Music Industry Booming

by on January 26, 2007

Via Mike, here’s an L.A. Times article on the thriving music industry. No, not the one represented by the RIAA, the other one:

While the U.S. recording industry continues to slide under pressure from illegal downloaders and file-sharers, the other side of the music world–businesses catering to those who create the music–has nearly doubled over the last decade to become a $7.5-billion industry. The key difference in their contrasting fortunes is a simple physical reality: You can’t download a tuba. But new technology has also been a boon: Digital home recording has played a large role in the industry’s growth and helped a new generation of hobbyist music-makers move out of the garage and onto the Internet.

As I’ve argued before, I think people overestimate the role of piracy in the long-term decline of the music industry. The fundamental problem is that their core competence–pressing and shipping little plastic disks around the country–is becoming increasingly obsolete. It’s true that piracy is accelerating their decline, but the decline would happen regardless, as musicians increasingly discover they don’t need to ship plastic disks around the country in order to get music to their fans.

But I think this illustrates the silliness of the thesis that the music industry is dying, from two perspectives. First, there’s the article’s main point that only some segments of the music industry are hurting, and those gains are largely being made up elsewhere. This suggests that there’s little reason for the average musician to be fearful–as music becomes more popular, there there will continue to be plenty of opportunities for teaching music lessons, giving live performances, etc.

But more fundamentally, I think this is a pretty powerful counter to the notion that musicians need to be paid to ensure we continue to have good music. The vast majority of the people purchasing musical instruments never intend to make a living at it. Many others hope they’ll be able to make a living at it, but realize full well that their odds are long. Yet millions of people still spend billions of dollars training to become better musicians. It’s awfully hard to see how strong copyright protection could explain this. More likely, most people make music because they enjoy making music. And they’ll continue doing so regardless of how copyright law is changed.

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