Modern blues guitar master Joe Bonamassa addressed the current state of the music business in regard to streaming and how it affects the work of musicians today. Speaking to Guitar Interactive Magazine in a recent interview, Joe discussed his decision to keep making albums, pointing out how things have changed massively compared to the old days.
“I don’t feel the need to make records until I have a reason to — until I’m inspired to,” he explained (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs). “You got to keep the air in the balloon. It’s been like that since the ’60s. I think Aretha Franklin put out four records one year, like in the ’60s.”
The problem, however, is that albums aren’t as profitable as before since the streaming industry has changed the game on a lot of fronts. And despite being an old-school-oriented musician, Joe is more than aware that, business-wise, singles are the way to go.
“I think after my next solo album,” Joe added, “I have to reassess where the record business really is and go, ‘Are we not really just pretending that we’re not in the singles business?'”
Sure, there’s also some rise in popularity of old formats, including cassette tapes. Vinyl records are big again, although some sources reported that they’re now often made from digital copies of masters, which questions the very point of old physical formats.
“Everybody’s just like, ‘The new thing now is cassettes.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I know. I had cassettes.’ We had it all.”
But, as we all know, it’s the streaming that’s the real deal today. And Joe openly questioned whether doing an album is even worth it, offering:
“I don’t know if one day we’re all gonna wake up and collectively say, ‘Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, I’d rather go back to paying $16.99 for a record.’ I don’t see that.”
There’s also the ever-present critique of streaming giants who are infamously paying artists very little compared to the old industry model when the physical formats were still the only way to purchase someone’s music:
“Once you give away the free samples, it’s hard to get the ‘marginally free’ samples. It’s a subscription service, but it feels like a free sample when your royalty per stream is .003 or .005, and then you got to pay the writers.”
And while the income from albums and original music has decreased, musicians still need to pay money to create their art. As a result, there’s now an incredible disparity in the business, which is why making new music is most often not profitable at all.
“The cost of making records hasn’t changed. The studios are still $2,000 a day,” Joe pointed out. “Musicians still — last time I checked — needed to pay their bills, and they’re only going up.”
“The only thing you don’t have now is the cost of tape, which was 300 bucks a reel, now it’s $400 a reel. So the cost of making records has not changed, just the return — in the business world, they call it ROI, return on investment.”
Reflecting on the business side of things, Bonamassa then jokingly added:
“Everything in the business world is always an acronym for something, right? It’s like, ‘What did you say? Just say the words, it’s not that hard.’”
While there’s obviously other solutions than to go fully old-school-style and record on tape reels, Joe’s point still stands. His latest studio album “Blues Deluxe Vol. 2” came out in Early October this year, but according to what he said in this interview, we’re yet to see whether he’ll just shift to doing singles altogether.
“Blues Deluxe Vol. 2” is somewhat of a continuation of Joe’s third album, “Blues Deluxe” which came out twenty years ago. Speaking to Ultimate Guitar, Joe reflected on the decision to do a follow-up two decades later, saying:
“When we did the first one, there was no guarantee there was going to be a ‘Volume Two.’ It was just ‘Blues Deluxe.’ Cause that was the last shot we had to stay in business.”
“So I wanted to do something that was more than just remastering a record for the sake of doing it, and we didn’t have any bonus tracks from 20 years ago, so I was like, ‘We’ve got to do another volume.’ So I asked [producer] Josh Smith if he wanted to do it, and there we go.”
Discussing it further, Joe also explained how important the original “Blues Deluxe” album was crucial for him, pretty much a moment of truth for young Joe, defining whether he’ll finally make any noticeable commercial success with it.
“The first volume was basically the live show with a couple of originals thrown in with basically the last $10,000 that my manager of now 33 years and myself had. There was no master plan. In 2003, it was survival. It was that we were going out of business. There is no business. There is no opportunity for anything. There’s no tours, there’s no sessions, there’s no nothing.”
“We did two albums, one with a major label, one with another label, and it didn’t work out. Radio didn’t want to play anything that I was involved in, and we were basically nowhere. So there was no like, ‘Well, I’m gonna keep these for the 20th anniversary.'”
“No, there was none of that thought going on. This was truly a new group of songs because I didn’t think I was going to do a record like this again. But I just said, you know, we’ve got to do something for the 20th anniversary. Still, Blues Deluxe is one of the biggest selling pieces in our catalog and it still resonates with people.”