Thread June 6, 2015 editorial: comments
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All Dressed Up..
Imagine getting a million plays of your song on Spotify. A million people selecting your music to listen to. You’ve got it made, right? Well, not exactly.
According to a post from the group Artists for an Ethical and Sustainable Internet, an artist whose song gets one million plays on Spotify stands to make all of $5,210, for a million plays, or $0.00521 per play. If you own the publisher’s share of the royalties, as well, you’ll get an additional $510. On YouTube and Pandora, an artist makes even less.
You’re much better off selling your music on iTunes, because you receive a much larger percentage of the proceeds. Even better, sell it through a site like Bandcamp or CD Baby, where you get to keep most of what you make.
The problem, though, is more and more people are streaming their music on services like Spotify and Pandora, and less are actually buying albums or songs. And, of course, the millennial generation has grown up downloading music for free from illegal sites, and many of them see that as business as usual.
Clearly, from the standpoint of selling your music, the landscape has become a lot more challenging. Most musical artists now have to make the majority of their revenues from live performance and the sale of merchandise.
On the bright side, major record labels don’t have the power they once had, and independent artists can get worldwide digital distribution for about $50 a year. If you create good music, and you’re talented at social media marketing, you can build a career of sorts without the blessing of a record label. The downside of that is that without the gatekeeping function of the labels, there’s way more competition out there, as seemingly everyone and their grandmother now has an album on iTunes. If you think of the needle-in-the-haystack analogy, the haystack has gotten a lot bigger.
These days, fewer artists make big money compared to the pre-Internet days, but more artists make a little. An unfortunate corollary is that with fewer big budget recording projects happening, there’s less work for independent engineers, producers and session musicians.
Meanwhile, composers are suffering, too, because so much high-quality content is now available for so little (much of it through music libraries), more media productions — including TV shows, commercials and more — are using pre-recorded library cues instead of commissioning original music. Songwriters, too are suffering, thanks to the aforementioned factors of illegal downloading and low pay from streaming services.
The irony of all of this, is that technological advances now make it possible to produce higher quality music from our home setups than ever before, but monetizing that music is a lot more difficult. You could say that we’re all dressed up with very few places to go.
Clearly, the old paradigm is long gone, and we have to adapt to the changed reality. Like it or not, we need to become savvy at self promotion, especially social media marketing, and we need to find additional revenue streams (pardon the jargon) as artists, rather than hoping to depend solely on selling music for income.
How are you’re coping with the brave new world of the music industry? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.
Lest this come across unfeeling, let me say I am not unconcerned about how difficult it is for musicians to make money in the current economy—as a newly recorded songwriter myself I am looking into ways of monetizing my own work. But for me, the operative word is “current.”
We are in a time of massive flux in all areas of life; things now change with geometric rapidity. No sooner are people lamenting how CDs don't sound as good as vinyl than CDs are a thing of the past and everyone is buying (or stealing) mp3 downloads. The smoke has barely cleared on that dustup when fans are no longer buying or stealing mp3s, they are listening to streaming services.
Maybe that helps explain my inability to get too worked up over the latest atrocity perpetrated against musicians. Or, maybe it is that back during the golden age everyone is lamenting I was slogging it out in clubs, trying without success to get the elusive record deal that would supposedly pay so much money. In the more recent era, I have at least had the opportunity, through cheaper technology, to make and help others make a half a dozen recordings for release. Did any of them make money? Not much, but we had a chance to get our music out and be heard—something that was the privilege of the relatively few in the supposedly rosy past.
Basically I am saying that I, for one, am tired of hearing too much complaining about what was versus what is, and not enough creative and practical ideas about how to deal with being an artist today.
“How do you get a musician to complain?”
“Give him a gig.”
Instead of pointing at how the latest technology is ruining music, where are the calls for radical action? We artists tend to be self-absorbed, which precludes much activism. Bless Marc Ribot for his attempts at organizing.
I find it interesting that the majority of the musicians complaining are older. Many younger artists know only the current musical world, so they just get on with it. They, and some not so young artists, are just continuing to make music, whatever it takes, be that combining it with teaching, or software developing, or just scaling down budgets and making the best, most creative records they can, then using social media to get the word out.
Again, it is not just music. As a writer for music magazines I am watching print dying, budgets being slashed, people being layed off and fees diminishing. Rather than expend valuable energy lamenting all this, I saw the writing on the wall and started my own, online guitar magazine. I now have a few advertisers and hope to get more. For now, it fills in some of the lost freelance work, soon it might replace the freelance scuffle with a labor of love that also pays.
I am heartened by, interested in, and excited about other people I know personally, or read about, who are finding their way through this current mess, managing to make a living, and who continue to love making music for the sake of it.
Check out Danny Barnes’ blog https://dannybarnes.com/blog
for his rebutal of the negativism going around and some tips on being a working musician in this day and age. He is not young; he is not rich, and doesn’t have all the answers but he is adding to the amount of positive information in the world rather than merely decrying the state of it.
I am just saying I would prefer to see more of the former and less of the latter.
The above makes good points. It's a drag hearing people complain. Just get out and play your music. I know great Street musos who make quite a good living. The only way to make it pay these days is live. If you have that mind-set, you can also make money teaching. No matter how the landscape changes, people will always be prepared to pay for the knowledge they wish to acquire. I make music because I love it. Get out and play for the love of it, spread the love and I guarantee the universe will see you right. Rock on...
I agree 100%. May not be what people who are 'trying to make a living through music' wanna hear, but at the same time, music (and I would argue the arts, in general) are domains that provide food for the soul and are by no means a stable career choice...
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