Health Insurance for Artists, Björk and Indie Album Release News, October 20, 2013

Health Insurance for Artists, Björk and Indie Album Release News, October 20, 2013

A survey revealed that 43-percent of artists in the U.S. are without health insurance. And Björk talked to Wired about the complete transformation of the music industry in the Digital Age and how she has survived it. Also, marketing experts analyzed the changing economics of album releases.



Artists and Health Insurance Survey Showing Realities of Healthcare Access


Musicians, actors, dancers, visual artists and filmmakers are less likely to have health insurance than the rest of the population in the U.S. according to a report released by the Future of Music Coalition.


An online survey of 3,402 artists conducted by the Future of Music Coalition (FMC) and the Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center (AHIRC) July and August 2013 stated that 43-percent of them are without insurance – more than double the national estimate of 18-percent uninsured ages 0-64 as calculated by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The report was released in part to help support the importance of the Affordable Care Act. Affordability was cited as being a major factor in artists’ decision not to get insurance, with 88 percent of uninsured respondents citing it as their primary reason.


The survey also discovered that 39-percent of artists with insurance are paying for coverage themselves, which is more than six times greater than the six-percent of the general population that pays for private, non-group insurance. And the percentage of self-insured jumps to 51 among those artists who spend 40 hours per week or more working at their craft.


One of the authors of the report, FMC’s Kristin Thomson summarized, “These results confirm what arts advocates and supporters already know; that US-based artists are much less likely to have health insurance … With vast swaths of the artistic community currently uninsured, and many either self-employed, low income, or under 65, self-employed artists are exactly who the Affordable Care Act is designed to help.”


Additionally, artists were asked about their familiarity with the Affordable Care Act and whether they plan to change coverage when the program goes into effect. Responses indicated that a large number of artists are confused about the finer points of the ACA and how it will impact them. However, they are hopeful that the new policies will provide better access to affordable coverage.


Björk, on the Challenges of Making Music in the Digital Age


Icelandic music pioneer Björk talked to Wired in the United Kingdom about the challenges of making music in the Digital Age and how changes in the music industry have affected her creative output and business outlook. Her latest album, Biophilia was released in 2011 and challenged the traditional “album” format, released as a series of multimedia apps for iOS and later Android and called “the first app album.” The interview was a precursor to her talk at Wired 2013 on October 18.


When questioned about how the “tremendous upheaval” of the music industry has affected her solo career since it began in the 1990s, Björk said, “… The changes have put even more importance on that the expression is the most important part. All else are just tools to express yourself with, and so they should be.”


Wired also asked her what she felt were the major challenges and benefits of pushing the boundaries of the traditional album format and embracing technology in order to make music. Björk revealed that it was liberating and also taught her a great deal about running the business side of her own career as well as about the importance of the live show for musicians in the current climate:  “The feeling of freedom it gives is worth every effort it has taken, and the sense of adventure was incredible. But it took a lot of work. I guess I became some sort of ‘project manager’ for the first time since it all was so DIY. There wasn’t much budget so it was driven on my own punk energy, which was the best part. But when you go down fresh roads like this I think it is important that the artist is involved in all the functional and creative parts all the way. Otherwise the new method will override the artistic emotional expression, which I fought for fiercely all the way to the end and at the end of the day this is what I am most proud of with Biophilia. This is something that came into full bloom in the live shows, since such a big part of Biophilia is the interactive instruments, this is where the album received its physicality. It wasn’t just ‘inside’ the iPads:  That is only half of Biophilia. The live show … is where Biophilia became fully what I intended.”


She added that she believes the industry is still struggling to embrace the Internet as a method for connecting through music, but that artists will be integral to the future shape of the music business:  “I think it is still in the making. It is sad though how long it has taken and how desperately many have clung to the old ways. It means that a generation of musicians haven’t gotten paid for their music. Let’s hope it will get solved soon, but I feel the artists need also to come up with solutions because they are the only ones that know what they need.”


“Music Album Economics and Industry Evolution”


The economics of the music industry are changing, and there are some major implications for investment inherent in these changes, according to CFA Samuel Madden. On the Market Realist site, he analyzed a recent article published by New York Magazine exploring the changing music business climate.


The main story of the original New York Magazine article was about the popular indie band Grizzly Bear. It pointed out that while the band has had a lot of artistic success, their true commercial success has remained somewhat elusive (despite selling out Radio City and debuting their latest album at #7 on the Billboard Chart).


Said New York Magazine, “When the band tours, it can afford a bus, an extra keyboard player, and sound and lighting engineers. (That U2 tour had a wardrobe manager.) After covering expenses like recording, publicity, and all the other machinery of a successful act (‘Agents, lawyers, tour managers, the merch girl, the venues take a merch cut; Ticketmaster takes their cut; the manager gets a percentage; publishers get a percentage’), Grizzly Bear’s members bring home… well, they’d rather not get into it. ‘I just think it’s inappropriate,’ says Edward Droste of Grizzly Bear. ‘Obviously we’re surviving. Some of us have health insurance, some of us don’t, we basically all live in the same places, no one’s renting private jets. Come to your own conclusions.’”


Madden points out, the most interesting part of Grizzly Bear’s statistics revolve around new album sales. He presented a chart that shows how little album sales contribute to income for Grizzly Bear, yet how focused the band is on putting out traditional records:  “While I could probably have guessed that record sales were down, the recentness and sharpness of the decline was interesting. As you can see below, since 2008 new record sales have dropped by almost 50 percent. I am sure that number is even greater if you go back to, say, 1999, when it was cool to have CD books and stacks of albums.” And he added a “guess” about the factors driving this decline:  the idea of purchasing tracks “à la carte” via iTunes and other music services; the growing popularity of smart phones and streaming radio services. And, of course, artists are not making the same amount of money through streaming services as they previously were through physical album sales and even digital sales through iTunes.


Madden concluded that online streaming and Internet radio services have become more popular than listening to CDs, leading companies like Pandora and others to battle with artists, labels and other organizations over rates and royalties. And he said he believes “If Pandora or Spotify are somewhat responsible for taking album dollars out of the pockets of artists, they should at least be making up a decent amount of that lost income. It makes the Internet Radio Fairness Act seem all the more absurd.”