Economics of the Music Industry (Renaissance Edition)

Interesting history on the rise of Western Music from the book In Praise of Commercial Culture” by Tyler Cowen

Financial support for musical for music composition developed more slowly than for the visual arts. Renaissance musicians usually depended upon churches, courts, or municipal governments for their support. They could not sell their product in a market thick with wealthy private buyers.

Economic factors help explain the slower growth of the music market. Early music, as a commodity, was neither durable or reproducible printed sheet music remained costly and did not successfully penetrate the music market until the eighteenth century. The performance could be sold in lieu of the composition, but performances tended to be expensive, unique events.

Georg Friedrich Telemann led the commercialization of German music with his frequent public concerts. The energetic Telemann presented secular works, sacred works, and commercial operatic productions  in great number.

Telemann targeted upper-middle-class audiences in Frankfurt and Hamburg, and did not rely on patrons. Telemann initiated the commercial emancipation of the German musician that Beethoven was to complete. His catchy themes, encouraged by his desire sire to reach a large audience, make him a continuing favorite on classical radio stations today.”

Over time, technology enabled artists to capture additional value from their creations beyond live performance – starting with publishing of sheet music for sale – sharing the underlying data of the orchestration and enabling others to reproduce and create derivative works.

The rise of music publishing transformed the music market in the eighteenth century. At first music printing had been slow to develop. Printing served as a means of preserving scores more than a means of marketing them. The complicated notation of composition kept costs high and caused music publishing to lag far behind book publishing.

Renaissance music publishing often sought to glorify a patron with a special edition rather than to disseminate a composition. Even well into the eighteenth century, it was often cheaper to commission a new work than to obtain a copy of an old one. Only in the second half of the eighteenth century did publishing become the standard means of transporting and copying musical ideas.

Technological advances made chordal figures easier to print, the falling price of paper made sheet music cheaper, and new methods of movable type, combined with improvements in engraving technique, made musical parts easier to reproduce and read.

Before the end of the century, the publisher had replaced the copyist, dramatically lowering the costs of musical reproduction. It is no coincidence that the classical music revolution coincided with the rise of the book trade and the professional author.

Composer-driven music flourished before recordings became cost effective as the only way to listen to the music was re-create the songs locally (either on piano at home or with a live performance.)  Over time, performer-driven genres grew as music could be captured on recording and spread widely.

The advent of electronic reproduction-the ability to copy a performance and distribute that performance to a large audience-caused caused high-brow and popular music to split drastically. At the same time that traditional composition had broken free of the family music market and turned towards the esoteric, entirely new popular music forms arose that could be reproduced and sold en masse.

The rise of recording and radio enabled performer-based musical genres to displace composition-based genres as the center of musical innovation. novation. A performer-based genre, like rock and roll or country and western, transmits its musical and aesthetic vision through personalities and talents of specific music-makers. The specific interpretation is paramount. mount.

Electronic reproduction is required for performer-based genres to flourish. Our fascination with the Queen song, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sody,” lies in the particular production and presentation of that piece. These features cannot be replicated at home, on paper, or by another group in the studio. Queen even closed its concerts by walking off stage and playing a tape of the recorded song. They could not reproduce duce their creation accurately on stage.

Classical music is a composer-based genre. Its greatness is captured by markings on the printed page, that is, by the composition. Without access to electronic reproduction, earlier composers were required to emphasize those musical elements that can be transmitted through notation. Classical music, based on these visual representations of melody and harmony, rose hand-in-hand with paper production, the book trade, and the printing press.

Moving forward to today, its interesting to think about electronic music (and most digital music production) as having market dynamics more similar to the composers of the early rise of Western Music (versus the rock bands of the past few decades)

Consumers are increasingly viewing music as a commodity with $9.99 per month subscription plans from Spotify and the ability for artists to play tracks from other artists during a live performance.  Similarly, for many artists, live performance is increasingly becoming a major driver of revenue for individuals.

Given that parallel, there should be an opportunity for creators to better monetize the pieces of their content – either in stems / sounds (like sheet music), in education (similar to piano lessons), and by sharing upside with other creators who create and release a derivative work (audio, video, etc.)

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adam

I work for True Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund with offices in Northern Virginia, San Francisco and Palo Alto. We partner with promising entrepreneurs at the earliest stages in the technology market providing hands-on management support to guide our portfolio companies through the challenges of early growth.