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“Sharing Is Not Stealing” – Cost, Value And The Desire To Share.

May 16th, 2010 | 65 Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

A few thoughts on the relationship between cost, value and the action of sharing music:

As I’ve said before, £10 was never representative of the real value in an album. It was less than the value of the time the person takes to listen to it, and certainly not anything like the value the artist places on their finished work.

And of course, given that all albums sell in different amounts, and all the cost of making the album is upfront – before anyone knows how many it’s going to sell – it couldn’t really be described in any fractional way as a share of that value.

No, it wasn’t an expression of ‘value’, largely because the most natural way of expressing our sense of value in music is to share it.

For the artist, we love to play the music we think is the best we have for people – we play it live, we want radio to play our tunes, we want people to hear the album. We’re never sad when someone sits one of their friends down to listen to the album having told them how awesome it is. Because the performing and playing of our music is an expression of our sense of value in it – the opposite, to withold it from people who want to hear it, could only seriously be motivated by shame: an expression of our conviction that the music wasn’t worth the time of the listener.

As fans, the more we love an album the more likely we are to tell people about it, and where possible to play it to them.

Encouraging people to buy it isn’t really an expression of the value of the music, but an expression of either

  • our acquiescence to the value system expressed by the music industry – music is “worth” approx £10 for each 60 minute lot we buy
  • or it’s driven by our desire to see an artist who lives off the proceeds of their art be compensated fairly for that art

In the latter instance, we can then make ourselves arbiters of what is a fair wage, and opt into doing our part in the pragmatic subdivision of their living costs, realising that offering up however much we pay for the music is a way of being a link in their ongoing creative process.

And we can most easily do this in a ‘pay what you want’ environment. Uber-fans used to do this by buying multiple copies of an album, often during pre-release, to help spread the word, and to help out the artist. Now, it’s much easier, and more incremental, via ‘pay what you want’ downloads – especially when that download happens in a place where the album is listenable-to in full, and shareable via links or embeds (yes, I’m looking at you, Bandcamp – step forward, take a bow…)

The fixed-value monetary expression most naturally makes sense in two ways, both of them tied to physical product:

  • It was the paywall through which music was available. I’ve talked before about those long-forgotten days when I would buy albums based on reviews, hunches, artwork, suggestions… often without having heard a single track. I had to buy most of them because the indie record shop in Berwick had VERY limited stock. I can only off the top of my head think of three albums I ever bought that they didn’t have to order for me (Back In Black by AC/DC, The Seer by Big Country and Question & Answer by Pat Metheny) – everything else was special order. So it wasn’t that no-one would play it to me, it’s that I was hundreds of miles away from a copy of the music I wanted to hear! Scarcity drove the buying process.
  • The other value is simply that a CD or record, as an artifact, as a stand-alone work of art, as a beautiful container for the music, was worth that. This is born out by the relationship between elaborate packaging and price. Labels who sold their CDs for more invariably spent more time on the packaging (ECM being the main case in point) and budget price CDs often featured lower quality paper, cut-down liner notes, bad photos etc… The complete package is, to the people who still value it, worth paying a tenner for.

When people argue that the value is “all in the music”, ask them when the last time was that they paid as much for a (non-deleted) 2nd hand CD as a new one, or were happy for the box to be broken but still pay full price… Our perception of what the price of a CD should be is exactly the same as any other physical object, and has nothing to do with our notion of the value of the music.

But, what happened because of that is that people were conned into the idea that buying lots of cheap music was better value than paying more for one great album. I used to do this – I’d pass up albums that I was sure I’d love, in favour of 3 budget price ones that were less certain, but offered more minutes per pound. I’m sure if I’d bought the first album, I’d have had more ‘listening hours’ per pound out of my investment… And for the artists, they lost out because I’m far less likely to talk about mediocre music than I am about music I love. So I short-changed myself, and the artists I could’ve been raving about…

We need a complete rethink of how the economy around music works. And it starts in the relationship between fans and artists.

I’m now Twitter-friends with lots of ‘famous before the internet’ (FBTI) artists. The challenge for them is now to be as interesting as the people without the baggage are. When they manage it, they win twice – so chatting with Kristin Hersh or Rosanne Cash, Vernon Reid or Mike Scott is not only interesting for the conversation itself, it’s interesting because it puts them in the position where whatever the state of their relationship with the ‘industry’ is, I now see them as ‘one of us’, and am far more likely to seek to support them and their music, both by telling people about it, and with actual cash monies!

I’ve mentioned before that in the 90s, we indie people were desperate to look like ‘the big people’ and now its reversed, with superstars desperate to look approachable. But there’s a massive musical middle class who, if they get it, can cash in on their pre-web fame and actually chat to their audience, via Twitter, Facebook, Blogging, community forums etc. and circumvent the arguments of the old industry about how to force music back behind a paywall, and instead – like us – build a community of people who care, and are willing to express that care and their gratitude for the music by sharing it with their friends AND paying for it.

