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The Changing Landscape of the Music Business

Should Musicians Change Their Tune?
Source 1: The Changing Landscape of the
Music Business
by Jacob Carter
The music industry is in the midst of a large upheaval. In decades
past, artists made money through physical sales of records, CDs, and
cassettes. However, those forms of media are quickly fading away. And
while downloading songs from services such as Amazon or iTunes has
become the most common way for people to purchase music in recent
years, the whole idea of buying music to own may be falling by the
wayside. To take its place are Internet services that stream music
directly to listeners on their smartphones, tablets, or computers. These
apps are typically available either as ad-supported free versions or
ad-free monthly subscription services. And while this is great for fans,
who now have access to millions of songs at the flick of a touchscreen,
it has shattered the traditional model of how an artist manages his or
her career.
With music lovers increasingly moving away from making one-time
purchases towards an all-you-can-listen-to service, what is a hardworking artist to do? The main problem facing many musicians is that
payments-per-stream of a song are much lower than what an artist
would receive from a download. According to data journalist David
McCandless, a signed solo artist would need about 5,478 iTunes
downloads of a song per month versus 4,200,000 YouTube streams per
month just to make the U.S. minimum wage. Some big-name artists
have called attention to the issue. In November of 2014, awardwinning musician Taylor Swift pulled her entire music catalog from
Spotify, a popular streaming app, claiming that their business model
suggests that music does not hold much worth.
Others have embraced the idea of streaming music, claiming that it
offers smaller artists a chance for their music to get heard by a wider
audience. Zoë Keating, a cellist who describes herself as established
but non-mainstream, suggests that these services should be viewed as
a way for musicians to get their music out there and not as an income
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FSA ELA Writing Practice Test
source. Brian Message, manager of the band Radiohead, has come out
in support of streaming services. He sees them as a way for musicians
and fans to interact.
Regardless of what artists may think about this shift in the music
industry, there’s no arguing that they need to adapt in order to make
money. While touring and selling merchandise have always been
tried-and-true revenue streams, one major shift in recent years has
been the growth in partnership between artists and businesses.
Corporate sponsorship can be a risky option for musicians. A band can
make hundreds of thousands of dollars by agreeing to promote a
product or license its music for use in advertisements, but there are
many ways that this can backfire. Alex Scally, instrumentalist for the
indie-pop duo Beach House, notes that when bands take on corporate
sponsors they may lose the image they have worked to create.
However, Scally does assert that the rules could be different for smaller
bands just starting out.
It’s clear that for artists big or small, trying to maintain credibility
while struggling to sustain a career is certainly tricky. Artists must
develop an image that appeals to their fans in order to remain unique
and authentic, or they risk striking the wrong chord, which could leave
them struggling to sustain careers in this new business landscape.
“The Changing Landscape of the Music Business” by Jacob Carter. Written for educational purposes.
Source 2: Selling Out Not Worth the Risk
by Darrius Johnson
With so much hype about how difficult it is to make it in the music
business these days, it’s understandable why artists would turn to large
corporations to help bring them a bigger audience and, most
importantly, a bigger paycheck. But is this really a good idea in the
long run?
Artists considering an endorsement deal need to remember that
their sponsors are out to benefit as well. As soon as a musician signs
on the dotted line of a corporate partnership, he or she has a
responsibility to represent the company and help it sell its products.
This can be tremendously stressful for artists who are just starting to
build their careers, as they need to spend energy creating good music
and a unique image that appeals to fans. Endorsement deals can keep
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a musician afloat, but can also take the focus away from what really
matters—the music.
Sometimes popular, well-established artists who seemingly have
little to gain from these deals end up having the most to lose. Take
U2 for example—one of the world’s most popular rock bands who,
after landing a deal with Apple that had their 2014 album
Songs of Innocence installed into 500 million iTunes subscribers’
libraries for free, faced a storm of negative feedback from fans and
critics alike. People resented the idea that an album they didn’t ask for
was forced on them, likening the album to “musical spam,” and the
reputations of both U2 and Apple were damaged. Over-exposure is a
huge risk for popular bands who license out their music as well; people
often tire of hearing the same music every time they turn on the radio,
watch television, or go to the movies. When the electronic artist Moby
released his critically acclaimed album Play in 1999, he licensed out
each one of the album’s 18 tracks. Fans simply lost interest because
they heard his music everywhere they went, and the artist himself has
suffered the stigma of going a bit too far in licensing his songs.
