Is The Musical Middle Class On The Verge Of An Uprising?

Over at Hypebot, Bruce Houghton is theorizing about music culture in the post-superstar landscape–a world where the idea of the diamond-certified record (10 million copies sold) will be a memory of the overheated turn of the century, and where most records will barely scrape gold status, let alone platinum. Houghton argues that what we’re going to see, instead, is a rise of the “musical middle class,” where artists will be able to make their own destinies, and live well even though their fanbases may be smaller than the ones enjoyed by TRL mainstays of years gone by:

Slowly but visibly many of these artists are inventing their careers. Not a career fueled by Krystal and delivered in limos, but rather one earned by practicing their craft, listening to their fans and delivering the results live.

The fans may only number from 20-100,000. But without greedy hands in the middle, the profits are enough. And mercifully, the results of this labor are not as ephemeral as in the past. If the artist’s effort continues; fans stay loyal.

There will always be mega-stars and one hit wonders. But how hopeful it is for musicians, fans and for music, that there is finally a place for middle class of musicians proud of their craft and connected to their audience. And what wonderful opportunities await for the middle class of labels and other companies created to serve them.

It sounds almost utopian–too utopian, in fact, which is why I’m tempted to agree more with the analysis provided by Glenn of Coolfer in the post’s comments:

I see what you’re saying, but I’d be more prone to call it a growing lower-middle class. There is an absolute glut of music online. (Great music is indeed being created everywhere, but there’s 1,000 times as much mediocre and terrible music clogging up the channels.) As the audience becomes more fractured, each player’s piece of the pie shrinks.

As for increased loyalty, that will depend on the band’s use of customer relationship tools. I believe success can be as fleeting as ever — look no further than the manner in which bloggers chew up and spit out bands at record rates — but there is definitely potential to keep fans if you do it correctly.

The idea that there is an “absolute glut” of music is one that I (and probably my mailman, too) have been thinking about a lot lately. During the OiNK brouhaha I was thinking about the massive amount of songs and albums downloaded/uploaded by each individual user, and how a lot of times it seems like it would be impossible to listen to all the music I currently own–for example, even though my iTunes library is at 32.5 days and counting, I can’t stop listening to Blackout today–let alone all the music that’s out there. I suspect this is true for most people, even (and maybe especially!) those with terabyte drives of MP3s they’ve pulled down from the Web. Which underscores Glenn’s question: as more of these artists have the ability to access increasingly sophisticated ways to make, distribute, and market their music on their own–which results in said musical “middle class” becoming more populated–is the only way for that class’ standing to go down, simply because of the fact that there are so many artists vying for fans’ attention and only so many hours in a day? It’s a tricky question, and one that I don’t think has an easy answer, but I do think that it goes hand-in-hand with the problems that major labels are having right now, and why whatever form they’ll be around in come, say, 2009 will probably look at least somewhat different from the way they look today.

Rise Of The Musical Middle Class [Hypebot]