FEATURE: Profit and Loss: In Spite of the Money in Music, Where Is the Soul and Equality We All Desire?



Profit and Loss


ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash 

In Spite of the Money in Music, Where Is the Soul and Equality We All Desire?


SOCIAL media can be a great barometer…


IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Jamieson

when it comes to opinions regarding the music industry. A D.J. contact of mine, Carly Wilford, noticed the (vast) amount of money in the music industry and came to a conclusion: there seems to be a lack of soul that needs to be counteracted. Apart from the most profitable and popular musicians; there is a lot of other money coming in that shows a divide and split. I will look at class and how there is a gulf between working-class acts struggling and wealthier talent gaining traction and having the most influence – that will come later tomorrow. Streaming services and revenue on sites like Spotify meaning the music industry continues to grow and has continued to experience growth. Early last year, when streaming hit a peak and helped create a turnaround, the figures and facts were laid out:

The once-ailing music industry has hit a “historical tipping point”, recording its second year of growth and revenues of $15.7bn (£12.2bn) in 2016, according to a report.

An in-depth look into the health of the music industry by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has shown that in 2016 there was 5.9% growth, mainly attributed to the mass adoption of streaming across the world.

It is a vastly different story from the previous 15 years, where record labels saw a decline of 40% in revenue as piracy took its toll, physical sales declined and record shops went out of business.


In its early years, streaming was derided by many musicians and observers as the final nail in the industry’s coffin. However, with 112 million paying subscribers to services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, which ensured growth in streaming revenue went up by more than 60% last year, it has now been hailed as the saviour of music.

Executives in the industry said a “spirit of optimism” had emerged, as they witnessed the rapid increase in people willing to pay for streaming services, which cost an average of £9.99 a month”.

It is good to see streaming services succeed and the music industry overcoming its once-ailing status.  Vinyl sales are up and more revenue is coming in from gigs and festivals. We know more people are going to the biggest festivals and it seems, despite the fact some venues are closing, there is an appetite for music in the open. The fact, too, people are balancing the digital with physical makes me hopeful the industry will keep on growing and expanding. Record sales are going up and we are at a point where the black days are past – even if there are still hurdles and a way to go before there is big profit and security. If you think smaller music labels are gaining more traction then there are findings (released last year) that show where the wealth lies:

If you're a music fan, it probably seems like there are literally hundreds of music labels out there scattered across the world. New record companies are created every day to cater to niche audiences and music styles, right? Yes, but...

These companies are just subsidiaries of major labels. In reality, there are just three major record labels. All the others actually live under their corporate umbrellas.


There used to be four major labels—EMI was once one of them—but Universal Music purchased EMI in 2012. So where once there were the Big Four, now there's just the Big Three.

The Big Three

The Big Three record labels are:

Sony BMG

Universal Music Group

Warner Music Group

These labels can make up almost 80 percent of the music market or even more depending on the year, although it was estimated to be about two-thirds in 2016”.

There are takeover talks and movements all the time – the legal and industry-wide ramifications of illegal or unwise takeovers can be huge:

Universal Music expressed interest in purchasing EMI in 2012 and made an offer of $1.9 billion. Consumer watchdog groups released a report encouraging the government to halt the deal on June 14, stating that the buyout would cause major issues within the industry. They felt that this new mega power would be able to disrupt pricing, costing consumers significant amounts of money.

A congressional hearing was held on the issue, and it was examined by European authorities as well. After several months of debate, American and European regulators approved the takeover of EMI. Universal Music gained access to the work of some significantly major artists, including the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West”.

I still see the music industry as a reverse of Robin Hood: the rich seem to keep taking and profit and never give to the less-well-off. Maybe it is not a reverse of Robin Hood but something that needs a heroic figure to balance the scales. I do not judge the richest musicians like Taylor Swift, Kanye West and their like – they have earned their money legitimately and continue to succeed and push the industry forward.


There is that aspect of mainstream commercialism that links to T.V., film and advertising. Long-standing commercial acts like Justin Timberlake have been the subject of endorsements and deals since he burst onto the scene. Is there a danger of this commercial success – does it mean other artists lose out?