Many songs are written with specific intentions and meanings; they
express an artist’s values and beliefs about the world. In many
situations, a record label owns the rights to an artist’s music, and if
they license a song to a company or other party the artist has no
control over how the song can be used. Neil Young, an artist known for
his politically charged lyrics, expressed disappointment when his music
was used by a U.S. presidential candidate without his permission,
saying that he would not have allowed the candidate to use the song
had he been asked. If a band has already created an image of itself as
being somewhat rebellious or part of the counter-culture, selling its
music to a corporation can leave fans feeling betrayed. Robert
Schneider, member of the band Apples in Stereo and a Beach Boys fan,
tells of the days he heard the song “Good Vibrations” in a soft drink ad,
noting that it took him a while to stop associating the song with the
The music business is just that—a business. It exists to make
money, and artists need to make money in order to continue making
music. But when outside interests enter the mix, they can replace the
passion in an artist’s music and turn the art into just another tool for
“Selling Out Not Worth the Risk” by Darrius Johnson. Written for educational purposes.
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FSA ELA Writing Practice Test
Source 3: The New Necessity in the
Music Business
by Stacia Coates
Years ago, when people still bought full albums and artists were
paid a decent percentage of the sales, the idea of “selling out” by
accepting corporate sponsorships or licensing out songs was seen as a
sure-fire way to lose credibility and respect in the eyes of fans. “How
could they?!” fans would cry, at the shock of hearing their once-loved
underground indie band in a commercial for a family-sized sedan. But
these days, thanks to the rise of online music streaming and cheap
digital downloads, what once was taboo has now become the norm. It
is now accepted, and even necessary, for bands to put their music in
commercials or promote products for sponsors in order to sustain a
career in the music business.
Some argue that any loss in album sales can be offset by touring
and selling merchandise. But with rising costs and other factors, even
this is not enough. Booking agents and tour managers must be paid,
gas and food must be bought, t-shirts and posters must be
manufactured—all of these costs add up. A post on social media by
Shane Blay, a member of the metal band Oh, Sleeper, details the bite
these costs can take out of a band’s touring revenue. Out of the $600
of gross income per night that a mid-level touring band such as his
typically makes, they will be left with only $78.75 of net income after
deductions for all their other costs. This doesn’t even include hotel
costs, which are usually $50–$60 per night. By the end of the tour, his
band may even end up losing more money than it makes.
A corporation paying for these costs can make the difference
between artists growing their careers, or completely giving up on the
music business altogether. The Shins, a relatively unknown indie-rock
band, grew massively in popularity after getting their single “New
Slang” in a McDonald’s commercial, as well as a few other movies and
TV shows. And while the sums of these deals aren’t disclosed, a band
can earn anywhere from $10,000 to $150,000—plenty of money for
equipment, touring, and living expenses.
Some bands have thoroughly embraced branding and see it more
as an opportunity rather than a necessity. For example, the massively
successful pop group, the Black Eyed Peas, focuses on exposure before
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a paycheck. For years, they’ve allowed corporations to use their music
in advertisements for cars, electronics, and jeans, among many
other goods. In 2001, the trio did a 30-second commercial for
Dr. Pepper soda. They made those 30 seconds a priority, even as they
were preparing material for their next album. Then, in 2003, when
Apple unveiled its iTunes store, the Black Eyed Peas’ song “Hey Mama”
was the first of the now-famous ad campaigns for the store. For the
Peas, this business model has more than paid off. Now a household
name, the group discovered that the more invested they became in
marketing and branding, the more successful they became with fans.
For artists serious about their careers, turning down any form of
corporate sponsorship or licensing agreements could be a mistake. At
times, it’s not only necessary, but a smart way to make it in today’s
music business.
“The New Necessity in the Music Business” by Stacia Coates. Written for educational purposes.
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FSA ELA Writing Practice Test
Writing Prompt
You have been asked to write an argumentative essay for your school’s
blog in which you support or oppose the use of an artist’s music in
advertising. Use information from the “Should Musicians Change Their
Tune?” passage set in your essay.
Manage your time carefully so that you can
• read the passages;
• plan your response;
• write your response; and
• revise and edit your response.
Be sure to
• include a claim;
• address counterclaims;
• use evidence from multiple sources; and
• avoid overly relying on one source.
Your response should be in the form of a multiparagraph essay. Write
your response in the space provided.