My Dad has been a career musician/producer since I was five. I had a music career for a while. My Sister and Stepmother are on the business end of the industry, and I’ve grown up all up in it. Many (most?) of my friends are performers too, so “making it” issues are close to my heart and come up often in conversation. It’s good to see challenging conversations come up in the news a bit, such as this recent controversial post or this piece on PBS…
But I’ve grown tired of having this conversation with everyone over and over. Here’s my side of it for your reading pleasure.
Yes, “trickle down economics for musicians” has destroyed the idea of making a living from writing & recording music. Gone are the days of career songwriters, a sad thing for music and certainly for songwriters. Successful artists in the post-purchase era of music are those who have drawn their funds from other sources, and increasingly those who have invented those sources. Music is an innovative act, and the moral of the story is don’t stop there with the innovation thing if you want to make it big.
But there’s something to be said for making it small & focused. How simple & direct can a music career get? How little separation between artist and audience? How big does that audience really need to be? How much value do they need to provide a good return and share to others who will as well? How low can your business overhead become? How much pressure can you take off of your business, financial or otherwise? Poke your head up and look around. New means of reaching your audience exist now that probably did not the last time you checked.
It was never not a tough environment. It’s just a different tough when there are no gatekeepers keeping musicians from their hallowed Big Marketing Machine®. Yeah well, the none of the music machines work anymore. The whole shotgun approach to mass-marketing doesn’t really work anymore because telling people what to want doesn’t really work anymore. Everything has been fragmented by search and is united only by for-profit algorithms and social media shares.
Where there is change, there is always opportunity. I’ve seen this as an independent musician, I’ve seen it as a YouTube/Google insider, I’ve seen it from my friends on televised competition shows, and from fantastic conversations with Big Players both old and new. The benefit of things changing fast these days is that there are more niches to get in and out of. Just be sure to get out in time, success has always been about knowing when to get out.
If you’re in the music biz at any level, I highly recommend you either creatively redefine the service(s) you provide through music or get all the way out of the money part of it. You don’t wanna be in the way of the death throes of any industry, and this one is pretty far gone.
For what it’s worth, I decided to get out. No more musician’s life for me, my music career is done. Now music is part of a more diversified creative career. I make music only because I need to make music, not because I need to eat or prove anything to anybody. As a lovely side effect, the music itself is way more fun!
And no, I never stream music. I stopped doing that 10-years ago once I figured out what was going on. When I want music, I buy it — directly from the musicians themselves whenever possible. That’s easier than ever to do, you know.