To make a living from music in the era of YouTube and Spotify


In recent years, the music industry has experienced an unimaginable mutation. It seems it was ages ago someone paid for their favorite artist’s vinyl record just to listen to that “single” over and over again at home and without the interruption of the radio announcer. In less than a decade ,the possibility of obtaining online musical content for free has transformed this artform’s dynamics of distribution, production and consumption.

Facing a much broader offer, an artist’s positioning is an increasingly challenging job. The music industry faces progressively complex scenarios, characterized by digitalization, new business models, and updates on legislation.

“The Music Business certification course by IESA and the City of Knowledge was an excellent opportunity to learn new things and apply others we already knew, a chance to share with other people who, in one way or another, love music like I do. The all-star cast teaching the classes was very inspiring: Panamanians and Latin Americans who live and see the different faces of the music business, on a daily basis; all great agents of change. After this process, I feel like I grew up as a person and as an active member of society.”
Lilo Sánchez
Photo: Luis Cantillo

Production costs have decreased, and music downloads are being replaced by streaming services. On the other hand, “the consumer is less and less interested in owning music permanently, and more willing to pay for temporary access to music from their smartphones, computers and car” (‘The music industry in Panama,’ a 2017 study commissioned by the City of Knowledge carried out by Javier Stanziola and Maritza Vernaza).

Given this new dynamic, an emerging pop band should think strategically in order to guarantee

its financial sustainability and therefore, its ability to endure the test of time. The market has evolved according to a trend that places high value on experiential events; leaving artists with the opportunity to monetize especially through festivals, concerts and live performances.

Whoever wants to live off music in the era of Spotify and YouTube will have to reinvent themselves, acquiring skills from other disciplines that may allow them to boost their art. Music professionals must learn to create new points of contact with audiences, turning collective events into profitable, added value experiences.

Those who make music and live off it must rethink their model as many times as necessary, since this is an industry that does not stop evolving. In other words, what we know for certain today will be uncertain tomorrow; and artists must adapt their projects if they want to survive.

“This course meant a fundamental moment in my career. I had many doubts about how to run my business in the music industry and, thanks to the diploma, I’ve realized how big it is. What I most valued about it was the connections I was able to establish with all my colleagues. ”
Kiara Pérez
Photo: Luis Cantillo

The professionalization of musical talent

Each year dozens of festivals and popular celebrations take place in Panama, all of which translate into positioning opportunities for those who seek to make their art known. This situation and other factors indicate the existence of an ecosystem with high potential.

However, according to expert Gerardo Neugovsen, “since [Panamanian professionals] are not able to find adequate spaces for professionalization nor support in legislation, financing, incentives and infrastructure, this potential is diluted, restricting the development of existing possibilities.” This is a challenge for the country: public and private entities as well as the third sector must join forces collectively to contribute to the professionalization of the music sector and thereby turn it, along with the other creative industries, into a key point in the development agenda.

Cienfue. Photo: Raphael Salazar.

The City of Knowledge is committed to the boosting of cultural and creative industries; therefore, it has worked in the last few years to make music an increasingly relevant economic, and professional activity for the country and the region. In this line of ideas, the City of Knowledge, together with the Institute of Higher Administration Studies (IESA), launched for the first time, in 2019, its Music Business certification course, a program that accompanies musicians and key players in the sector on their way to professionalization. The course opens up a door to acquire knowledge in other areas such as entrepreneurship, management, marketing and legal issues, in order to provide new skills that will allow students to carry out viable projects and business models.

Nowadays, a rising number of governments and societies both in Latin America and in other latitudes, recognize the importance of the creative economy as a generator of employment and opportunities, prosperity, identity and social cohesion. Thanks to this certification course, along with other efforts being made, Panama joins the group of countries that are creating strategies to ensure actors in the music sector can develop professional careers and become agents of social and economic development for the country.

Over the course of 80 credit hours developed for this course, students were able to see the music world from a business perspective -without forgetting the importance of the creation process- learning about current industry dynamics and identifying strategic approaches that may allow them to generate greater cultural, social and economic value. The course has also served as a platform to create a network of creative connections suitable for the exchange of experience among the participants (musicians, producers, managers, entrepreneurs and others), including key stakeholders from the local and international scene. In 2020, the course will have a second edition. Stay tuned!