Comment questions:

  • Who’s getting it right?
  • Whose music do you share most with your friends, and how to do you share it?
  • What entertainment media (physical or digital) have you paid the most for over the last couple of years?
  • What kind of band merch are you most likely to buy?

Let’s have a conversation about what works, what we ‘actually’ do, and see if we can’t start to carve out a fun way forward that’s good for music, for artists and for listeners.

Similar Posts elsewhere in this blog:

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65 Comments so far ↓

  • Mili

    That’s a really inspiring post!

    I wrote about this from the pure economics side a little while ago – you might find it interesting: http://tinyurl.com/y752nzn

    I am also now listening to your music which is double-win for me as I’ve been meaning to look it up for a while. 🙂

    Mili

    • Steve

      Thanks so much for the link – really good semantic stuff. Vital to understanding what’s actually going on in the transactions, aside from the culture. We then need to rethink the culture in light of the economic models that are in place.

      Glad your cat enjoyed the tunes 🙂 x

  • Kevin Hewick

    Excellent piece Steve.
    I come from the generation that saw a new album release from Dylan, Bowie, The Who, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell etc as an event – people actually came around your house or wanted you to come around theirs with the album because you were the first to have a copy of the latest by such acts – I even remember breathlessly rushing to my mates house late one Friday afternoon with a precious copy of the nigh-impossible-to-get-in-Leicester ‘Anarchy In The UK’ single, we played it again and again and thought the world would never be the same – which was correct.. in a way lol..
    Fast forward to today’s debt riddled diabetic overweight balding 53 year old genius who can’t ‘give up the day job’ and can’t sell or even give away his brilliant output for toffee – we dreamers can’t all be biz-heads as well.

    The internet has liberated us and glutted us and the glass ceiling is both thinner and thicker depending on which bit you’re shooting at – personally I’m exhausted with my bullets bouncing back.. but rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t owe us a living, the world doesn’t stop in it’s tracks for a song though more’s the pity, we should all down tools to listen to something from the heart.

    Music is a far more beautiful, truer artform than film or the novel – ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ will open up your head far more than a Cameron or Spielberg 3 hour CGI laiden epic.

    We just want to plug in the mikes and the electrical gee-tars and do our magic, I’ll do it in any pub, church hall or shopping mall. I’d like to just see some folks out there sitting on the grass and digging it like it was the 60s all over again, beautiful.

    But this is the stressed-out brave new digi-world of 2010 and the boxes of unsold CDs are in the ether now, the cheques not in the post. In the end I don’t care if we do it by brainwaves but yes, we muso’s need to earn SOMETHING, the price of strings and mortgages and all that – we need a way forward but do we have an audience who’ll venture with us? Lets hope..

    • Steve

      Hi Kevin,

      there’s so much in your reply, that it’d be pretty much impossible for me to unpack it all… I’m glad that you like the post – I think a lot of the answers to your contrast of the notions of ‘success’ in your youth vs your situation now are to be found in the concepts I’m exploring (have a dig into the blog archive, there may well be more that you find helpful…

      I’m not aware of there being any ‘glass ceiling’ as such, just a series of abstract concepts like ‘potential’ and ‘possibility’ and paradigm… The potential to reach an audience on no money is now greater than its ever been. The possibility that what you do will go global without any financial investment in the promotion isn’t in any way ‘likely’ but it is possible, and the graph of success down from there is a much straighter line than at any time in history…

      We can reinvent what we do, why we do it and who we do it for without anyone’s business plan getting in the way. That’s got to be a good thing 🙂

  • Paddy

    The most i spend on music is on the live stuff. I think despite them not having a cd for sale i’ve spent more money on my mate’s band miasma than any other music group/person in the last year.

    Buying music, i think miriam jones is the leader for this year, and last it was rebecca collins (a great lady singer songwriter, does juicy dark seductive music, i love it!)

    I found out about both miriam and rebecca via the valued recommendation of musical friends of mine (steve here and Jaz of Tankus The Henge, check them out too!)

    I share music in whichever way i think the other person will get into it. Some of my mates only discover music by either listening to it at mine (or whereever my laptop is) or if i give them a mix cd with something new on it. Others gladly snarf up stuff to listen to online, some of my friends (like me) are always on the hunt for a new album to REALLY get into so if i’m raving about something they’ll check it out on bandcamp or myspace or youtube (or on occasion, spotify)

    I’m not sure of that many people who’re doing it right. aside from yourself, i’m generally found ranting at my music friends telling them to make their music more accessable and to communicate with their audience better.

