What’s Ahead For Artists, Labels, and Fans: Industry Insider Jeff Rabhan Predicts the Future of Music

JeffRThis is a guest post from Jeff Rabhan, Chair of The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, New York University. Artist Manager and amateur human beatbox. Find him on Twitter @jeffrabhan.

Let’s get out our tarot cards.

As fun and entertaining as reading the future can be, it can actually help artists draw a roadmap for themselves as they plan the next years of their career. These predictions, though, are not conjured up by reading tea leaves. Much of what you’ll read here is based upon current trends, insider conversations, and observations of smaller industry movements soon to be on the rise. For an industry that changes more often than artists change their underwear, here are a few predictions from the people who know it best.

The Streaming War

 There are two distinct streaming platforms: linear and non-linear. To illustrate, linear streaming services are the on-demand platforms such as Spotify, where users can choose who they want to listen to. Non-linear services, such as Pandora, are radio-like platforms where the music is curated towards the consumer’s tastes. These two forms of streaming services are rapidly becoming the norm as the future of digital music. This is partly due to people’s rapidly diminishing desire to own music.

As these streaming platforms increase in popularity, Pandora’s box (no pun-intended) will be opened as these various services fight for consumers. On top of which, artists and labels will be fighting for a bigger piece of the pie. In fact, record labels and the RIAA have recently filed a lawsuit against Pandora to obtain more favorable royalty rates. This speaks to a royalty battle that is certain to garner support from the creative community.


Thom Yorke: Safe to say he’s not a fan of streaming services

Without a doubt, competition between these services will continue to be intense in pursuit of consumer cash and subscriptions. We can expect to see a couple years of heavy bickering. There’s also a huge financial disparity between all these services. Some are bleeding cash, others raking it in. This creates a fertile environment for mergers and acquisitions, or pressurized negotiations.

At the end of the day, it remains to be seen who will be left standing: Spotify, Songza, Beats, Daisy, etc. There will be several big services to choose from with millions of copyrights, and a few smaller specialized and genre specific platforms for consumers, such as Deezer. Look for a better rate for artists and labels to be settled, but don’t expect it to be anything to celebrate. No artist will get rich any time soon.

In the words of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Spotify is “the last fart of a dying corpse.” Not really sure how that fits in here, but my tarot cards read, “that’s pretty damn funny nonetheless.”

 EDM as an “Experience”

It took 20 years for EDM to be an overnight success. DJ’s have become some of the most successful touring acts in the business. But how much longer will one DJ behind a laptop sustain an audience of 30,000 people? The EDM live experience will develop by incorporating live instrumentation, an actual stage show, and artists getting out in front of their hard drive.

Look for more mashups, touring bills, and performances that use both live instrumentation and the traditional experience. Genres and performances will cross to create the ultimate experience.

Caption: Insomniac Events, producers of Electric Daisy Carnival, are one of the frontrunners when it comes to creating immersive EDM experiences.


Insomniac Events, producers of Electric Daisy Carnival, are one of the frontrunners when it comes to creating immersive EDM experiences.

 The Role of The Artist Manager Will Increase

The iconic cigar-chewing, whisky-sipping manager of old is long gone (though we can still enjoy a nice Cuban every now and then).

Today managers need to be nimble in every facet of the industry and beyond. They’re the rock stars of the business side. We should really rename them “brand ambassadors” because a manager is no longer a manager — they’re true developers. Today’s manager requires a different vision, wider reaching relationships, and a greater understanding of the marketplace than ever before.

Rock Music Will Make A Comeback

 It’s time to throw on your flannel and get out your copy of Nirvana’s “Nevermind” — 1994 will be back. Music commonly reflects the sound of 20 years prior, so keep your ears open for rock n’ roll to gain mainstream popularity.

There’s a powerful worldwide rock scene with a loyal, almost religious, following. Don’t be surprised to see some of these niche rock acts to spill over into the mainstream. Lets get those Stratocasters out and turn on the overdrive. Party on Wayne. Party on Garth.



Major Labels Are Here To Stay

That’s right, I said it. Major labels are here to stay. Yes, indie labels are getting stronger. Yes, fewer artists need major labels. And yes, the major labels impact as gatekeepers has diminished greatly. But pound-for-pound, nothing competes with the worldwide marketing and distribution power of a major label. True international superstars – the driving force of the commercial music industry – will always need a major label home.

What will happen to the majors, then?

Their rosters will continue to shrink to a more concentrated group of major league type acts. The purists believe the luster of a major label is gone, but those looking for the big time, particularly pop artists, rely heavily upon the organizational muscle of the majors.

All the palm reading in the world will not accurately predict what the future holds for this amazing business. But, with a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of black magic, there’s no reason why the future can’t be bright for your career.

Jeff Rabhan is an artist manager, music-industry executive and international consultant. His clients have garnered 12 Grammy Awards, sold more than 100 million records and generated more than one billion dollars in global receipts. Rabhan currently serves as Chair of the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

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