For Texans, the oil industry has a strong connection and influence in just about all realms of business. I live in West Texas, both the region and the area as it is referenced. Sandwiched nearly in the middle of Dallas/Ft. Worth and Midland/Odessa, our economy has been greatly impacted by the shale oil boom of the last 5 years. A lot has changed in that time period both good and bad. What the current downturn in oil prices and the subsequent response by the big oil companies has done provides a huge illustration for the music industry to take note of.
When the first news of fracking hit, and companies started investing in the technology of shale oil refinement, everything changed in Odessa. What used to be a strip of Interstate 20 had only a few restaurants and one or two hotels on it. My in-laws live in El Paso, so we make this trip west through Midland/Odessa a few times a year without incident. Not so much anymore.
It’s very expensive now to live in Midland/Odessa. Workers in the oil fields make a considerable wage, but up until recently there were so many workers that there was no place to house them. Trailer parks would fill up with anything that could resemble a place to lay down and sleep. Guys would pay any amount of rent to be able to keep their drive into work under a few hours each day. Others chose to live outside of town and commute in.
The boom in the oil industry created more jobs than the economy had experienced before. Smaller businesses could no longer attract and keep employees because people could make so much more money working for an oil company doing manual labor. Whether it was fastfood workers or front desk people at hotels, every business was in a constant state of hiring. The growth in the industry and the amount of new businesses opening to enter the market space led to an influx of people and a boost to the economy.
However, outside influences have recently put a negative spot on the once booming shale oil/fracking industry. OPEC’s decision to keep production at a high point has dropped the price of oil down significantly, which is a great thing for commuters like you and I. The oil barrons don’t see low fuel prices the same way.
The big and medium-sized oil companies have responded by laying off thousands of workers. Suddenly, the supply and demand quota doesn’t produce the same revenue that it did even a few years ago. In the name of the Benjamins (which is what it’s all about in most business industries), future planning and growth get put on hold so that the big wigs can continue to live frivolously. Corporate bosses might be taking small pay cuts, but when cutbacks are needed it begins with the day-laborers.
What this has to do with the music industry is pretty basic. A one time there was a great demand for independent producers of content in a marketplace seeking new players in the game. However, that time is no longer here. The music industry is overflowing with creative and talented musicians and artists creating new work every day. Then there are countless other artists attempting to enter the market every minute. Some of these new names have the talent and depth to make an impact. Others aren’t there yet, but still they are trying to compete and sale their wares.
The music fan has responded accordingly by changing the way they consume music and media, expecting most of it to be free to them in every way. A smaller niche audience is still willing to buy music, but only on their terms and only artists who connect with them in a certain way.
Established names are continuing to reinvent their presentations, alter their sound, and do what they can to be first-of-mind with a mostly fickle music audience. Pop artists who used to sell millions of albums the first week of release are re-thinking their strategy when record sales are at an all-time low and streaming royalties are debated for unfairness.
What every musician has to do is come back to center and focus their attention on the fan base who consistently tracks with them. The shotgun approach to music creation and promotion doesn’t work when everyone on the block is doing the same thing. When you have a focused approach to how you create and sync with your audience, the threat of an overflow of artists in a limited space doesn’t create the same kind of fear.
Supply has far exceeded the demand of the market. Cutbacks are inherent every time this happens, and usually not to the benefit of those smaller acts trying to do things independently of a financier. This is one of the reasons for developing a plan for reaching a specific audience is essential to achieving anything close to a profitable life as a musician. Otherwise, the course of an indie musician or DIY artist looks much like the current oil field worker. Things were great yesterday, but the fields which were once ripe aren’t calling out anymore for you.