The creator economy’s post-lockdown growth

The Covid pandemic created a unique catalyst for the music creator economy. More time on hands and more cash in pockets gave novices and veterans alike the opportunity to spend both more time and money making music. Though the pandemic was a peak, it also marked the start of a new era for the music creator economy across every one of its aspects, from revenue to creation to remuneration. In MIDiA’s new landmark report ‘State of the music creator economy’ we provide the definitive assessment of this exciting marketplace, covering everything from creator behaviours, creator personas, all the way through to workflows, market sizes, and growth forecasts. The full report and datasets are available to MIDiA clients here. Here is an overview of some of the key themes explored in the report.

A new generation of music makers

The music creator tools space is being transformed by the increasing availability of simple, affordable music-making tools, plus a new generation of consumers that is steeped in creator culture. We are entering a new era for the music creator economy. Yet, despite all the dramatic changes, underpinning this new era of creator behaviour are suites of complex software that arose over two decades ago and, at their core, have seen little substantial change. The digital audio workstation (DAW) is the foundation of modern music making, but was not designed for the modern music maker. This presents fertile soils for seeds of disruption as more casual music making, centred around mobile devices and sharing music online, becomes the new top of funnel for the music creation space, and the music industry as a whole. 

Having grown up as social media mainstreamed creativity, the new generation of music makers expects to achieve professional results quickly. However, as their aspirations clash with the harsh reality of streaming economics, more creators are seeking out a diversity of income streams — from selling beats to mixing and engineering — underscoring the need for creator tools companies to help drive creator remuneration. Combined with the growth of casual creators, catalysed by embedded tools on social platforms, like TikTok and BandLab, the result is a newfound fluidity in defining what it means to be a music creator. 

Though much of that generational shift will take time to permeate through to the current market, seismic change is already manifesting. Nowhere is this better seen than in the that hardware music creators use. As recently as five years ago, music creators would have invested in hardware mixing desks, synthesisers, and outboard effects. But today, the most widely owned hardware is devices that plug into computers, such as controller keyboards and audio interfaces. These affordable devices free up creators to spend on the software and sounds on their computers, relying on the hardware to control sound making, rather than actually making the sound.

And it is the spending on software, sounds and services that is currently propelling the market. With an average creator spending more than $600 a year on music creation, promotion, distribution, and commercial tools. For beginners this can mean spending three and half times more than they earn from music, while for advanced creators it is a little over one tenth. In total, the music creator tools market was worth $4.1 billion in 2022, across learning, collaboration, production software, sounds, funding, commerce, distribution, marketing and commercial, with distribution and production software being the two largest segments.

In 2021, the cumulative number of creators paying for software, sounds, skills sharing, and learning was under 30 million – by 2030 there will be nearly 100 million with learning and skills sharing becoming the largest single group of buyers. Learning and skill sharing were among the fastest growing components of the music creator economy in 2021, with strong rise in both formal and informal learning as well as in skills sharing. Just under half of the learning revenue was from companies that were largely or entirely focused on music production learning. With 83% of creators feeling that they still have much to learn and improve upon, the opportunity for learning is pronounced and will become even more so because of the fast-changing nature of the sector.

However, much of all this may seem like a separate and parallel industry to those in the traditional music business (labels, publishers, streaming services, etc.), the creator tools market that commands much of the attention, time and spend of artists and songwriters. Streaming is only around a fifth of the income of the average creator, with many aspects of the creator tools marketplace representing new ways that they can earn meaningful income, whether that is selling singing sessions on skills marketplaces, writing soundpacks for sounds platforms or producing tracks for other creators. Furthermore, clear connections are being made across the two industries, such as Avid and LANDR both offering distribution, Sony Music Publishing striking a partnership with BeatStars and Spotify launching a bundle subscription for its Cloud DAW Soundtrap. The most impactful synergies, however, will come from audience platforms, like TikTok and Shorts, that are already home to music creators and already provide their own creator tools. But what they have that rightsholders and most creator tools companies do not, is audience. As the culture of creation spreads towards audiences themselves, it is these sorts of companies that have the ability to play the most transformative role in the future of music creation.

