America at work
Collective Soul on Taylor Swift, U2, & Music’s Future
Free Enterprise Staff | January 15, 2015

When Taylor Swift pulled her music from Spotify late last year amid the media hysteria surrounding the release of her latest album, she started a conversation about intellectual property and the limits of selling music digitally. Given the dramatic changes that have rocked the music industry, how are artists coping?

At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center Summit, we got the opportunity to interview Ed Roland, the lead singer of the band Collective Soul, as well as frequent collaborator Chris Yates, two artists with firsthand experience about what it’s like to be a musician navigating today’s complex and ever-changing creative landscape.

No matter which way you slice it, it’s impossible to discount digital streaming as a fad. Apple’s iTunes music service saw falling sales last year, according to The Guardian, and Spotify recently announced that its subscriber base had continued to grow through the end of 2014—even after Swift’s now infamous announcement. According to the Swedish digital company, it now counts more than 50 million people as users, with some 15 million paying for its premium service.

While digital streaming has been a boon for consumers, it has had a chilling effect on musicians, the majority of whom argue that it has eroded their ability to earn back the money and time they’ve invested in creating their unique song catalogues. Roland offers his take on some of the challenges facing young artists in the following clip.

But what about artists that formed a while ago? Roland says that certain moves by major musicians have had the unintentional effect of giving consumers the impression that the works of art they created cost no money on the backend. He takes issue, in particular, with U2’s deal with Apple late last year that saw the Irish band’s latest album given away for free to hundreds of millions of iPhone owners. In the following clip, Roland describes that decision, which ultimately proved controversial, as “ridiculous.”

Yet for all its potential pitfalls, streaming music does, Roland argues, present many opportunities for artists looking to reach a wide audience. It also presents a new type of challenge.

How have Roland and Yates managed to navigate the treacherous waters of the music industry for the better part of the past two decades? Much in the same way any other entrepreneur would. In fact, Roland considers all musicians to be entrepreneurs and attributes his success to his own entrepreneurial drive.

What does the future hold for the music industry? That, of course, is impossible to predict, but it’s a safe bet to expect that artists will continue being creative and producing music. How will musicians make a living off of the fruits of their artistic labor? They’ll have to be more business savvy, for starters. After that, they might want to take their cue from Swift, whom Roland credits with sticking up for young artists: Her latest album, 1989, sold 1.8 million copies in its first week—the largest weekly total since 2002—and quickly became the best-selling album of 2014 in less than 45 days.

They could also follow Roland’s lead: Since he first topped the charts in 1994 with Collective Soul’s ubiquitous hit “Shine,” he’s managed to continually adapt and carve himself a successful career in rock music. Either way, they’ll need to be entrepreneurial—and talented, of course.