1. Sales of recorded music will not generate significant income. Music listeners are saying loud and clear that convenience and access are more important than physical objects and sound quality. One step has already been taken with the shift from CDs to digital file ownership, and the next step is coming when digital file ownership shifts to streaming everything from the cloud (whether it’s via Spotify, MOG, an Apple or Google-led service, or someone else altogether). Labels are pissed because you can’t mark up a file or a stream as much as you could a physical object, so profit margins are smaller; it sucks, but the fans have spoken that this is how they want music, and that’s the way it is. Revenue is going to have to come from other sources.
2. Metal is going to be a young man’s game, even more than ever before. Without significant income from sales of recorded music bands are going to have to stay out on the road more of the time to stay afloat, and with more bands on the road all the time bands will be cutting into each others’ income; fans only have so much money to spend on concert tickets and merch. More time on the road means less material comforts of life and less time with significant others and family; this is lots of fun when you’re 20, but gets tiresome by the time you’re 30. Expect more bands to break up sooner and swap members more often than ever before. This is already happening.
3. Your album will be a tool to market your tour. This is a complete 180° turn from how it used to be, when you went out on the road to drive sales of your album. These days new music is an excuse to generate enough fan interest and press to allow you to get back out on the road where the real money is; ticket sales, and, of course, merch.
4. Everyone will earn less money, from the band members (see above) all the way up to the labels, managers, agents, magazines/websites, assistants, etc. The result of less money in the scene will be that those left working in the industry are those who truly love the music and aren’t in it for the hookers and blow; the result of that will be a better product for everyone.
5. If you want to earn good money, start a merch company. The one sector of the industry that seems decline-proof is merch; merch companies may as well be printing money on those t-shirt presses right now and I don’t see this changing any time soon unless the merch market is flooded with start-ups, diluting the pool. This will probably happen eventually, but for now the merch business is a good one.
6. Managers will be king. Whether existing managers step up, new ones arise, or labels change their business model and morph into management groups remains to be seen… but in the near future it’s going to be all about how good your manager is. The devil is in the details, and you need someone who “gets it” and nails it every single time. Someone who’s in touch with the modern metal scene, someone who stays on top of emerging Internet trends and new technology, someone who’s on the ball about tracking merch sales on the road and coordinating drop-shipped re-ups, someone who crosses the t’s and dots the i’s on every single contract that comes in the door. Someone you trust.
7. Booking agents will be the princes to the manager’s kings. The manager might ultimately call the shots, but the agent has the knowledge of each marketplace and the relationships to make good tours happen (emphasis on “good”). With increased tour traffic, good tours will be more important than ever (see #2). Labels (or the management groups they may become) will have in-house agents to handle the smaller bands while the big bands are left to the big dogs at The Agency Group, Paradigm, etc., or labels / management groups will simply have separate agency arms of their company. Smart businessmen like Ash and E.J. are already doing this… they see the writing on the wall.
8. Band members will need to be more involved with band business. Gone are the days when you could just let your handlers do all the work. This is already happening, even with bands that have good managers; talk with dudes like Misha Mansoor at a show and you learn that they’re in touch with every aspect of the band’s business.
9. Your band has got to be GREAT. Simply being mediocre / pretty good is not going to cut it anymore. The Internet and ever-cheapening recording technology have leveled the playing field and resulted in the market being flooded with mediocre / pretty good bands (these bands existed in the past but weren’t able to get their wares out to the world). What makes your band different? What makes you better than all the other bands that are doing something similar? Labels and managers will probably continue to hedge their bets by signing a wide variety of acts including some that are the flavor of the moment, but they’ll only be truly rewarded by taking risks on something unique. Gone are the days when you could just sign a band because the style they play is in and push them through the system.
10. Only the biggest bands will be able to tour internationally. Getting a band overseas is expensive; with flights and visa fees alone you’re already over $5,000, and then you’ve got to arrange for gear rental, a van rental, accommodations, and possibly a tour manager, merch guy and crew. Since records are now a tool to promote tours and not vice versa (see #3), record labels have no financial incentive to give “tour support” anymore — recoupable loans record labels give bands to tour — meaning that if your band is going to tour overseas they’ve got to be making really decent money to make it work. Expect the number of smaller and mid-sized bands touring outside of their own countries/regions to dwindle. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as fewer market appearances will put a band’s performances in higher demand, driving their value up.