In Session: What Are We Going to Do?

Nathaniel Kunkel reflects on the changes in the music industry.

It's a new year, and with it come new music, new opportunities, and new uncertainties. Whether you make electronic music or record only acoustic instruments, the instability of our business has never been greater. I just finished spending a week sitting in on classes at Berklee College of Music, and when I spoke with the students, we talked about the same things that I talk about with my friends. “What are we going to do? The music business is changing so much.” I hear it from a lot of people — students, engineers, and producers. The rub is that there isn't much we can do about the state of the business except continue to try to make the best music we can. I love to make music, I love to be in the studio, and I love to hear new songs. If I didn't work in the music business, I would still come home every night and woodshed in a small home studio. It's in my blood. So in the end, though I would like to make tons of money creating only hit records that I love, I don't need that to stay in the music business. People who make music are, in my opinion, some of the coolest people in the world, and I wouldn't want to work in any other industry no matter how dubious this one seems to be at the moment. So now what? We know we like to make music, so how do we deal with the uncertainty that we will survive while we do? In my opinion, the first thing to do is to lower our expectations of the business for a while. The music business used to be very lucrative, and with the influx of new talent and producers, there has been an expectation that it will remain that way. It will not. The way records are sold has changed forever, and it will continue to change. This fact makes some people worried and upset, but it doesn't need to.

We should focus on all the new and amazing ways there are to get our music out to people. It's also time to create and exploit some new business models.

One thing that basic engineering jobs will require is a diverse set of technical skills. As engineers and producers, we need to learn about computer networking, power distribution, electronics troubleshooting, data retention, and other related disciplines just to get our jobs done the right way. In the end, we need to remember that if music is our path, then we must pursue it with all of our effort, work as hard as we can, follow what we know to be quality, and retain our individuality. People will always listen to music, they will always need people to make it and record it, and there will always be money for it. The people who are in it for their ego or for money alone will get weeded out, and that's fine. For the people with the conviction to be here, there will always be a place. What will make the music business work for you is that your sense of success will come from within yourself, not anyone else. That is what will keep you going until you find your niche. It just takes patience and a lot of hard work.

Nathaniel Kunkel is a Grammy and Emmy Award-winning producer, engineer, and mixer who has worked with Sting, James Taylor, B.B. King, Insane Clown Posse, Lyle Lovett, and comedian Robin Williams.