A Simple Point: People need money to purchase music

Hey, why aren’t people buying music anymore?

The question begs another question. One few observers of the music industry/scene seem to stumble on: Why don’t people have money to spend on music?

Two words: Income inequality.

How can an unpaid intern, a struggling grad student, an unemployed recent college grad be expected to spend money on something as technically unessential as music? The problem is not merely that people can get access to music for free–though of course that doesn’t help. I know lots of young fans who will try to scrape together the bucks to support a friend’s crowdfunding efforts, or to go to a show, or even to make it to a big festival. But it’s a splurge, not a regular course of action.

Frankly, my own history is a good piece of (anecdotal) evidence. I have a huge, legally purchased music collection, mostly on CD (gave my vinyl away to a collector friend at some point). I used to buy music regularly, passionately. Now, to buy music means to cut into some other, vital line item in a very tight family budget. We live no frills: no cable, no data plans, no impulse clothing or random shit purchases. Very no frills. If we couldn’t access music online, we would frankly go without. Why? Because at the median US income, with two kids, even with two people working, we simply can’t afford it.

This really sucks for emerging musicians. Really sucks. Because one rich dude isn’t going to buy 200 copies of an album, or pay for 50 tickets to your show, or download your track 450 times. (Though he may contribute to your crowdfunding efforts–at least there’s that!)

This is one of several reasons streaming subscriptions are facing downward price pressure. This is why digital and physical sales fall quarter after quarter (except for important indie niches and collector products like vinyl). Our disposable incomes are falling. If they ever existed at all, in the case of young folks, who are so often accused of “not wanting” to buy music.

Maybe they are too busy wanting to pay rent or student loans.

And the growing income inequality in American society at large is mirrored in the income inequality of musicians, with 1% earning 77% of the income.

WHAT? Does that sound as fucked up to you as it does to me?

It also explains why geezers dominate the charts and touring circuits. Their fan bases, baby boomers, still have money and still love to spend it on experiences like stadium concerts.

We folks under 40? Not so much.

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