After a reading an article yesterday about successful musicians in the industry who still have to work day jobs, I started thinking about the perception of musicians and the music industry by those who do not make a living from music. The article highlighted the fact that there are a large number of mid-to-high level bands in the UK who have played at large festivals such as Reading & Leeds, who still need to stack shelves to survive. Although I know a monumental number of musicians who work 9-5 during the week and go out gigging at the weekends, it’s quite shocking to imagine these “successful” artists still needing a second job to sustain themselves. For example, Chris Pennells of Deaf Havana fame, manages the Barfly venue in Camden which is arguably one of the busiest venues in the country. Although some might say that his job doesn’t necessarily require a huge amount of physical exertion, there’s no denying that his work is incredibly demanding, especially when he is also juggling his band responsibilities.
Although some may look at musicians with two jobs, and pull out the world’s tiniest violin for them, there’s no question that musicians deserve to make money for their creative work. I wrote last week about how songwriters have the right to make money from their copyrights, and that point still stands. The arrival of digital technologies and consumption trends affected all industries in some respect, but it most noticeably affected the music industry, (maybe that’s just because they moaned the most). However, while artists are still making less money overall and digital technologies have harmed the potential for some musician’s future careers, people’s perceptions of musicians and whether or not they should pay for music seems to remain the same as it did in the early days of file-sharing and peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. I still regularly see posts like the one below on various social media and image sharing sites, where people still see pirating as something that’s fair practice. That picture of Lil Wayne below is most likely a marketing stunt to be in-keeping with his “gangsta” image, (that hurt to write). The preconceived notion that “it’s ok to pirate music, because all musicians have mountains of cash” is highly dated and totally irrelevant now. Although piracy may not damage the income of the highest earners that much, it damages the smaller artists who are trying to make an honest living.
I’m not saying that all musicians are poor, because they’re not. Artists like Taylor Swift or Beyoncé are incredibly high earners, but they are anomalies and should be regarded as such. A report came out back in March revealing that 1% of artists earn 77% of recorded music income, suggesting that there are a huge number of musicians creating content and not making any money from it. This isn’t necessarily breaking news, but it’s still displeasing to consider the amount of love and care that goes into artistic creation, only for the creators to receive no recognition for that work. Music industry commentator Mark Mulligan often talks about the “Tyranny of Choice”, a term he uses to describe the process of listeners ignoring the seemingly infinite number of tracks available for them to access, choosing instead to listen to what they know. Therefore, it may not necessarily the fault of the artists or record labels for producing enough quality music (because believe me, they are), but maybe the contentedness of listeners who simply don’t want to explore. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to explore, but there is so much music that doesn’t receive any traction therefore limiting the creator’s ability to make money. The question of royalties (yet again, my apologies) creeps into the discussion. Taylor Swift arguably had a point regarding the removal of her music from streaming services that offer listeners the chance to access music through a freemium-based business model, because musicians have the right to earn a living from their work, as discussed earlier.
Musicians do have a right to earn money from their work, that much is true, but it may not be a bad thing that they have to work more than one job if they are truly passionate about the music. Presumably, everyone has had dreams of being a superstar, surrounded by flashing cameras and adoring fans, but the modern music market reserves that for the most super of superstars who can attract a global fanbase. It would seem other musicians will have to take more of a back seat. Nevertheless, these “smaller” artists still have swarms of fans who will pay through the nose for music, live tickets and merchandise to support them. Therefore, everyone has the chance to be a star in their own right. That’s the ironic beauty of the digital age of the internet; there is now a better chance than ever before for everybody to succeed and become a famous musician, but it’s likely that only a small handful of people will.
Written by Ryan Ottley-Booth @ Music Gateway
Follow Ryan on Twitter @R_Ottley_B