If you are interested in learning more about MIDiA’s state of the music creator economy report, email stephen@midiaresearch.com

C.R.E.A.T.E. An entertainment manifesto

When we first formed MIDiA eight years ago, we saw the new entertainment world was going to require a new joined up approach for entertainment businesses. With the start of the ascent of the smartphone we made an intellectual bet that everything was going to become more interconnected, inter-dependent and inter-competitive. Our vision then, was to build analysis and data that cut across siloes, to help previously unrelated industries understand they were becoming connected. The ‘connecting the dots’ tagline that we launched with in 2014 was right for the time, but now the world has moved on. The dots are now connected. That job is done. Now it is time to decide what to do with those connections.

In more recent years we identified new drivers of the entertainment economy, such as:

  • Fragmented Fandom
  • The Attention Economy
  • The Attention Recession
  • Creator independence
  • Rise of creator tools
  • Reaggregation

When we introduced those concepts they took some time to land, but now are increasingly widely accepted as industry currency. Even other research companies have started following our lead, with webinars and research on the attention economy, the attention recession and fandom fragmentation.

But although those trends will continue to play crucial roles, it is an entirely new set of market dynamics that will shape the future as the world enters a period of uncertainty and disruption unprecedented in modern times:

  • Attention inflation: As consumers return to pre-pandemic behaviours, they are trying to squeeze all their new-found entertainment behaviours into less available time. Multitasking is rocketing which means each entertainment minute is less valuable as it is increasingly being done alongside something else. Many more consumption hours than actual hours results in attention inflation.
  • The splintering of culture: Water cooler moments may not yet be dead but they are fading. Hits are getting smaller (just ask Beyonce) and audiences are fragmenting. But cultural relevance can actually increase within these fragmented fanbases (again, just ask Beyonce). Culture is splintering but may end up more vibrant as a result.
  • Scenes and identity: Underpinning and resulting from culture splintering is the rise of scenes, especially micro scenes which populate platforms like Twitter. Scenes are more than just groups of fans, they a cultural movements that that people look to for identity and belonging. Fandom is merely a subcomponent.
  • Lean through: Consumers used to just, well, consume. Now though, every more of them want to participate. The line between creation and consumption is blurring. Leaning forward is no longer enough, now audiences want to lean in and create.
  • The creator economy: Perhaps the single biggest shift in entertainment in recent years is the rise and rise of the creator economy, straddling virtually every entertainment format. The creator economy is so much more than vloggers and influencers. It represents a reshaping of culture, remuneration and audiences. As such it will reshape entertainment forever. 
  • Post-peak growth: With inflation soaring and a recession looming, consumers will have less money to spend on entertainment and leisure. Some sectors will suffer, some will sustain but others will grow. Whether it is to survive or to thrive, entertainment companies will need to reshape both their strategies and purpose.
  • Rediscovery is the future of discovery: The first phase of streaming was all about discovery. Now, with a surplus of supply and demand constrained by the attention recession, what consumers want as much as what is new, is to re-find what they already know and love.

Business as usual is gone. The next chapter of the business of entertainment will require a completely new approach. This is MIDiA’s C.R.E.A.T.E. Entertainment Manifesto for what is required of entertainment companies in this brave new world.

  • Cultivate every moment: Multitasking means consumption minutes are losing value. Every moment needs to be made as valuable and as entertaining as it possibly can be. Entertainment companies need their audiences notice what they consume.
  • Reward the creator economy: Streaming and social platforms are increasingly dependent on the long tail. The scale economics work for platforms by summing up a multiplicity of niches but they do not work for long tail creators. Platforms and rightsholders need to nurture not just harvest the creator economy.
  • Empower the consumer as a creator: Lean through consumers are also super fans. More platforms and services need to give consumers the sort of participation tools that TikTok built is success upon. Not just because it is what audiences want but because it also builds fandom and amplifies entertainment brands.
  • Add value and escapism: As consumers’ wallets tighten, subscriptions and ad spend are both at risk. But this need not be an entertainment Armageddon. Instead, entertainment companies should offer consumers what they want: 1) value for money, 2) escape from the harsh realities of daily life.
  • Target the middle: While it is tempting to always chase the big hit, the reality is that hits are getting smaller. Success in these coming years will be most easily found by cultivating a collection of mid-sized hits rather than placing all bets on mega hits.
  • Embrace scenes and identity: Scenes and identity are the undervalued super power of entertainment. Music, games, sports, creators, books, movies, TV shows – they all move people and they all help define who we are. Truly understanding and harnessing identity will be the difference between survive and thrive. 