“Playing an instrument well is not everything. The Music Business course surpassed my expectations. After only the first class I was already applying learnings to my music project, which began to yield immediate results. There is no doubt our projects are going to improve a lot after this course.”
Joshue Asby
Photo: Luis Cantillo

“This course marked a before and after in our lives. The best thing it gave us was the potential to change things in our country, armed with tools, concepts the mightiest thing on earth: vision!”. Jonathan Alexander Evila

“Taking this course was definitely my best decision this year: it was just what I needed to be able to focus in my career and increase my knowledge. This will certainly help me throughout my professional life ”. Karina Castillo

“I was able to make new friends and expand my network of contacts; and with time, have a more effective network to face -in collaboration – the Panamanian music market’s realities and difficulties”. Carlos De Sedas
Photo: Raphael Salazar

Training should be a way of life nowadays. – Adriana Palma

Currently the Associate Director of Digital Business for SONY Music in  Central America and the Caribbean, she plans the digital strategy for the region, and along with the management team, analyzes and monitors the three fundamental pillars of digital business: digital streaming platforms (audio and video), music catalog and business intelligence.

Adriana, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, is the drummer in Los Espejos, a Costa Rican alternative rock band. She is also a professor at the City of Knowledge’s and IESA’s Management School’s Music Business certification course. Here is her interview with Sapiens.

Adriana Palma.
Photo: Raphael Salazar.

How important is training for people who have or want to develop a career in the music industry?

Very important nowadays, especially in a business that revolves around the digital world and changes 24/7. Having curiosity and enthusiasm to continue learning and keeping up with new tools are skills that can help position musicians as highly competitive professionals in the music industry.

The professional musician’s profile changed with the market entry of streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music and social networks; the industry transformd from traditional to digital, from the physical product (CD / LP) to the digital product (downloads and streams). Digital marketing specialists, YouTube experts, digital strategists, data analysts, financial analysts, among others; whomever is trained in these areas are highly valued and are fundamental to the business. Training should be constant and more than a career, it is a way of life.

How do you see the trend of festivals and independent musical projects in Latin America?

There is a lot of potential for growth in the festival area and we need to encourage public / private partnerships to maximize the talent that exists in Latin America with the aim of strengthening these platforms.  This way, independent artists may have more opportunities to expose their projects with the best technical conditions: lighting, screens, sound tables, monitors, etc. as well as with the best professionals: sound engineers, producers, etc.

In terms of independent artists, I am surprised by the amount of artistic productions

and their quality. Central America and the Caribbean is no exception, countries like Panama and the Dominican Republic have been hotbeds for local talent and this is reflected in other markets.

How do you think the countries of Central America and the Caribbean would benefit from approaching and promoting the circulation of our cultural and creative production in the region?

In order to promote the circulation of cultural and creative production, Central America

and the Caribbean should be analyzed as a single region taking into account the particularities and cultural differences of each country. However, we must identify that all countries have a latent opportunity: the growth of local talent.

For this reason, we must establish synergies to create initiatives and join efforts between communities: the rock community, as well as the reggaeton, Jazzera, classical, and the singer-songwriter communities, etc. A clear example is the Panama Jazz Festival, a meeting point for jazz musicians in the region. These are the initiatives that strengthen communities and must be replicated with other musical genres.

Tell us about the work you and other female drummers are doing in San José.

OnDrums is a platform that makes female drummers visible on the Costa Rican music scene (with a view to expanding in Central America and the Caribbean). The feedback we have had from both fellow musicians and the media has been very good, highly accepted. On our last event in San José, more drummer girls approached us, interested in being part of the project. There are between 10 and 15 active drummers here and many more who are students.

It is of great importance to have these spaces of creation and exchange between us, a

safe and comfortable space where we can share knowledge and experiences because, throughout history, it has not been an easy path to travel, especially since it is an instrument that has been classified “for men”.

Traditionally, it’s been seen like this; our goal is to start breaking these stereotypes and support, above all, the younger girls who are just beginning their careers so that they feel guided, motivated. We’ve heard hundreds of anecdotes from all of them: from girls who had to hide when buying their first drums because their parents did not want them to play a “male instrument”, to girls who could not join the high school band to play the side drum because they are women. These are just some examples and for these reasons, there is great need for a platform like OnDrums.

Do you want to tell us about your band?

Sure…! It’s called Los Espejos and it’s an alternative rock band. We are three members: Dennis La Touche (voice and guitar), Primo Murillo (bass) and me on the drums. We started our career in 2009 and since then we have recorded two musical productions (an album and an EP). We also have several videos that are on our YouTube channel (Los Espejos TV). Our musical influences are varied: from Caifanes, The Cure, The Police, Zoé, Keane, Soda Stereo, Cerati to Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, among others. We navigate between melodies and melancholic lyrics with strong and solid rhythmic bases, each member expressing their own musicality and style in each song. Soon we will be starting the pre-production phase of what will be our third musical production; so, we’ll soon have new music to show and return to the stage.

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