I don’t know if you’ve noticed but people really don’t like to pay for music. Paintings, yes… Books, no prob… sculpture, sure… latte art, absolutely… but music? Nope What started in 1999 as a trickle with napster has turned the following generations into a music-entitled society. I have to admit that when I saw Metallica and others fighting this file-sharing thing tooth and nail I didn’t get it, now I know it’s actually too late.
I have been a professional musician writing and performing for almost 40 years, and even now on my crazy new path I play 70+ shows a year. I am one of the lucky ones, even though it has never made me wealthy or famous I get to share my artistic muse with a small part of the world. I make a decent amount of money doing what I love, but I do it with income from live performance and NO place I play charges at the door. With that perspective I also know that things are irreparably different now than at any other time in my career. I have been contemplating this for awhile, and I can admit to uselessly bitching and moaning about it a lot as well. People don’t pay for music, at least not the way they used to. Nick recently posted an enlightening comparison between what people pay for coffee and what they pay for music and it is not something to be taken lightly. I also, personally, believe it is unfixable. It IS the new norm and it has to be accepted and worked with. Even though Foo-Fighters now sell-out stadiums they only SELL one tenth of the albums they used to. Live music venues are shutting down everywhere and music has become a different consumer commodity than it was 20 years ago. It sucks for musicians and the new reality can be painful, but like a certain Mandrill once said, “you can either learn from it, or run from it”.
SO what is the answer? Honestly I don’t think anybody knows and there are probably a hundred different ways to fight this but none will win, just shoot for a localized dent. Make money where you can, find your own niche, keep an open and active social media presence (that helps for booking as well), help support other local artists and find your own voice, don’t BE like someone else or do what is expected, be authentically you and let the chips fall where they may. As for me, I play live (a LOT), I create a new album every year all on my own, I give my music away for free on BandCamp because it’s better to be heard. I play venues that don’t charge a cover and I still sell a few physical CD’s at each of my shows but that is just marketing to people who want souvenirs of a local artist. I have found a small avenue where I am appreciated and rewarded for what I do, but I had to unlearn my long-standing assumptions about music success before I could appreciate it, and sometimes it’s still hard.
We live in a globalized music world of super-short songs that maximize the number of streams and nearly free music streaming as the default distribution. So the mantle of musicality and artistic integrity is in the hands of local indie artists. Carry it proudly, even if you still have a day job it doesn’t make you any less awesome.