I appreciate this article on many points (See the BrokenBottleBoy article down below my comments).
I know very few musicians who set out to be one in order to have a life of free booze. If anything, young kids entering the life romanticize the starving artist lifestyle (an equally unhealthy lifestyle, in the long run…especially when alcohol and drugs are part of the image).
There is a great deal of disdain for musicians bubbling up around discussions of how they will eek out a living. The conversation usually starts: “How can musicians make a living in this ‘brave new world?’” Inevitably, when non-musicians enter the conversation (even ones who are big fans of music, surprisingly), the point starts to hint at “they don’t deserve to make the types of livings they once did”.
Now, by far and away MOST musicians never did make such livings. We should all make that perfectly clear. Most aspiring musicians have failed or will fail to make music a full time living, only after trying to with severely compromised, even DANGEROUSLY low standards of living.
On the other hand, the moguls of the industry (ie. major artists and labels) took their audiences for granted for decades. I personally feel that rather than lump 99.99% of artists in with these moguls, and engaging in condescending finger wagging, we should simply agree that if we love music, if it makes our lives better, then we should support the people responsible for it, not only as a matter of gratitude, but as a means to perpetuating its positive effects in our lives. While many think they support music already, we also need to step back and assess what “supporting” really means. It’s a lot of simple actions but far too few people participate in any of them.
3 years ago
No industry should believe it has the right to exist. Changes in technology and human behaviour have erased whole swathes of jobs throughout human history. The coal industry in the UK has shrunk to almost nothing, nobody weeps for the decline of the chimney sweeps.
But somehow, the music industry believes that it has some kind of divine right to exist as it has done since the early 20th century – creating recordings of songs and selling them for a premium. But the music hasn’t always existed and it will not exist in its current form for much longer.
Edison tested his first phonograph recordings in 1877. Since then formats have come and gone until the invention of the MP3, tied with the growth of the Internet as a broadcast medium began to eat viciously into the vast profits the music industry made from CDs in the 1990s.
The arguments about how the music industry could and should have addressed the challenge of the Internet have been discussed constantly and at length of years now. The simple fact is that it failed to, believing instead that it could pull its legal muscle together to slap down illegal file-sharing like a giant and interminable game of whack-a-mole.
Streaming services like Spotify and Sky Songs (which is arguably a stronger proposition with its bundle of one free album to download a month) are potentially the future for the music industry. But they simply do not make very much money for artists of labels (with royalty rates often as low as £0.007 a play). Compared to radio play, streaming services are simply not lucrative for artists.
But ultimately, there is a disconnect between what mainstream artists think they deserve and what they are likely to achieve. While a few mega-acts will earn millions from massive singles that end up synched on movie soundtracks, TV shows and adverts, most artists will have to live a far more frugal live than the artists that went before them. The ice age is coming for the music industry and the age of the dinosaurs is almost at an end. Bands like U2 and latterly Coldplay are a denying breed of mega-saurus arena dwelling beasts.
Musicians will split even further into two general categories – pop conduits for svengalis like Simon Cowell (a model of pop music that is eerily enduring) and artists whose fan bases will become like an atomised version of old school patrons. Building a following through gigging, an engagement from the social tools available to them, they’ll manage to earn money from touring and from recording records on a reasonable budget, either partnering with indie labels which will become more like collectives or working for themselves.
The traditional idea of the multi-millionaire rockstar will come to an end. The idea that a musician, by dint of their talent, is entitled to unparalled riches and life in a bubble of privilege will become less prevalent. Mega-stars won’t die completely because there is a restless and relentless desire for new fodder in the entertainment media but they’ll be rarer and far less wealthy than the Jaggers and McCartneys that stalked the world before them.
I don’t think that has to be a bad thing. I think artists can learn to be less tied to deals with record labels that leave them out of pocket after advances they can’t ever earn back. They can live within their means and build a business on the back of their talents. If they connect with fans and maintain a careful balance between mystery and engagement it’ll be possible to make a decent living and encourage fans to pay for gigs, merchandise and importantly recordings themselves.
The other great benefit of the music industry as artisan economy is that it will mean a reduction in the number of second albums that are written about “the perils of fame”. In the elevator life of the rock’n’roll band, it is the rare act that can continue to express the universal themes that are often the exact reason they have become successful.
Musicians shouldn’t be trapped in squats or struggling to eat but a life of free booze isn’t always conducive to writing songs that connect with people crammed on rush hour tube trains and staring at bank balances in the hope that the rent will get paid or the mortgage is under control. It’s a lesson most writers should learn actually. Privilege almost always strangles interesting art.