Intellectual property - including compositions and recordings of music - continues to be the United States' number one export, said Ken Abdo, chair of the Entertainment Law Initiative at the Grammy Foundation. Abdo was the keynote speaker at the Diversafest Music Conference on Friday, held at the Doubletree Hotel.
The music industry is "art as commerce," said Abdo, and making money with music requires those involved in the industry to embrace seemingly conflicting concepts. In the 1960s, many artists resisted the idea of branding themselves and their image. But today, the practice is not only prevalent but critical to an artist's success.
"In the music industry, exploitation is a beautiful thing," Abdo said. "In civil rights law, not so much."
Abdo said he had once been the drummer for a "really crappy" band in the 1970s that made a considerable amount of money. While other bands scraped by, Abdo said his band succeeded because they were better at marketing than they were at making music.
"We've got to kill the idea that music is free," he said. "Making music is hard, and it's honorable, so don't give it away and don't steal it."
Advances in technology have opened new opportunities for artists to create and promote their work, and demand is rising for those with complementary technical skills. A show of hands at Abdo's address found a handful of sound engineers, accountants, and lawyers who are putting their skills to use in the music industry.
A study of the economic impact of the music industry in Seattle found that the median income for full-time musicians in that city was $22,000 a year, said Abdo, adding that means some people barely scraped by while others made a six-figure salary. Abdo said he personally knew a band that makes $500,000 a year without a record deal, working independently.
New business models within the industry are cropping up all over. A band called The String Cheese Incident has formed a vertically integrated company to handle management, recording, intellectual property, legal counsel, and all other aspects of the business that is the band. …