Friday, 31 January 2014

24 Hour Blogathon : Why Musicians Can't Always Automatically Expect To Earn From Their Music

Some quotes and extracts from NME dated 11 January 2014:

“The thing is, though this isn’t impossible, doing the band. It’s just fucking expensive. We’ve had to move back home [to live], but I think my mum would have been more disappointed if I went to uni to be honest.” – Joel from Wolf Alice

On the band Eagulls who have recorded an album in between day jobs: “We’re in the house that Mark, George and Henry share. All three of them work in retail; so does guitarist Liam Matthews, whilst bassist Tom Kelly works in a bar.”

On Royal Blood: “The pair have been playing as a duo since December 2012 and only quite their day jobs (Thatcher worked in a bar, ran a quiz and did session drumming, Kerr was a chef) last March."

“In 2010, 60 per cent of chart acts in a given week in October were former public school pupils, compared with just one per cent in the same week in 1990.”

Now we all know that the musical landscape is constantly changing. The streaming / record sales / brand funded discussions have been done to death. But one thing we’ve noticed with the statements like those above is that today there are bands who are well known enough to be featured as one of the most important emerging artists of 2014 in a national magazine, and yet many of them can’t afford to sustain themselves without doing shitty day jobs or being funded by the bank of mum and dad. Is this right? Should musicians expect to be able to earn a wage to be able to live from their music, or should their music be treated as a hobby (or at best a part-time job) where they have to find other sources of income to support themselves?

From a business / income generation perspective and particularly with independent artists, pop music is an odd form of art. Whereas many other forms of art work on a client commissioning basis, pop music is speculative with no known client. In very simplistic terms, the artist creates the product (the song), often with no market research to see if there is a demand for the product in the first place, and then puts it out onto the market hoping that the market will value it and pay for it. Often very few people will. 

The internet and cheapening technology has created a saturated market place. Now for a few hundred quid anyone can make music on their laptop, upload it to Bandcamp, promote it using social media and email and potentially make some money. For this reason, apart from the very few talented / lucky / privileged most bands and performers will not be able to earn enough money from creating music they want to make. 

However if the musician is talented and skilled enough, it could still be possible to earn a living from being a professional full time musician if the mind set was different. By adopting a more commissioning based approach eg: writing and creating music for clients for TV adverts, film scores and the like, teaching music, playing in other bands such as wedding bands, acting as a session musician etc it’s possible for artists to do what they love (playing music) but just in a different way. They may need to take on a variety of commissions, but surely that has to be better than working a bar job that they hate or sitting around at home bored relying on the parents?

But here’s one of the problems with much of modern contemporary pop music. It’s often based around a notion of ‘cool’ and to a certain extent being able to do what you want with creative freedom. And playing for example in a wedding band, (which can earn good money) is not seen as either of those – it’s looked down upon as naff, and as if its somehow selling your soul. It’s a way of thinking that we suspect holds back many musicians from making an income from their talents. In fact being cool and being business like are often at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Yet artists can't have it all all the time. If they want to be creatively free to do what they want, they have to accept that they have no god given right to earn money from it. The bottom line is just because they think their art is good, doesn't mean that others will like it and therefore pay for it. 

So in summary, apart from a small handful, most musicians in this day and age can’t expect to make enough money to live on just through just writing, recording, releasing and performing their own songs speculatively. They need to decide if what they do is just a hobby or are they prepared to put their creative skills at others disposal? After all it’s what architects, painters, photographers, writers and designers do every day of the week. Why should musicians be any different?

This blog post is one of a series published as part of Breaking More Waves non-stop 24 hour Blogathon to raise money for Cancer Research UK. If you have read this post and enjoyed it (or even if you didn't) we’d really appreciate it if you would donate £2 to Cancer Research using the button below.

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1 comment:

Peter J White said...

Good post.

As a working musician who earns enough to get by, no more no less, from both teaching, performing and commission based work in a very precarious market I largely agree with this post. It can be infuriating and frustrating as a professional who was educated trained for years and has a large number of qualifications to see amateur indie rock bands expecting to earn a living wage from their music when at best they play at a rudimentary level and in some cases cannot even read music.