The politics of the music industry

The aftermath of Fyre Festival on the Bahama Islands. Photo courtesy of Fader

Commercial music consumption is at the highest it has ever been. With streaming services such as Apple Music, YouTube Red, Spotify, and previously free websites such as SoundCloud making the move towards monetizing its services, music is becoming more accessible, albeit controlled.

This isn’t to say accessibility in and of itself is the problem at all; websites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp work to share incredible talent that otherwise may not be heard or held back due to the commercialized aspect of the music industry. Young artists who may not be able to afford distribution costs of recorded music can essentially freely share with other artists and enthusiastic listeners.

The problem arises from the fact that free music threatens the whole capital of buying music. Bandcamp and small, independent record labels in particular pose a threat to commercial record labels like EMI because a majority of the earnings go directly to the artists.

Commercial labels have exorbitant production fees and oftentimes musicians are indebted rather than profiting from their own work; they often measure success in economic terms and have perfected a manufactured sound that ensures this “success” rather than encouraging originality and creative expression. They maintain control in order to get their slice of the pie.

Now that buying, downloading, listening, and streaming music are all significantly more affordable and accessible, those invested in the commercial viability and success of selling music are turning to other options, including live performances.

Music festivals have always been appealing to music fans alike; from legends like Woodstock to failures like Firefest, they all offer at least some entertainment.

Sasquatch Festival has always been a once-a-year event; four days on the bank of the Columbia River in central Washington at the end of May. However, in 2014 they decided to go ahead and sell tickets under this pretense without officially booking enough acts for the four full days.

When it didn’t look like there would be any lineup, the event holders decided to split up the event into two weekends, one in May and one in July.

The bank of the Columbia River in July is a mosquito-infested nightmare and the booking fees for many artists signed to larger labels has been jacked up significantly. Most festivals, like Sasquatch and Coachella, have taken a hit in quality booking over the years while maintaining revenue by increasing ticket prices.

The fiasco that was the Fyre festival is the embodiment of declining quality in music festivals. The event was advertised as a bourgeoisie tropical vacation decorated with Instagram hot girls. The only information conveyed in the promotional video was Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner in bikinis.

There was no mention of the stage(s) or performing artists at the time. Basically, this event relied not on the marketability of live music but rather emphasized an explicit example of female objectification as a viable marketing strategy. But maybe they made the right move holding off on announcing the lineup. It is doubtful anyone would have spent $12,000 on Blink-182 and Pusha T.

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