For musicians, it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times. Streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify are booming, helping the long-suffering music industry grow for the first time in decades.
But these new services make very little money for artists, with ephemeral streams paying out only a fraction of the revenue of actual album sales and downloads. Beyoncé, the highest-paid artist of last year, made the bulk of her money from a world tour. So did Guns N’ Roses, the second name on that list, and that band hasn’t even released a new album in a decade.
Another sign of the times is Donald Fagen, the 69-year-old cofounder of rock band Steely Dan, who has just announced a new tour in the US and Japan with an entirely new backup band called the Nightflyers. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal (paywall), Fagen’s explanation for the new tour was decisively blunt:
When the bottom fell out of the record business a bunch of years ago, it deprived me of the luxury of earning a living from records. I don’t sell enough albums to cover the cost of recording them the way I like to. For me, touring is the only way to make a living.
While the artists may suffer, buying albums is simply a bad deal when compared to streaming from a consumer’s standpoint. For $10, which would you rather have: a 12-track record, or a month of unlimited access to 30,000 songs? And for musicians and their families that relied on that income, that’s going to lead to some odd outcomes, like the fact that former Black Sabbath frontman Ronnie James Dio, who died of stomach cancer in 2010, is also soon embarking on a tour as a hologram.
Dio’s widow Wendy Dio recently announced an entire 100-concert world tour, which will feature a holographic display of her deceased husband as a live band plays in tune with his archival recordings. “It gives the fans that saw Ronnie perform an opportunity to see him again,” she told Rolling Stone. The millions raked in from ticket sales will surely be just a little bonus.