We hope that the C.R.E.A.T.E. framework and our new Critical Developments coverage help companies and creators plot their paths through the troubled waters ahead. But even more important, is to develop a sense of purpose, a definition of why you do what you do, and to communicate that to your audiences and partners. The entertainment industries have 

Re-creating the creator economy

Everyone is a creator! Or so goes the dismissive put down of many a traditional media executive when talking about the creator economy. But regardless of what your perspective on the creator economy might be, there is no denying its meteoric rise. Perhaps what stokes the ire of some elements of traditional media is that the creator economy is evolving from being simply a talent funnel for traditional entertainment companies, into something self-contained and self-sustaining. But, for all of the positive change, there is much that is also problematic about the space. 

Harnessing aspiration at scale

First and foremost, the creator economy is a business model for the platforms and adjacent services, one that is built upon harnessing the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of large-scale creator audiences. While each of those creators individually craves success – however they might measure it – the platforms do not need the creators to find success for their respective business models to work. This is because, they monetise creators by harnessing aspiration at scale. If there are enough creators – and the pool is growing fast – a multitude of small-scale audiences are enough to drive the platforms’ strategic objectives of driving audience engagement, which, in turn, drives revenue.  What complicates matters further is the fact that creators are developing platform dependence – merely renting space on the platforms they depend upon, rarely with tenancy rights and often slave to the algorithm. It might be the creator economy, but creators fuel it rather than drive it.

Platforms are using audience as the new form of distribution

What has enabled this conflicted set of priorities to become established is the rise of platforms that use audience as the new form of distribution. Whereas traditional entertainment services, like Netflix and Spotify, license and create content to distribute to audiences, audience platforms, like TikTok and Twitch, pull their content from the audiences themselves. Even though most users consume rather than create, the creators come from their ranks. The old paradigm of license / create-distribute-audience has been replaced by audience-create-audience. If the traditional entertainment business depends on cannon balls, the creator economy trades in bullets.

Audiences are becoming creators, too, with 18% doing some form of content creation and 10% using creation tools in social platforms. Only 33% of consumers only ever purely consume content. Audiences went from lean back in the analogue era, lean in during the streaming era, and now lean through in the creator era. A growing body of creators is learning to harness this growing demand for creation, as evidenced by music creators, like Pink Panthress, Sadie Jean and Russ, canvassing input from their fanbases on TikTok.

The current surge in the creator economy is opening more doors for more creators than ever before while also bringing audiences ever closer to creation, too. But, as the number of creators grows, fandom and consumption fragment. The longer the tail, the harder it is for creators to cut through, find audiences, and build careers. Creators find themselves locked in a perpetual cycle of create / produce / perform / engage, with their host platforms demanding ever higher levels of frequency and volume of output. 

With creators’ constant fear that jumping out of the creator hamster wheel will see them disappear from the algorithm, there is a growing awareness that owning their audiences and having direct communication with them has never been more important. Yet today’s creator economy is not built this way. The rise of companies like Pico, Disciple Media and India’s ChargeBee point to the growing recognition of the ‘off-platform’ opportunity. But the majority of creators have the majority of their audiences on platforms where they are slave to the algorithm.

Owning audience is just one item on a long list of structural challenges (e.g., remuneration, discovery) that the creator economy must address if it is to transition from its current phase of undoubted opportunity, into something that can genuinely reshape and redefine the future of entertainment itself. There is both a duty of care and a window of opportunity that creator-economy companies must seize with both hands, but the second cannot be achieved without the first. That is why it is time to re-create the creator economy.

Whether you are in music, video, games, sports, or even comics, the creator economy is reshaping your business, your audience, your content, and, of course, your creators. Building upon MIDiA’s years of work in the creator economy, we have just published a landmark new report: Re-creating the creator economyIn this report, we present data, analysis and case studies of the creator economy across music, video, social, games, podcasts, sports and more, covering topics such as creator remuneration, women creators, business strategy, distribution and what independence really means.

If you are not yet a MIDiA client and would like to find out how to access this report then email stephen@midiaresearch.com