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Students talk music industry issues, solutions

Music2020, Benevolent Records host “A Music Industry With More Winners Than Losers”

“How do we create a music industry with more winners than losers?”

In an attempt to answer this question, Benevolent Records, a student-run record label at Brown, and Music2020, a growing organization advocating for positive change in the music industry, teamed up to host a three-part event fittingly entitled “A Music Industry With More Winners Than Losers.”

The series began several weeks ago with its first installment, featuring an information session on current issues in the music industry. This was followed by the second installment: an opportunity for interested students to pitch potential solutions to such issues. Five elevator pitches were selected, and students were invited to present their ideas at the culminating event, which took place Saturday.

After introductions by Founder and President of Benevolent Records Lindsay Sack ’19 as well as the co-founders of Music2020, Scott Kirby and Visiting Professor of Music George Howard, students presented solutions to ongoing challenges facing the artistic community.  Presentations were followed by a roundtable discussion.

Students examined a variety of different issues — some focused on organizational obstacles faced by independent musicians not affiliated with a label or manager, while others explored the imbalance of power between record labels and artists. Julia Elia ’17, who has worked with multiple artists and record labels, delved into the effects of the pressures of touring and live concert performances on artists’ mental health.

“It’s just something I’ve been really aware of, working with artists for as long as I have … I’m constantly surprised (that it) doesn’t get more attention and more discussion,” Elia said.  “It’s a really hard issue to try to tackle and try to ultimately solve, and I think the first step is just talking about it (and) bringing it to people’s awareness.”

Sack’s inspiration for the event occurred last semester when she found herself in Howard’s course, MUSC 1270: “Making it in the Music Business: The New Artist Model.”  Benevolent Records came up during one class conversation, prompting the idea of a collaboration between the record label and Music2020. Howard referred Sack to Music2020 staff member Jennifer Howe as a contact, and planning progressed from there. Sack described the event’s purpose as twofold: “On the one hand, we really wanted to provoke discussion. Then the other aspect of it was to … encourage action.”

Though it was founded in 2016, Music2020 is “really a continuation of (Scott Kirby and my) ongoing work,” Howard said. “This is something that both of us together, and before we even knew each other, were working on … We both have devoted our lives to the idea that we want a system where musicians and artists have more direct power and control over their careers.”

One of Music2020’s core missions is to reduce constraints surrounding the production and distribution of music. In an ideal world, “music, information, rights and money (would be) transferred between artists and fans in the most efficient, productive and profitable way,” Kirby said. Both founders of Music2020 agreed that major record labels, performance rights organizations and streaming services dominate the music industry, leaving little room for artists to make their own voices heard.

Saturday’s event was one of several Music2020 has conducted since its establishment. Howard hoped that simply attending the event, listening to the presentations and participating in the discussions would inspire students to stir up change, he said.

“For a lot of reasons, going and speaking to college students is the right approach,” Howard said. “(College students) tend to care about music; they tend to be eager to get involved. I think if you look historically, much activism began at the college level.”    

Change in the music industry can be made in a variety of ways, such as using technology, increasing support for individual artists and changing laws surrounding musicians’ rights and the relationship between artists and record labels, according to Saturday’s presenters. Everyday consumers can also help change the industry.

“Being an educated consumer and a knowledgeable consumer and trying, in whatever ways you can, to do what’s best for the artist … I think that’s really where to start,” Sack said.


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