Culture: Reset!

Interdisciplinary artist Lieneke Pisters reflects on the opportunities she intercepted during her analysis of the music industry, a colossal entity forced to mutate in light of recent events. This piece exposes what Pisters learned, and puts it in perspective with other mold-breaking moments in the industry.

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Author: Lieneke Pisters

Photo Credit: Kal Visuals

When the pandemic hit our world in 2020 it didn’t make things easier, but at least we were given a moment to stand still and contemplate. And it didn’t take long before everyone was ready to continue their dances online, but this time as visible and approachable as possible, the music industry being no exception. 

Suddenly forums, roundtables, and all sorts of online programs popped up from any part of the world, organized by big names, by small names, often for free, or otherwise at an affordable price scaled to reach a big crowd, altogether accumulating in an explosion of information for everyone who was hungry for it. 

Being an aspiring soul singer and electro songwriter myself, working on my first album and dying to get an update about the current status of the music industry, I didn’t hesitate to put my teeth into as much as I could digest. So there I went, diving into the most promising sources, events, and publications. Fortunately, I didn’t return empty handed from my adventure.

Le Sucre, Lyon © Laurie Diaz

My first catch: Soundcloud Forum on March 11 2021, an online pre recorded event with live chat, hosted by Soundcloud and Twitch. For the people from these organizations Covid had created an identity crisis conversation, as they called it themselves, while sitting quarantined at home stomaching it to see established artists living off of their royalties. 

That’s how Soundcloud decided to create an opportunity for musicians to make use of their platform based on fan-powered royalties only, from now on. With this, they are presenting an alternative for the traditional streaming business in which the volume of plays determines the musicians’ pay. 

Soundcloud is hereby closely collaborating with Twitch, a community platform that’s working without algorithms and allowing us to stream as long as we want without being curated. Their aim is to encourage middle class music artists to experiment more, and share more unfinished projects.

Obviously, this whole event was set up to promote the organizations themselves but they genuinely seem interested to empower the musicians. They also give expression to the growing public anger at tech greed, now resulting in actually changing the inner workings of the digital music economy.

Recording artists © Kal Visuals

It’s an encouraging trend reminding me of an optimistic article written by Gareth Murphy that caught my eye a while ago, published in The Journal of Music on January 7 called 2021: The Music Boom is Coming. He quotes Daniel Miller, CEO of Mute (the imprint behind Depeche Mode, Moby, Erasure, Goldfrapp, and others):

‘I’m not afraid to say it,’ says Miller. ‘The power shift away from labels towards managers and agents wasn’t good for music. It used to be that touring supported the record. Then, you had a period where the record promoted the tour. Sometimes the record was just a half-hearted calling card to plug a huge tour. You had managers dictating to labels what to release and when. And I don’t say this as a label boss craving more power. I honestly believe that everything works better for everyone, especially the artist, when new material is the primary focus. Thankfully people are back spending time on new albums. It means we’re gradually moving back to substance before celebrity.’ 

Murphy, author of Cowboys and Indies – The Epic History of the Record Industry, states that music is getting empowered as both a spiritual medicine and a commodity, a mechanism that also showed up the moment after WWII: 

‘To understand how lockdown might actually be giving the music business a long-term boost, despite being temporarily terrible for musicians and live music, it pays to know that such a situation happened before at exactly the kind of juncture we’re now at. Here’s the thing: For most people, WWII was not spent on the frontline.

Back then, as now, there was the actual crisis, but behind it, was a less visible social, economic and mental health crisis affecting hundreds of millions not necessarily in physical danger.

Back then, as now, the demand was driven by ordinary people stuck at home, struggling with frozen, rationed, restricted lives, unable to socialise, holiday, or even sleep normally. If you look at all the side effects – separation, depression, alcoholism, school disruption, travel restrictions, closures, debt, hunger, empty streets – there is much to compare between World War II and Covid lockdown.’ 

Also for live music there’s light at the end of the tunnel, according to Craig Kallman (Chairman and CEO of Atlantic, the New York label behind artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran): 

‘People are already calling the coming years “the new Roaring ‘20s’”. When live entertainment returns, all that bottled-up energy will explode; it will be a great time for artists and fans alike. So much fantastic new music has been eagerly welcomed during the pandemic, and there’s also a lot of amazing music just waiting to come out when artists can hit the road again. We’re very optimistic about 2021 and beyond.’ 

