They’re separate incidents, but they share a common theme:
While working my day job, I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in a while. He’d heard I got a publishing deal, and that my book would be out soon. “Now make sure I get a free autographed copy,” he said with a smirk.
“The autograph is free,” I replied. “The book may cost you a buck or two.” He laughed, but for just a second, I saw a twinge of disappointment on his face. I think he actually believed I might give him a free book.
Exhibit B: My friend and super music fan Abbi Telander (whom I interviewed for the book) told me a story about having a talk with a twenty-something co-worker. The young woman was playing an album Abbi was interested in. Abbi told the millennial about wanting to buy the album, but Abbi hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The millennial looked at my friend quizzically. “Wait,” she said, “you still BUY music?”
What a strange musical era we live in.
The Internet age has made just about anything we want readily and easily accessible. This is particularly true where music is concerned. This should be heralded as a great thing. But there’s a catch: now that people can obtain music in the comfort of their homes, many feel they shouldn’t have to pay for it, either.
That’s not right. Not even remotely.
The Music Industry as it is known was not fully prepared for the digital age. The old analog model — dysfunctional as it was — worked for record labels, and they saw no need to change it. Musicians, already used to substandard deals, didn’t make much noise either. And now things have gotten out of hand, and there’s no going back.
The economics of entertainment is a highly complex issue. Much more complex than the confines of this page will allow. I’m sure there’s a book in there somewhere. But for the sake of this piece, I’ll aim to keep things as simple and straightforward as I can. That’s more for my benefit than yours.
When all is said and done, my objective is simple: I want musicians to be properly compensated for their efforts. That’s it.
Likewise, if you want a copy of my book, I deeply appreciate it. But I’m not giving them away. Like the music I write about, I feel my words have value.
Music is an art form. It is elixir for the spirit. The people who make music may be pursuing a form of expression greater than themselves. But they are also working! Being a musician can be loads of fun. But it’s also a job! We pay to see actors on the silver screen. We pay to cheer on our favorite athletes at stadiums and arenas. Why do we become such tightwads when it comes to music?
I’m sure streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music are a big part of the problem. Their next to nonexistent payments to artists (we’re talking fractions of pennies per stream, folks) anger me to no end. I avoid using these sites on general principle. But since more and more artists are knuckling under and using these services, I may have to amend my stance. Slightly.
Shopping for and playing music has evolved. At times, I have to accept that and receive music in the modern fashion (read, digitally). But wherever possible, I do my shopping in record stores, coming home with as many physical copies as I can. But I appear to be in the minority.
The overall number of gold (500,000 units sold) and platinum (1 million units sold) albums has plummeted since he advent of streaming. People are no longer interested in an artist’s entire recorded output any more, it seems. A streamed song here, another there, and one more from there allows listeners to create playlists, which seem to have supplanted albums and the sales of same. Given the pittance paid to artists for singles, the lack of LP sales has proven financially catastrophic. The days of a musician being able to make a living solely off album sales has come and gone. That is unless your name is Adele, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, or Jay-Z.
Yet most alleged music fans don’t care.
Maybe it’s generational. I hate to sound like an old crank (which I certainly can be at times), but this generation seems to act more entitled, where music is concerned. In their minds, pirating music without properly compensating the artist is a victimless crime. These kids are not taking into account the MASSIVE expense that comes with making records.
Instruments. Effects racks and pedals. Amplifiers. Cables. Drums, cymbals and hardware. Keyboards. Recording gear … on and on and on. There’s no such thing as a cheap recording session. Yes, yes, yes: these artists knew what they were getting into. But that doesn’t lessen the value of their efforts. You enjoy the outcome of the musician’s work. PAY them!
I contemplated aloud giving away a few copies of my book for promotional purposes. Both a good friend and my publisher quickly shot that down. Producing books is expensive! Their must be some return on that investment.
The more I thought about that, the more it made sense. I gave 26 months of my life to this book. In the grand scheme, that’s worth something! I don’t expect to retire off book sales. Still, it would be nice to see a little something for my efforts. Writing my book was a labor of love, to be certain. But there was still labor involved! I certainly don’t want you to break the bank in order to read my book. But I can’t just hand it over to you like it has no meaning.
I don’t care how much you love your job. Nobody — and I mean NOBODY — wants to work for free. There are times when I’m able to get into a concert for nothing. When that happens, I make sure to buy a copy of the band’s CD or a t-shirt. No matter what, the band will get SOME kind of contribution from me.
The bottom line (see what I did there?) is this: it’s hard making a living in music. Harder than most other jobs that offer a steady paycheck, medical insurance, and a pension. It wouldn’t kill you to offer up a couple of dollars to the people who create and perform the music you love.
And to the people who write about them.
The notes have value.
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When I see a band and am impressed with their performance, I always try to pick up a shirt and a cd. I know the merchandise purchases are important to them. I also like to shake their hand if given the opportunity, and say thanks for the show.
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yes, yes, yes, yes – yes!
Excellent post – easy for non-creatives to understand and relief for us ‘working musicians’ to see it yet again articulated for new eyes to read.
best wishes on the upcoming release of your book
Nicely judged comment on the economics of the music industry.
I love Spotify because it allows me to explore all kinds of music, especially stuff that’s hard to find anywhere else. But, if streaming services are going to be the main/only way we listen to music, there has to be some way of increasing the pitiful pennies that go to the artists. Last I heard, though, Spotify was still not making a profit so they’re hardly likely to pay the artists more, at least in the short term.
It’s a tricky problem and I don’t know what the answer is.
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I will continue to push Bandcamp, because they do the most for artists. And they provide more than enough musical excitement, taking me to unexplored places with my kind of bands.