The last time Alison Brown gave the keynote address at the annual gathering of the International Bluegrass Music Association, in 2002, CD sales accounted for 96 percent of music industry revenue, women were a relative rarity in bands and the business, and, as she noted Tuesday, “a stream was just a little river.”
A lot has changed in the years since her last speech. There are now enough IBMA award-winning women instrumentalists to fill a band. And streaming has come to represent 88 percent of music industry revenues so far in 2019, while CD sales are plummeting.
Brown, a co-founder of Compass Records with husband Garry West, and a Grammy-winning artist and producer, has a been a regular attendee of IBMA over the years. A chance to return to the podium here after 17 years offered a platform for a not-always-rosy update.
“The business has gotten infinitely more complicated,” she said during her 2019 address. Despite a recent uptick in the music industry, “it’s still really brutal out there.”
But rather than wring her hands and bemoan the fact that it would take 15 million streams to provide the same revenue as 10,000 CDs, Brown issued a call to embrace change.
Like it or not, she said, “The future of the music industry is in digital consumption. The subscription model (for streaming through Spotify, Pandora and other streamers) isn’t going to go away.”
So, she concluded, it’s time “to lock arms and march together as a community into the digital future.”
And in another 15 years or so, she can come back and tell us how we did.
IBMA Executive Director Paul Schiminger kicked off the seventh year of World of Bluegrass in Raleigh by noting that IBMA has been good for Raleigh, and Raleigh has been good for IBMA.
More than 1.1 million people haven attended the annual business conference and music festival in the years since IBMA moved the event from Nashville. And those fans have had a direct economic impact of more than $60 million in Raleigh, he said.
He hinted that next year’s World of Bluegrass would be a major party celebrating the 75 anniversary of bluegrass, which rolls around in December 2020.