Unsound Teto Preto © Helena Majewska

Despite Murphy‘s uplifting words and findings we’re now at least witnessing that the “Summer of Love” a lot of people here in The Netherlands were hoping for in 2021, didn’t exactly turn out the way they imagined. Many festival hosts are currently in despair because their events had to be canceled. And the restrictions around Covid were already making it hard or impossible to plan and fill an appealing line-up. 

But as much as we lost opportunities here, we apparently have gained some space for the upcoming artists if we believe the urban music experts from the surprisingly educational New Skool Rules festival, held on May 29th – 31th, 2021. Their goals: sharing and gaining knowledge, networking, and doing business while having fun. 

The panel members ranged from the major labels like Motown, AtlanticRecords, Republic, Sony, Warner as well as the major publishers Warner/ Chappell, Sony/ ATV, Universal Publishing. Here I was given the opportunity to ask my questions to the experts myself, as we all were via the live chats or an invite into the video calls.

During the discussion What’s the new normal, after Corona is over with Fort Knox, Affro, Chuck Creekmur, Phat Phillie and Darrell Bell, particularly the bands that are just starting out were encouraged to show their faces and look for an audience in their own area. 

According to Fort Knox, people are craving for entertainment after being locked down for a year. Affro was even talking about assembling a line-up with local bands only, for his Hip Hop Kemp festival in the Czech Republic. Nobody can predict the future and determining how much of this is really going to work out is similar to looking into a crystal ball. But it is nice to be a part of the brainstorm. 

Le Sucre © Gaétan Clément

How the crowds exactly will respond to new music is simply out of our hands and the question remains, how the nature of social cohesion that has been impacted by the pandemic will evolve in the future. A matter we can’t ignore as human beings, not only because social connections and support give us pleasure but also regarding the well-known fact that it can improve health and increase longevity. 

I’m a big fan of the student counsellor from the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, Paul Deneer, who wrote a thesis in 2019 called Speaking directly in an indirect way. He concludes his publication by stating that our ability to grow as a person is closely connected to the ability to engage in reciprocal relations. During one conversation he pointed at a picture on his wall showing a tribe of monkeys who, according to him, take care of each other’s well being in order to keep their community strong and healthy as a whole.

In addition to this topic, I listened to a Finding Mastery podcast episode hosted by the always incredible Dr. Michael Gervais titled Dr. Marissa King on Forming Intentional Relationships, on June 2nd 2021. According to King, author of a new book titled Social Chemistry, Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection, relationships are not easy to restore. On the other hand, ‘thanks’ to the pandemic there is much more awareness about the importance of social cohesion right now. 

This makes me wonder: In which ways can musicians dive into this gap today? Is the “Music Boom” really coming, like Murphy mentioned before? When will we finally be able to celebrate our “Summer of Love” in The Netherlands or elsewhere? I will only believe it when I see it.

Unsound NYC © Unsound

Some final words before the journey home. To investigate everything worthwhile is a time consuming thing to do, since the amount of information about the music industry out there is as big and ongoing as the world wide web itself.  But if anything, I would like to encourage everyone to keep this quest going. It’s important to educate and re-educate, to have spaces where we can ask questions, and look for trustworthy answers.

Honestly, most conservatories don’t spend much time on practical or business related issues in the first place. So for everybody who didn’t get streetwise yet, I believe the vacuum that the pandemic has created is a great opportunity to make the industry as transparent and fair as possible from now on. 

Only together we can map out the possibilities and create an overview that will make musicians more free to decide for themselves which direction to go. Any European support, supervision or protection in this process of creating healthy standards would of course be helpful too.

This way, we can ultimately put our focus back to where it belongs: on making music! In today’s society music can play an important role in creating some very necessary social impact. There’s no time to waste. 

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About the Author

Lien Pisters is an interdisciplinary artist based in Maastricht, The Netherlands. She graduated in 2014 with a Masters degree in Modern MusicTheatre at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. The last couple of years she has devoted to making music as a soul singer and electro songwriter, under the name “Tropical Dutch”.  Currently, she is working on her album Lemon.

Lieneke Pisters‘ social media accounts : Soundcloud, Instagram


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