Value is subjective, and discounting artistic endeavors because they are popular and earn a lot of money implies that the consumer’s preference is wrong. Maybe consumers do sometimes get it wrong, and there are otherwise brilliant works that never really see the light of day. But art is not a zero-sum game, where one’s success comes at the expense of everyone else’s. The artistic merit of work that experiences commercial success, such as that of Timberlake or any number of modern pop stars, is not diminished by its profitability”.

I have not talked about technology companies and how they profit from music; the sort of riches that we see from deals behind closed doors. You can argue this money is all earned fairly and the artists/companies who generate big money have worked hard to get it. That is a debatable proposition but, setting that aside, there is that huge chasm between the biggest artists/labels and everyone else. A lot of the money earned is going back into the business but so much is lining pockets and being used on advertising and needless developments.

You have to wonder how a deal involving a big artist doing an advert for a technology company, which earns everyone loads, profits everyone else in music. My concerns around music’s disproportionate wealth distribution mirrors the revenue gained by giant companies like Google and Samsung. They make an ungodly amount every hour and even come out and say they struggle to spend the money and do something good with it. We all know there are these titans making money and that is true in the music industry. I am not suggesting there is equal distribution with regards profit but there is cheapness and shallowness that leaves a bad taste. There are benevolent artists who give money to charities/causes but what are the companies and big labels doing?! Music is all about soul and feel: I feel it is being lost and there are so many people struggling to do their best work because of lacking funds. The U.S. and U.K. are the two biggest music markets in the world and our industry is in no danger of struggling anytime soon. Although last year’s profits are not immense; there is enough money circulating that can aid and benefit music. From funding mental-health study and help for musicians to helping finance more music programmes in schools; provide education around race and gender in music and establish a foundation that financially assists musicians who struggle to make ends meet and succeed – all of this is achievable and would give music more heart and nourishment.


I feel every corner of music has cracks and paper that needs fixing and reparation. Every week we read about some venue struggling to stay afloat or another controversy; some cause that could benefit from some money and love – who is there to bail them out and provide that recourse?! Musicians themselves can do their best to give soul and passion to the people: they are only capable of so much and cannot do it alone. I am seeing these big divides and wonder whether, by making small compromises, the big labels and companies – who earn a lot from endorsements and advertising – could pledge a small cut of their profits to a benevolence fund. Maybe a bespoke charity could be set up where money is distributed to a variety of people/causes and help make a big difference. The industry will only survive and inspire if the people making the music, the new generation specifically, are able to keep their footing and find support. We keep hearing about sexism in music and race issues; the gap between the poorer newcomers and those at the top of the tree. Money could be invested to provide better education and awareness to those perpetrating sexist/racist ideals; a safety net given to those musicians who feel the pinch. I know there is not enough money to help everyone but there is a soullessness and crass sense of exploitation that is going unchallenged.  Advertising and big-money deals are part of the music machine- they always have been and, sadly, always will.


I am not proposing a bloodless coup to rectify this disparity and extravagance: a greater conscientiousness from those in power would help see a smoother lineage of redistribution and help affect a trickle-down economy in music. At the moment, it seems the majority of profits are at the top of the pyramid; there is scant finance at the bottom and those in the middle fare well or badly. Artists are struggling more than ever and, if they are stressed because of low payment and lacking paid gigs, they are unable to attend gigs and make their best work. The financial pot of music is a complex and ever-changing brew: one moment it is healthy and fired; the next sees trouble and ominous warnings. I can bandy words like ‘soul’ and ‘heart’ around all I want but they mean a lot – the lifeblood and essence of music is not money and popularity but the human and psychological cogs and motions that go run from the wannabe Garage band in the U.S. to those embarking on worldwide tours to millions. I see the richest and most prominent sectors of music as a flaunting and sexy woman who teases people and gets what she wants because of her looks. There is that same shallow-minded approach to people and not giving a f*ck regarding those struggling and worse-off. Maybe that is a poor metaphor – but gets the mind working! – but I am tired of seeing something essential being sucked out of music. Greater distribution of musical wealth will not solve every problem and lead to a revolution – it may, in fact, only see small changes to start. It is that START that needs to happen as, right now, all the money in the world is not being given to all those in the world. So many good things can happen if we look at the gaps in wealth and tackle those who have the power to change things for the better. If we ignore that, and assume things will solve themselves, then the industry we all know and love…


GOES begging beyond the point of true dignity.