Mar 152018

I see this argument a lot, “musicians put in a lot of effort making music and deserve to get paid for it. Music should not be free.”

The problem with this is that it refuses to see music as a business, but rather, it sees musicians as “entitled” to get paid. This is fundamentally wrong from a business perspective.

Music, like any other product that is offered to buyers in the marketplace, is also at the mercy of market forces. That is to say, it’s value is determined by those who have the money to buy it, and whether or not they choose to pay the price that is being suggested. If people are not willing to pay that price, then, it is said, “the bottom drops out of the market”. True with horse-draw carriages, true with music.

But unlike horse-draw carriages, dinning room suites, sticky buns etc, whose manufacturers do what they do specifically for the money they can earn, music makers are motivated by other reasons. I say this because music has Never been an “upwardly mobile” occupation. Other than the 1% who become actual “rock stars” musicians generally have never made that much money, compared to, say, a guy who’s a plumber, electrician, accountant or dentist. Those are Real Professions. They make Real Money. Music is, for the most part, not a real profession for the vast majority of people engaging in it as evinced by the constant whinging about there being no money. Not much of a professional career then, is it? More like wishful-thinking combined with tons of time, costs and effort leading to potentially fatal economic outcomes based on the Hope of success.

Hope is not a strategy.

Other professional careers generate money because they are essential services. Music is not an essential service, no matter what musicians egos tell them.

The biggest thing that musicians overlook is the lie they tell themselves about how important music is to society. It’s not important at all. According to Neilson/Soundscan greater than 80% of all people will NEVER purchase music. Ever. And only about half of those people will go to see a live performance. Ever. Many people will never attend more than 5 performances In There Lifetime. A solid 20% will never attend even one performance. Ever.

That’s just the reality of it. They listen to music on the radio in their cars or at work and that’s it. It’s just background noise. There’s a real, biological reason for this, but it’s too long and complex to get into here.

Music buyers have always been a niche market. That’s to be expected and predicted in what is called the Pareto Distribution. 80% of a thing is done by 20% of the people and it has a long tail that predicts that at the 50% of the participants mark the number of people who profit from their efforts will drop to zero. It’s just a true fact.

But musicians don’t want to believe that. They want to believe that “everyone loves music” and they then inject the flawed inference that “everyone who listens to music should be required to purchase music” and then it just goes down the slippery slope of bad logic to, “therefore all music should cost money or you shouldn’t get to hear it” (which I’ve read countless times in the music whing-o-sphere) and further down to the bottom of the barrel of fallacious thought that, “I’m a musician, therefore You Owe Me Money for my music”.

No one should get paid merely because they make music any more than any other maker of any other thing should get paid merely because they made something. It’s what you do with it in the marketplace that counts.

So, what to do to make money then?

Making money from youtube or any other internet display site? Nope. Won’t happen for the vast majority of participants. It’s a numbers game just like a “getting paid at the door” gig. You bring fans to, say, youtube, then you can get the Subscribers and hours of view required to meet the qualifications to get paid. Like a gig; no one comes, you don’t get paid.

People buying your CD? Nope. CDs are dead, unless you happen to have an existing fan-base of people, mostly older people statistically, who still listen to CDs.

So, digital downloads then? Probably not. Again, without the fan-base who the heck do you suppose will buy your stuff?

Okay, streaming! Right? Good luck with that. Like all things Internet, streaming, just like youtube or soundcloud or, well, the entire internet, really, is just advertising, promotion, PR. Traditionally, all other businesses pay BIG BUCKS for these things. But musicians somehow feel that they should be exempt from paying promotional cost associated with marketing their product. See the problem?

Musicians believe that they, and their music, are special and are entitled to, nay, Deserve! to get paid for their efforts. I always tell musicians who believe this to Sell Your Gear and get a real job because you clearly don’t understand how either music-as-a-commodity or business-in-general works and your delusions will only lead to a life of bitter envy, resentment and disappointment.

So, am I saying that musicians should not get paid ever for anything? No, of course not. Musicians should, and do, get paid all the time, though usually not much and never enough to recoup operating costs. My live guitar rig alone is worth around twenty grand. How many gigs do I have to do before I break even on that up-front cost and begin to turn a profit? Most musicians will tell you that the cost of hard-goods, tools and ancillary expenses of doing business are sunk costs and therefore a loss. This, of course, is a form of Gambler’s Fallacy where you count the winnings but don’t take into account the losses it took to get you there. Musicians, like gamblers, will pay a thousand dollars to get fifty bucks.

This is why even gigging is economically treacherous. Clubs and venues are only in it for the money: they are capitalists, not socialists. They have bills to pay and that can’t happen if they are paying musicians. Sports TV is much more cost effective.

If you want to gig you have to step up your game and play, what the AFofM traditionally designates as, Class-C or Class-B venues. Actual venues. You’ll need a real-world booking agency to accomplish this. You’re Wednesday night open-mic that hopefully leads to a Thursday night gig for a hundred bucks will only disappoint you and further stall your career. Sure they can be fun, but do them because you want to, not because you Have to.

All the money in the industry is made by people who are beating their brains out touring. Touring WHILE having a day job, I might add. My friend Troy worked at a music store during the day and toured Thursday through Sundays, and one solid week per month, while promoting their first TWO albums. BTW, they were well funded and signed to a real record label. Selling Fenders on Wednesday, playing to fifty thousand screaming fans in Brazil Saturday, selling Fenders again on Monday.

That’s the pure, economic reality of the music business.

And THAT is why I firmly believe that music should me made solely by people who love music so freekin’ much that they would make it anyway, regardless of whether they get paid or not. The rest of the poseurs, egotists and colicky wannabes should sell their gear and get out of the way. The marketplace doesn’t need to be more diluted with low-effort, low-talent offerings that diminishes the ability of real artists to display their work. This “talent” glut hurts us all, because it creates a buyers market, one where music is so ubiquitous and plentiful that it’s value drops to near-zero.

Just look at the 2017 Neilson/Soundscan stats. 96% of all the money in the biz is being made by less that 1% of the participants and, here’s the real kicker, of the 80 million, 80-frickin-million, songs on the internet, 79 million, 79-frickin-million of them have ZERO plays. That’s Zero as in “no one gives a fuck about your shitty music” Zero plays. Even your fucking Mom didn’t listen to it. Yet all of these hopefuls think that they “deserve” to get listened to and paid just for having shown up. Participation trophies all-around!

And THAT is why I, in my business model, give away my music for free.

Now, that’s not for everyone. But if I were a painter or sculptor, would I charge people to see my art? Don’t be daft. So why should I expect them to pay to hear my music? For record pressings and live shows, indeed!, no one should work for free, but to hear and enjoy the fruits of my creativity? I say, “Free the Music”.

Music is for the enlightenment and edification of all who enjoy it. It’s a cultural enhancement that beautifies the hearts and souls of those who hear it. Should people have to pay to be spiritually enlightened by music? Perhaps, if they feel they want to help support the efforts of the artist. But they are by no means obligated to. The world is made a better place by those who choose to ornament it with music regardless of it’s financial outcome.

This is what I do. This is what I believe. This is what I teach.

Help Spread the Word:

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.