Monetizing music in the realm of YouTube and Spotify

Music artists will adapt to the plummet of royalties due to streaming. One artist's development agency Made at SU in Syracuse gives a jump start to new musicians.

Music has always been a hard business to monetize, but as the culture of ownership has declined, it has become even more so.

Today’s youth are less likely than ever to conceptualize music as something bought and hoarded or something to line one’s shelves with and carry forever. As the outright stealing of the Napster era gave way to to the current streaming age, where a few dollars per month subscription to Spotify could be one's access to an all-you-can-eat buffet of listening, it became clear most musicians would have to find alternative revenue streams to make a living.

Low royalties that streaming services like YouTube and Spotify mean that no musician with any business sense can bank on making a career out of simply leasing music. With the market for digital downloads (not to mention physical CDs) continuing to plummet, selling it in the traditional ways doesn’t seem to be a viable path either.

But in times of great disruption, artists don’t just die out, they adapt. Young artists are often the first, as they are less tied to legacy systems. This is perhaps even truer at Syracuse University, where students are immersed in experiments and thought on the future of the media industry.

Several of Syracuse University’s would-be artists and entrepreneurs spoke about what directions young musicians are pushing the revenue models toward. Samu Rast, a co-founder of the Made at SU new artist development agency founded by members of the inaugural Audio Arts master’s program, says that labels are looking for talent that doesn’t need to be developed, and has already been proven through social media.

One of the artists who has worked with Made at SU, rapper (and Syracuse freshman) Daniel James, is a case study in the changing pathways artists are trying to take to success. James has amassed over 125,000 followers on Vine, the popular video sharing service, and is using this to build his fan base. When he puts on live shows, he offers perks like “superfan” packages for those who want to expand the intimacy created by a casual medium like Vine. He recognizes that he is very much selling not just the music, but his personality as well. This year he is headed to South By Southwest, where he will try to form relationships with artists and industry leaders, and hopes to learn from other rappers’ live performances to make the jump from Internet star to IRL star.

Ricky Smith, another artist who has worked with Made at SU, says he believes that creating a sense of connection with fans is essential in this new era, as they are buying not just one’s music, but one’s entire personal brand. He also thinks it’s worthwhile for new musicians to understand what brands align with their voice, as these relationships will be important in creating a sustainable business model that can support an artist at a time when record sales are uncertain.

Rast, James, and Smith are all entrepreneurs in their own right, a trait that is necessary for the uncertain future of the music industry. They know they must either hustle or die.

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