October 30, 2020

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The pandemic has made life as an artist hard — real hard. Museums and studios have closed, live shows have been canceled and concerts have been pushed online. But according to William Deresiewicz, this is just the most recent act in a long, profound shift in the arts.

Deresiewicz, a former English professor at Yale University and author of “The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech,” says the digital age has devastated and demonetized the arts — whether that’s music, videos, visual art or the written word. We’re facing the loss of the moderately successful artist and “you can’t have even the stars without an ecosystem that supports them,” he says. So where does that leave us?

Three Takeaways:

  • The internet has had a dual effect on the arts, Deresiewicz says. It’s taken away the gatekeeper, allowing anyone to showcase their work online. But it’s also significantly reduced revenue and “sliced the pie into a million different pieces.” Plus, it’s cultivated an audience that has come to expect things for free.
  • People will always find ways to make art, Deresiewicz says. But artists have to exist in the marketplace around them, and it’s quickly becoming “more and more of a rich kids’ game.” This means the doors are slamming shut for many, and disproportionately for those disadvantaged by race or gender.
  • There’s a misconception that streaming music online pays, Deresiewicz says. But YouTube — where half of all music is streamed — pays just a fraction of a cent per play. Even if musicians are getting thousands of views, Deresiewicz says their revenue is minuscule. And on top of that, in 2019, 27% of listeners got their tunes illegally with no return to the artists.

More Reading:

  • This 2019 Time article breaks down how video-sharing platform TikTok carved out lucrative careers for some new artists, while others had their success stripped away by unreliable licensing procedures. Since then, TikTok’s been in the news because of a potential U.S. ban. If that goes through, the music industry will have to readapt, according to this piece in Rolling Stone.
  • This Washington Post article explores how the coronavirus pandemic has hit the film industry with a one-two punch. Safety concerns are changing what scenes can be filmed and where. Theater and festival closures are altering marketing and distribution options. And on top of all that, COVID-19 has changed the very core of what we — the audience — want to watch.
  • This Los Angeles Times article profiles young artists across the country whose dreams were shattered by COVID-19. With classes and performances moved online, many are missing out on fundamental learning experiences at a pivotal point in their careers.

Big Tech, Music Industry, art, William Deresiewicz

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