The cultural apocalypse that wasn’t

According to the O.E.S., songwriters and music directors saw their average income rise by nearly 60 percent since 1999. The census version of the story, which includes self-­employed musicians, is less stellar: In 2012, musical groups and artists reported only 25 percent more in revenue than they did in 2002, which is basically treading water when you factor in inflation. And yet collectively, the figures seem to suggest that music, the creative field that has been most threatened by technological change, has become more profitable in the post-­Napster era — not for the music industry, of course, but for musicians themselves.

That is from Steven Johnson, the piece is excellent throughout.  And note this:

The new environment may well select for artists who are particularly adept at inventing new career paths rather than single-­mindedly focusing on their craft.


The sizable bulk of musician income has always and continues to be live performances and related merchandising. Its distributors, not artists, that are hurt by digitization.

Doug, from my vague knowledge of the music business, I think you are completely correct. Changing the subject slightly, I hope that the musicians who live off live performances are happy about it - my guess is that only about half of them are. As for me, I would not have wanted to become a popular musician in the United States because popular music is, by definition, trivial and boring after too many repetitions, and we only have one life to live. However, from a monetary point of view, a job is a job, and we all, ceteris paribus, want to marry well and make our families happy. In that sense, even the dullest one-hit wonders have been blessed with an inestimable gift, if they choose to use it wisely.

B.B. King's music was trivial and boring?

In his 30s he was performing over 300 shows per year and tailed off to only 200 show per year, likely doing well over 15,000 shows during his life.

He comes immediately to mind due to his recent death. But how many shows did the Dead do with and after Garcia.

The Beatles would not have become the Beatles without thousands of shows. Nor the Stones.

The one thing that seems clear to me from listening to lots of artists is that performing is never boring, but the life away from home is.

The kids raised after conservatives defined the culture, basically since Reagan, do not have the work ethic that existed back in the days of "socialism" and "liberalism", so they think that they should be rich from performing once.

On the other side, paying a modest amount once or twice a week to pay working men performers has given way the more conservative the culture has become to getting it for free, or certainly for a low price because the performers aren't working.

Good comment, until the bizarre but obligatory laying all of this at the feet of Reagan.

Was the music of BB King trivial and boring? Ask yourself this, if BB King invited you to his house, and knew you understood music, would he play for you (a) the way he played on stage or (b) in a way that he would not play on stage? I repeat, "Popular music" is, by definition, boring after too many repetitions. Popular music that does not become boring with repetition becomes real music. Horowitz, in his prime, would play a Chopin etude for you or me in an after dinner moment at his apartment the same way he would have played it in Carnegie Hall , with no fear of being boring, even if he had played it in public several hundred times (the older Horowitz was rumored to be a little more self-indulgent than that, but I am not sure the rumors are true). BB King or any other legitimate popular musician would never insult his guests by playing at home the same set in the same way he played again and again on stage. If you disagree, please cite either a hearsay example or an example from your own experience, I would be interested. Before replying, consider the quote of Artur Schnabel, who stated that he cared mostly for music that is "better than it can be played."

This biases very heavily in favor of older artists who built a tween fanbase 40 years ago and now can charge $300 a ticket to empty-nesters to relive their childhoods.

In other words, average isn't over it's the path to success.

The old RIAA recording contract template gave management control and ownership of everything the young artists' created. These tightly written, one-sided contracts called for initial promotional tours, but it did not even mention live performance touring because no one dreamed of a permanent audience base. When their initial careers ran their course, the artists were left broke and alone.

Then the old-time rock & roll groups found their base and learned that they could make and KEEP touring money because tours were not included in their original recording contracts. Hence the rise of large-scale, multi-group old time rock & roll concert tours, and later the round-the-world tours of the newer mega-groups.

When the RIAA came out with a new contract template that did include touring, all the established mega-groups and touring artists simply refused to sign.

I hear respect for language neither in the NYT headline lauding aversion of a "creative apocalypse" nor in the MR post headline announcing aversion of a "cultural apocalypse".

