James Blake Isn't Happy With The Direction Of The Music Industry

Ben Wego

On February 23rd, renowned producer and singer/songwriter, James Blake (known for his collaborative work with an abundant amount of high caliber artists such as Beyonce, Frank Ocean, and Travis Scott) reposted a slide off of @offrecordsounds instagram, (ran by @unojeevan), that sparked conversation with Tyler the Creator, Pigeons and Planes, and countless others about the state of the music industry. The post detailed how revenue is being generated from viral TikTok videos using different versions of songs, resulting in a mass push by labels for their artists to release various versions of their songs (sped up, slowed down, etc.) This has sparked a conversation with many artists, claiming that this methodology is spawning a low-grade and oversaturated music trajectory.

Blake explained when his cover of Frank Ocean’s “Godspeed” went viral since it was an original sound, neither he nor Frank Ocean made a cent off of it because it was not a label recording. His frustration continued with explaining how the attention span of the average social media user, combined with the arduous process artists go through posting an infinite amount of videos with soundbites of their song, is contributing to the dismantling of pure music. People are no longer listening to full songs because of the different versions and the simple attractive sound bite, and it’s forcing artists to become lazier with their releases because labels can generate income off of different versions of songs via TikTok. 

James Blake then made his own post on his instagram on March 2nd, further explaining that he isn’t thrilled with the direction music is headed. To quote his post - “Something I keep seeing is ‘if you’re lucky enough to go viral, just use the exposure to generate income some other way.’ Musicians should be able to generate income via their music..if we want quality music somebody is gonna have to pay for it. Streaming services don’t pay properly, labels want a bigger cut than ever…TikTok doesn’t pay properly, and touring is getting prohibitively expensive for most artists…watch how the model is preparing you for AI generated music that pays musicians nothing at all… The brainwashing has worked and now people think music is free.” His posts sparked a conversation with many different artists like Tyler, The Creator, Ty Dolla $ign, Ye, and Metro Boomin who agree with his philosophy.

We are living in a technologically advanced world where music has become more accessible than ever through streaming and social media, and TikTok’s impact on the music industry can be seen giving life to old music earning spots on the billboard charts and helping unsigned artists get discovered through virality. It started out giving artists more of a chance to go viral back in 2020 with its rise in popularity, but since then, the algorithm has changed drastically and it has become the main source of marketing for a plethora of industries. 

Unsigned artists are now swimming in an incredibly saturated market, making it almost impossible to stand out from their peers. Add AI to this competition, and it becomes a lawless wasteland. AI has the power to generate voices that sound similar or even identical to some artists, and it can even write its own songs that can be heard almost daily across social media. To refer back to James Blake, AI’s contribution to music is cheap compared to the work of genuine artists and experienced songwriters, and many believe it is hurting artists as a whole

With the subtraction of UMG signed artists from TikTok, one would think this could open doors for smaller artists to achieve virality and success in their music career, but was this endeavor to satisfy the label’s earnings, or was it for their artists? Universal Music Group’s role in taking down their signed artist’s music from TikTok was an impactful decision for social media, and interestingly enough, UMG just introduced a royalty “music for creators” subscription where content creators can pay for usage of their catalog across different forms of social media – a huge competitive decree against TikTok’s monopoly of music promotion.

TikTok may be the new radio, but it’s a radio where people do not listen to the whole song anymore. James Blake has established a vital discussion about where the music industry is headed in the world of TikTok, and he further highlights how artists are yet again losing their art to the power of record labels alongside of social media’s drastic impact on the industry.

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