Long ago, music was limited to virtuosos who relied on wealthy patrons to sponsor private performances for their income to put food on the table. Mozart was the 18th century equivalent of a rock star, but his fans, and benefactors, were essentially those who could afford to sponsor and/or attend his performances.
It was the piano that democratized music, bringing music into middle class homes in the USA. The “player piano” with its “prerecorded” piano rolls was the catalyst. A court decision decided that those paper music rolls could be legally copied. The threat of a monopoly forced Congress to respond by prohibiting the copying of piano rolls, but allowing anyone to produce a “cover” once a song had been commercially released for a two cent royalty to the composer. That decision started the music recording industry. Today’s copyright laws stem from that 1909 “two-cent royalty”.
The player piano gave way to the phonograph and then the vinyl record. Technology extended the recording length — first with Long Playing (LP) records, then CDs and now MP3s, making the single recording once again the dominate music media – no more B-side!
Today, building a successful career means controlling one’s destiny. The music industry is huge, diverse, and full of risks. Record labels are losing out to CDs and videos. Music publishers are scrambling to find new revenue sources; such as ringtones, video games and other sources.
Rock stars and name performers earn more than ever, but there is less funding for developing artists. Today, established artists are multi-tasking – starting their own websites and record labels, entering the video game market and negotiating ringtone rights for their compositions and by controlling their own destinies musicians today have a chance to weather the uncertainty in a ever changing art form and industry.