or two, then wait for the record industry to build you a career. You’re going to have to go out there and knock on doors and do this yourself.”
Diehl agrees, stressing that artists must take ownership of their own development, since labels no longer have the massive cash reserves to fund the artist development process like they used to.
“We can’t sign talent; we have to sign success,” Diehl says. “The indicators have to be there, which means artists have to take on the burden of developing themselves.”
Diehl and Thompson are excited to be a part of developing young artists and industry professionals to work at either end of the spectrum in the new music industry: global superstars and independent artists who don’t make money from recorded music.
“Our program has this weird complexity where we’re trying to prepare people to exist at either end of the spectrum,” Diehl says.
But in the end, the real winner may be the music fans.
“I think long term, music is the winner,” Diehl says. “The music is going to get better because more people will be doing it out of love of music rather than love of fame and money.”
It’s an idea that resounds with Cierpke.
“In the end, if I’m making art, and it is truly moving people, then I’m reaching my goals,” she says.