I mentioned Andrew Dubber the other day, who constantly impresses me with his deft analysis of the music business. I just read an article he posted on a great music industry blog called Music Think Tank. The article is super interesting, but the real bomb is in a comment he posted in the midst of the blog dialogue on the article. He sums up very well some of my thoughts about piracy, record labels, and art as a business.
Here’s what he said…
Musicians deserve more money than they get. Most train harder and for longer than brain surgeons in order to do what they do, and then they earn less than checkout operators for what they do. I strongly believe that more money should go to more musicians more often than it does.
Musicians are some of my favourite people on the planet, and I want nothing but good things for them. Really. My heart breaks for all of my musician friends who find this a tough world, and just want to make great music that connects with people, and to be allowed to do that in a way that helps them support their family and put food on the table.
Making music is not (usually) a job of work. It is a creative act. You don’t have the RIGHT to make money from your music. You only have the opportunity.
If you make music speculatively – that is, you create it in the hopes of making money from it, then you are a music entrepreneur. As such, entrepreneurship rules apply.
You may invest a good deal of energy, effort and expense in your creative ideas. You may make a lot of money. You will probably make none. But nobody OWES you money just because you put the work in.
If your business model is to grow and sell oranges, then it’s no good picking the oranges, then leaving them on the footpath outside your house with a price tag on each one. It doesn’t matter how great your oranges are, or how hard you’ve toiled in your garden. Someone WILL take your oranges. Some will get kicked to the side of the road. Some will get stepped on. But it’s not because people are immoral and don’t understand or appreciate fruit properly.
If you wish to be reliably rewarded for your music, then get employed to make music as your job.
If you want to make the music that moves you, that will hopefully create meaning for people, and that will perhaps earn you a sustainable living, then you have chosen risk, and you will have to be as smart with the entrepreneurship as you are with the music if you want to survive and thrive.
The odds are stacked against you. History is littered with musicians who are disillusioned, embittered and broke. This was true before the internet just as it’s true now. The internet is neither your saviour, nor your enemy.
Let me make that bit clear: prior to the internet, most people spent NO money on music. If they bought a record in a year, it was a gift for a nephew (and it was usually rubbish). Some people spent a lot of money on music, because it was tied up with cultural things like identity that they were really invested in.
Back when you needed a record label to just be heard, it was a lottery. The odds were bad, the lottery tickets were expensive, and most of the prizes – if you did happen to win – were just awful. Now you don’t need to play that game – but you need to be smart and you need to understand what the rules of the new game are.
You CAN, of course, get signed to a record label (and that lottery is still in play) but you can also be an enterpreneur. I recommend the latter – but not because it guarantees you money.
But the simple fact is that you don’t become a successful entrepreneur by making things that people will not pay for, insisting that they should, and then complaining that their morals are to blame. They may not share your morals, but that’s not even the point.
It’s not their job to understand your needs. It’s your job to understand theirs.
You become a successful entrepreneur by meeting people’s needs and wants, solving a problem for them and doing it in a way that allows you to make money.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Even if it was true that all the people you wish to target with your art are immoral thieves who you would never invite into your home – why would you insist on trying to change their behaviour as part of your business strategy?
You may make great and interesting music, and put on an amazing show with amazing costumes. But decrying a sense of entitlement among those who won’t pay you for what you insist on doing is back to front.
The people with the weird sense of entitlement are the ones who stamp their feet and say ‘look at all this hard work I put in – where’s my money?’