I'm not given to naïve literalism, as a rule, in English usage: but I am sensitive to the distinction between "apokalipsis" ("revelation, disclosure") and "eschaton" ("last thing, final thing") in Greek.

While I realize lazy journalists and lazy academics and lazy screenwriters have been treating "apocalypse" since before Francis F. Coppola's day as a synonym for "end times" (perhaps based upon centuries of insensitive Protestant mangling of borrowed terms), I see no actual excuse for the persistent misapplication of these terms. If terms with these specific theological histories merit such little respect, probably much of the jargon of contemporary political science and political economy, science and engineering, economics and mathematics, linguistics and literature, philosophy and religion, journalism and education, et cetera, can safely be discarded or ignored and no proper distinctions among terms need be observed by anyone, inside or outside of these intellectual domains.

Arguably, "a cultural revelation that wasn't" would not qualify necessarily as a "cultural eschaton", just as "a creative revelation that wasn't" fails to qualify properly as a "creative eschaton".

Apart from hewing more closely to mere accuracy, "eschaton" properly used would save on typing time and printing costs, as applicable.

If one pays attention to the fact that Apocalypse (or Revelation) deals exactly with the last things and with the cataclysm that will destroy the existing way of life, it is not a wonder that the word gained a long time ago the meaning you decry.
"but I am sensitive to the distinction between 'apokalipsis' ('revelation, disclosure') and 'eschaton' ('last thing, final thing') in Greek."
There is already a word for "revelation" in english, it is "revelation", thanks.

A lot to chew on. Thanks, Edward.

God, I love Taylor Swift.

I remember the first time I heard her back in 2011. Totally changed the way I think about music -- it was truly an apocalypse.

Um, spoilers.

Since Captain Willard not only survives the movie but leaves Kurtz's camp a changed man, apocalypse seems like the right word to me.

Perfect response.

Zombie eschaton?

"The new environment may well select for [X] who are particularly adept at inventing new career paths rather than single-­mindedly focusing on their craft."

True of almost all "X"s.

Come to MR for the click bait headlines.

Stay for the profundity. ;)

From personal experience.....artists make their money from performances, not records, with exception of composers (Paul McCartney the best example, but anyone who writes songs that other artists want to record, and (not coincidentally) consumers want to hear (or the songs are licensed for use). Paul makes money from performances too, of course and also made money from records. But Paul McCartney is not your typical average musician.

Records (videos etc) are ads for the artist and the performances (and occasionally, lessons or jobs). Most don't mind giving them away on youtube or where-ever especially after the initial release after which sales drop off to less than it is worth to produce, distribute, and pay for accounting etc. (assuming the artist did not sign away rights to royalties in the first place). The record companies mind, but the artists want the publicity more than the pennies (if anything) from royalties.
There are exceptions, obviously, but generally musicians don't expect to make a of money from records.
Nothing has changed. Average was always over.

The apocalypse occurred in the boardrooms and legal offices of the music industry.

An object lesson when you let Legal run Marketing.

A cultural apocalypse isn't when a hundred thousand Imagine Dragons take a pay cut. A cultural apocalypse is when business is booming for a hundred thousand Imagine Dragons, but there isn't a Dmitri Shostakovich to be found, anywhere.

Only an economist would attempt to measure the state of culture by dollars, or indeed measure it at all. What could possibly be wrong with this picture?!?

Of course those who decry the state of the world ALWAYS love to knock the bean counters. Because the latter threaten to call out the former on their hysterical bullshit.

"Artists and Related Workers" experienced the 3rd highest wage increase of any occupation captured in the OES between1997 and 2013. Their compounded annualized growth rate was over 5%, coming in just behind "Financial Managers" at #2 and "Purchasing Managers" at #1.

Funny enough, "Motion Picture Projectionists" had the lowest growth over that timeframe, only a 0.41% annual increase. "Chriopractors" were 3rd from the bottom.

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