The Fierce and The Dead, label mates of mine, just sold out of their new EP. And it hasn’t been released. How on earth did they do that when things are so dire for musicians these days?
After all, we keep on hearing how streaming business models are cheating artists, that no-one wants to pay for music, that albums are dead, that the market is awash with mediocre artists making it impossible for the good stuff to shine through.
Well you know what? I’m sick of hearing musicians whine about it, because I think things are great.
I don’t mean that I disagree with some of that analysis. Streaming isn’t being done right and if artists want to organise and do something about it, or just opt out and offer something different I have plenty of time for that. I also believe that artists need to be paid when they do some work (which isn’t the same thing as expecting to be paid just because you created some music that no-one else asked for). I’d also add to the list the dire state of music education in the UK. Playing an instrument is more than ever a hobby for rich kids.
But the negativity needs to be balanced with a reality check.
Twenty years ago there were bands signed to record labels. The labels invested in them and people paid good money for their music. They made a great living, many got rich. Plenty of people hanker after those golden days. Bands had it so good then.
You know what? Your band wouldn’t have been one of them.
Getting signed was a lottery, having a hit and making money happened at random. The chances of it happening to you were virtually nil. Actually making a living that way was precarious and in no way guaranteed. But that system was pretty much the only way to get your stuff recorded and distributed because of the costs involved.
Now you can record professional quality music for a fraction of the price. You can distribute it electronically and print up small enough runs of physical product that you can avoid boxes of unsold merchandise cluttering up your home. You can hear independent musicians from all over the world and connect with enthusiasts you never would have met twenty years ago. You can build an audience in the slow-cook real world way: one listener at a time. You can do it all without racking up debt or ruining your life.
Is it a problem that so many people are making music and releasing it? Are you kidding? How could it be bad that more people are discovering the joy of making music.
But it’s so difficult to make money as a musician
I don’t care.
I care about the actual injustices – streaming being a good example – but I don’t care about your lack of audience. If you’re in it to make money you need to give the public what they want. And what they want might not be music any more.
If you’re in it for the art then do the art, do it honestly and try to develop an audience in a sustainable way that doesn’t whine or beg or ask them to kickstart bullshit for you.
In previous decades I couldn’t have recorded any of my music and I never would have developed the small following that I have. It’s a small following that means eventually my musical endeavours break even, and I am very happy about it. I want to keep growing that audience. Maybe that way one day I’ll get the music into profit.
The Fierce and the Dead are doing a hell of a lot better than me because they’ve been working hard, putting on blisteringly good live shows, releasing amazing music and developing an audience. They haven’t been throwing music into the void then assuming that means they should get paid. They’ve found some success and they deserve it.
Now is the best time there’s ever been to be a musician. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t have music as a priority.