In a lot of ways, the world of independent music is a different beast from “the music industry.”
With famous artists and even some new major label acts, waste can be a tax write-off or an opportunity for later improvement. When you have a fanbase in the millions, suboptimal execution can still drive thousands of sales. At the indie level though, when your total audience may only BE thousands of people, waste can mean lasting failure felt in real-time.
So successful DIY artists have to approach their careers in a more scrappy manner — because every ounce of attention and commerce has to be squeezed from the limited reach and tools available. Yes, that can be tiring and difficult. But on the plus side, it means innovation often happens at the indie level first. And that is something the indie side of the industry should be proud of.
This stark difference also means that a lot of what eats up the larger music industry’s attention is almost irrelevant to indie artists. Prestige aspects of branding and advertising may yield results for majors, but independent marketing strategies tend towards direct-response methods by necessity. Likewise for self-releasing artists, the accolades of the industry — big awards, magazine covers, endorsements, high-budget videos — are the shiny distractions at the end of the wrong road.
What I mean is: There’s the MUSIC industry, and then there’s the COTTAGE industry of sustaining an independent music career. A lot of times, when someone in the business shares “big news,” I scratch my head and ask “So what? Am I supposed to care about this thing that has no bearing on 99% of the artists creating music today?”
So in our predictions below (and in the related podcast episode) we bring out the crystal ball and try to envision some industry-wide changes that WILL matter to indie artists. But first, a look back at some 2022 highlights and lowlights…
The 2022 music industry roundup:
It went by in a flash.
Here and gone! And very few people were on the same page throughout the year. For the first few months, many places were still fully immersed in Covid-related considerations and the Omicron surge. In other places, live events and parties were back on full-force.
Then just as everyone thought that live concerts would return with a vengeance, inflation went through the roof, causing artists to question the financial validity of touring. This was compounded by the increase in oil and gas prices following the Ukraine invasion. So many notable artists, including Santigold, cancelled their tour plans. Economic strain also caused many fans to second-guess their concert ticket and merch purchases.
“Catalog” got yet another boost.
Old songs clearly still have relevance, and 2022 proved again that old songs often have MORE earning potential than new releases. Think about Kate Bush and Metallica from Stranger Things. The Cramps in Wednesday. This is a continuation trend from 2020’s Ocean Spray craze when that Fleetwood Mac song got used on TikTok.
We need each other.
We got a great reminder of the importance of IRL community when the DIY Musician Conference returned to Austin, Texas. We also heard from lots of artists who were similarly moved and motivated by attending local meetups, musician union gatherings, networking sessions, etc.
TikTok achieved dominance over the music industry.
The app’s power and influence had been growing for years, but 2022 saw TikTok conquer audience attention, creator effort, and music industry emphasis all at once. 2022 also saw (I think for the first time) TikTok go on the defensive by expanding their features to resemble newer apps (BeReal, for instance).
Live streaming seemingly disappeared.
Sure, I still went on Twitch once in a while and searched for some music streamers. They were still singing and playing and taking requests. But, gone are the days when our social feeds were absolutely saturated with livestreaming. I think the pendulum swung the other way, and online audiences needed a break. And to connect this observation to the point above, my theory is that artists — who only have so much time in the day — decided to prioritize TikTok video creation instead of staging full livestream performances.
What can we expect for music trends in 2023?
NFTs will be back!
Well, lemme caveat this one; I think NFTs will make a huge comeback when the bull market returns. Whether our economy is going to suffer a few more legs down, or chop sideways for 6-12 months, I have no idea. But once speculative investment returns in an uptrend, all the crypto-related music industry excitement — including NFTs, tokenized fan communities, metaverse, and more — will return, and stronger than ever. Because by that time, many of the confusing friction-points that prevented wider adoption during the last cycle will have been solved (or at least greatly improved in terms of usability).
We’ll expand our definition of “sync licensing.”
There will be further shifts in what sync licensing entails. Going beyond the standard definition of TV, games, commercials, and film — music licensing will more frequently include deals with interactive content such as Peloton, metaverse-style experiences in games like Roblox, pairing recorded music with corporate NFTs, and much more.
There will be an AI music reckoning.
We’re gonna hear a LOT about AI. Not just a debate about whether AI tech diminishes or proves our value as human artist, but also how it impacts our attitudes towards ownership. What does copyright mean, and how does ownership get claimed or shared in a future where you, a robot, and the robot’s creator all helped “make” a piece of music? No idea what the answer is there, but I know 2023 will be a year of strong debates.
More people will embrace a creator-first mindset.
For decades, musicians have embraced or tolerated the idea that they must have other skills to succeed: copywriting, marketing, videography, editing, design, etc. But until recently, I felt like all those endeavors were taken on as a means to an end: To get people back to the music. I think 2023 will be a kind of tipping-point year, where we see many people who used to think of themselves as artists first, finally accept the role of creator, with its own set of expectations and rewards.
We’ll see a renewed emphasis on the importance of your fanbase.
With the latest push to get rid of TikTok in the US, plus the mild panic of artists en masse realizing all the viral attention they’ve received doesn’t pay the bills, I think we’re going to hear a lot about how to get your audience off-platform. The industry — especially the indie music industry — will focus on creative and compelling ways to drive fans to your own musician website, web store, ticketed events, or email/SMS list.
Music will fade into the background (and it won’t).
Our attention spans are shrinking, and analyzing the online habits of younger demographics shows that with so much competition for our time, music is becoming something used in the background of other experiences. So… there will be a host of monetization options for music that serves a more ambient or utility purpose. But we also know that any big shift in consumption can spark a counter-trend, similar to the vinyl and cassette enthusiasms that rose alongside streaming adoption. So if music is more in the background, it probably also means there will be even louder advocates for foregrounding music as well.
Many non-English songs will top the charts.
There’s going to be accelerating opportunities for artists who make non-English or mixed-language music. In 2022, Bad Bunny was one of the top artists in the world. Music from Korea, India, and LATAM dominated in terms of mass attention. That isn’t slowing down, and it means audience tastes will widen, and scenes and genres from all around the globe will have greater access to “the mainstream” of worldwide attention.
Authenticity over precision.
This one isn’t really new. TikTok and Reels give us daily proof that unpolished, unfiltered, raw, quirky people can garner massive attention if they’re creative and “authentic” enough. But I’m listing this one here as a prediction to suggest that we (both artists and the industry) will really start analyzing this as a phenomenon so we can replicate the success. Did I just say replicate authenticity? I did.
Video not required, but expected.
There will be more opportunities to pair your music with video as part of an official release. Think of something like Spotify Canvas, but across multiple streaming and social platforms.
Parts of the metaverse will collapse.
Will there be virtual carnage? No, but 2023 will be a year where both developers and users will reassess the best use-cases for metaverse tech and how we want music to be a part of it. Oculus is cool for fantastical things like flying through clouds or boxing with Apollo Creed, but do you really want to use it to create music, fix a doorknob, or attend a work meeting? Doubtful. After a few more rounds of innovation, maybe we’ll want to spend all day in the metaverse; but I think the more likely path for 2023 is: it’ll be a time to more clearly define WHEN and WHY we want to be in the metaverse at all.
Those are our predictions for 2023, and in the related podcast you can hear us theorize about all of them in more depth. Plus, we’ve got a wishlist for 2023 too!
But I’m curious, what do you think the big shifts will be next year? Leave a comment, prediction, or question below!
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