Feature: the gig picture1:35, 4th September 2018
Like it or not, it seems that the gig economy is here to stay, presenting a host of challenges but also some tremendous opportunities for musicians who wish to take control of their careers. James McAulay takes stock of new developments that will help freelancers to make the most of their talents and spend more time making music rather than wading through admin.
People began using the term ‘gig economy’ to refer to the recent swing towards freelancing in the makeup of the labour market, enabled by start-ups like Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo. The term entered the mainstream vocabulary very recently, with Google search trends showing a sharp uptick in search volume for ‘gig economy’ in 2015. Musicians, however, have been navigating the musical gig economy for decades, and the gig economy for freelance musicians in 2018 is a lot better than it was just a few decades ago.
Consider a freelancer looking to gain session and function work in the 20th century. They’d need to spend a lot of time dealing single-handedly with all sorts of practicalities of their profession, from marketing and promotion to contractual matters, invoicing and chasing payments and trouble shooting when problems arise.
This is a lot of time that could be spent actually making music! Modern platforms such as Encore take all of this hassle out of being a freelance musician. With Encore, musicians are efficiently matched with paying customers, meaning they don’t need to spend time and money marketing themselves to attract clients. Contracts are generated automatically, and payments are secured using advanced online payment technologies, meaning they never have to chase late invoices. They’re also backed up and supported by our Bookings Team, who are on-hand seven days a week to assist with any problems that may arise during the course of a booking. Disputes are rare, but musicians are protected if they ever do happen, in a way that wouldn’t happen if they were a sole trader operating on their own outside of a booking platform. However, Encore isn’t the only platform for musicians in the modern gig economy.
I would like to highlight two other new platforms that I believe are of real benefit to musicians. Soundbetter is a global platform for finding musicians to record and collaborate with. If a musician has a simple home recording setup, they can create a profile and get paid to record tracks for producers and writers all over the world. This simply wasn’t possible a couple of decades ago, and it can be a great revenue stream in addition to performing and teaching.
The second platform is called FatLama, a platform for borrowing and lending things. Musical instruments is one of their biggest categories, and it’s a great way for musicians to earn money by lending out equipment that they’re not always using. Obviously, you wouldn’t lend out a valuable Stradivarius on the platform, but it works well for cheaper instruments and pieces of kit, such as amps, pickups, microphones and mass-produced instruments such as guitars and keyboards. 2018 is an exciting time to be a musician, and there plenty of opportunities online for musicians to bolster their income.
The shape of things to come
How is the musical economy going to be influenced by emerging technologies? James McAulay has a few predictions.
Instant availability becomes the norm
Predicted timeframe: 2020
When booking or fixing musicians for any type of event, the very first question asked is “are you available?” Depending on how prompt the musician is, the booker can sometimes be left waiting up to a week before discovering that their chosen musician is unavailable, which is frustrating. Instant availability is now common throughout the hospitality sector. OpenTable lets customers book a restaurant table without enquiring for availability. Booking.com does the same for hotels. So why aren’t musicians providing the same service? Instant availability makes customers far more likely to contact you, and increases the chances of successful bookings. Many musicians still use paper diaries due to a combination of familiarity and convenience. However, this diary can’t be shared with anyone who isn’t in the same room as you, and what do you do if you lose it? Though it may be an uncomfortable transition for some, online calendars are the future, and it won’t be long before they become the norm within the music industry.
For elite classical musicians, diary services like Morgensterns and MAS currently offer an approximation of this service by requiring subscribers to send periodic updates about their diary. To provide accurate and instant availability, I believe they will need to modernise to keep up with this trend.
Artificial Intelligence will replace many booking agents
Predicted timeframe: 2025-2030
I was once told by a successful tech investor that “any industry based upon phone calls with human agents will be disrupted and transformed by Artificial Intelligence (AI)”. At the elite levels of the music industry, bookings are made on the foundations of strong and well-cultivated relationships, and for this reason, it’s highly unlikely that AI will be replacing high-end agents any time soon, though it will undoubtedly augment and streamline their work. However, when you’re dealing with simpler bookings, such as for functions and private events, the relationships are less important, the events are less complex, and the same questions come up again and again. ‘Can you play this song?’, ‘How much time do you need to set up?’, ‘Can you wear black tie?’ These are simple questions that a relatively primitive AI chatbot can already answer in 2018. In my opinion, a future where every function musician has their own AI Bookings Agent isn’t a million miles away.
One day, you will be booked by a robot
Predicted timeframe: 2021-2022
Back in May 2018, Google unveiled their latest advancement in conversational Artificial AI, dubbed Google Duplex. The demo they gave was both awe-inspiring and terrifying in equal measure. An AI assistant phones a hairdresser, has a chatty conversation with the human on the other end of the line, and successfully schedules an appointment on behalf of its human owner. Google is beginning to slowly release this technology to early adopters, so it won’t be too long before you and I have access to it. In the near future, it’s likely that you’ll receive a phone call from an AI assistant asking to book you to perform at their client’s event, or perhaps altering the timings of a scheduled performance. There are ethical questions about whether the AI should reveal itself as a robot, and it will be fascinating to watch how AI assistants are gradually embedded into our lives over the next few years.
The Musical Matrix: Virtual Reality (VR)
Predicted timeframe: 2021
When booking musicians, the single biggest question on everyone’s mind is around quality: ‘This video is good, but what does the group sound and act like in real life?’ New Virtual Reality technologies allow you to put on a headset and explore a virtual world. The latest headsets come with motion tracking and controllers for both hands, meaning you can move around and manipulate your surroundings with surprising accuracy. VR music experiences are already possible, but they come with problems. For musicians, producing VR materials requires specialist equipment and can be incredibly expensive. For viewers, very few people actually have a VR headset in their home. However, as the cost of VR headsets falls and consumer adoption increases, there will become an expectation that musicians can provide virtual reality demo experiences.
Combining a VR experience with live audio and professionally produced 360-degree video is the closest you can get to hearing a band live without actually being in the same room as them, and it’s going to give customers a much clearer idea of what to expect when booking musicians.
This is an incredibly exciting time to be a musician, and by 2028 our industry promises to be wildly different to anything we know today. Bookings platforms for musicians are evolving at a rapid pace, providing customers with an easier means of finding musicians and providing musicians with a safer means of accepting bookings and receiving payments from strangers. Ultimately, technology is automating and streamlining many non-musical aspects of being a professional musician, meaning that musicians of the future will have more time to focus on what really matters: making music.
James McAulay is a cellist and the co-founder and CEO of Encore, an online bookings platform for musicians. http://www.encoremusicians.com