In the late 80s, I was in the music business for a few years as a performing musician, and because I was really interested in learning on how to make a living at it, I took a lot of classes in commercial music management.
After spending 20 years in the video game industry, I think I can compare the two industries somewhat fairly.
The traditional music business is VERY similar to the traditional video game publishing business. You are advanced money that you make a product with, you have to make a commercially relevant product on a schedule, and you have to work with the assets that are available and that the publisher allows you to have. Assuming you release your product, everyone takes a piece of your work. If you are very lucky, you may make something back, but most likely, you'll never see a penny of royalties.
So much of this mimics my experience in the video game industry. I’m sure there’s a novel in there somewhere.
However, what is fascinating to me is that, unlike the music industry, the video game industry reinvents its business model continually. As an ecosystem, it does that because people are willing to try anything to make it work. Companies have tried everything from hard core DRM to giving their product away for free, hoping that people will pay for it if they like it. When a model works, others copy that model and riff on it. The more disruptive the new model is, the more interesting it can be for the customers. This is absolutely healthy and is the most honest way to help connect with your customers. People want to pay for great content. You have to find the way that works best with the people that are enjoying your content.
I think a key component of this is that it works because the people that make the content own it completely. They do not have to rely on “how it is supposed to be done” because they have no buy-in to the system. They are completely free to take chances. And the rewards can be huge, from a ton of money to just being in charge of your own destiny.
Without writing a thesis on all the different methods that have evolved through the years (and wow - game publishing is an infant compared to music publishing, here is what I want to propose to the music industry: challenge your business model. Try something that “won’t” work. Try everything! You see this with smaller bands that have complete ownership of their work - they have nothing to lose so they are inventing opportunities for themselves. Some succeed wildly. Others fail.
Challenge the entire structure of the music business. Publishers, unions, guilds, copyrights, etc. are doing well for some people but not for everyone. What would happen if everyone released their music under creative commons? Whatever you decide to do, make lots of mistakes as quickly as you can. Learn from them and keep doing more of the things that work. And talk about your mistakes openly so others can learn from what you have tried.
Good luck out there!