    I don’t think i’ve bought merch since i was a teenager, doesn’t interest me in the slightest (unless it was something REALLY cool and unique)

    • Steve

      Thanks for a full and detailed exploration of those questions, Paddy – most useful!!

    • Darren Landrum

      Sorry to post off-topic, but would your friend’s band Miasma happen to be the same Miasma that did the music to a point-and-click adventure game called Drowned God a number of years ago? Thank you…

      As for being on topic, I don’t think there’s anything I can really add to this post, so I won’t try. 🙂

  • Nic

    I’ve just hit play on the music at the top of this page – it’s much more fun to write on this page with such beautiful music playing.

    Erm, sharing now for me is almost entirely within the realms of Spotify. Andrew comes over, perhaps logs into his Premium Spotify account, or types in a search term, eg ‘Fado’. Then for the next week I’ll listen to dozens of hours of flamenco (back on my advertised account). And I can spider diagram out from Fado to other artists, tracks, regions and so on. Then I start to build up a playlist and the next person to come over will get to sit through it. I’m always thinking as well as about two key playlists – the next party playlist with the best dancin tunes, and the christmas/my ex’s/memorial to my sister comp cd playlist. I’l probably end up buying all the tracks on my definitive, gonna share this with friends and family, playlist.

    At my brother’s house, however, it’s still old school and I probably prefer it (tho it’s more one way). Sit down, and he plays me great record after record, while telling me everything I need to know in between, perhaps showing some of the dance steps. Then we drink ale and port and eat cheese and salty snacks.

  • inkysmudge

    Hi all,

    Steve, I’m listening to Happy from Live in Nebraska on repeat as I type and it’s just beautiful for a Sunday afternoon. Habitually I don’t often go for female singers but her voice……Jesus! Thought I’d get that out of the way first 😉

    Anyways, I really agree with Kevin’s point about how the release of an album used to feel like an event. For me, I think the ‘physical product’ had a lot to do with that. Downloading, for whatever reason, whether I’m conditioned or old fashioned or what I don’t know, just doesn’t feel the same. I try but, y’know, having the CD makes me feel I spent my money on something.

    I know that’s not the main thrust of your post, but for me it’s connected to your ideas on sharing. If I harass my friends with a physical ‘thing’, the old ‘You HAVE to listen to this’ conversation, it seems weightier than sending a link. I’d love to know why, I really would, it’s like lending someone a book, something about the physicality of it. Any psychological suggestions most welcome 😉

    As to the real value of the music, that is so hard to quantify, if you spent £10 on a CD that stopped you topping yourself (REM’s Automatic For The People anyone?!!!) then that’s clearly £10 well spent. For a CD that you took a punt on and ended up only liking one song, less so.

    I remember a line of yours about ‘the soundtrack to the day you wished you’d had’ or something like that. That sums up pretty well what a lot of creatives (whatever their field) aim for. They try to articulate what it is that other people are unable to and that goes right to the heart of why the value of creative endeavours is in a sense priceless/hard to quantify in monetary terms.

    That said, in practical terms, it does cost money to try and earn a living from being creative and to pay the rent/mortgage, buy new strings or whatever else. It’s that side of the equation that certainly frustrates and terrifies me in equal measures. You said in a previous post response to me how the ‘old model’ was an illusion and how we were left feeling shortchanged by the ‘myth’. I certainly agree with that. Nowadays I feel almost a paralysis induced by the potential opportunities, simultaneously not knowing which avenues to explore whilst marvelling at the likes of you, who are clearly making it work. I know that sounds awfully sycophantic but it’s not meant to be, it’s just the way it is. I agree that the new community building tools that we have at our disposal are incredibly useful but they still require a skill to use properly as alluded to in your ‘superstars desperate to look approachable’ comment. Simply, not everyone has the aptitude for it as per the much discussed ‘broadcast mode’.

    Likewise I think you said somewhere that to have lots of listeners and no money is an ok place to be. I assumed that you meant that and your tongue was not in your cheek. I agree in principle that having people that care about your work is indeed what we all strive for but if fans willingly take the free downloads but neglect the paid content, what’s going on there? It’s a rhetorical question, the answers numerous, maybe the paid content just isn’t worth it, it could be anything but I think that that essential point is what everyone’s frightened of/trying to get their head around.

    Apols, I’m babbling now but another thought provoking post so thanks as always.

    For your questions, you’re doing it right obviously.

    Who’s music do I share? Matthew Good http://www.matthewgood.org (Canadian singer/songwriter and prolific blogger). I lend his CDs/send links/tell people to follow him on Twitter. Absolute genius in my book.

    Angels & Airwaves – lend CDs

    The National – only just got into these (always was late to the party!) thanks to @digitalmaverick on Twitter and am now slightly obsessed. Have got the CDs (told you I liked product) so will start lending them out soon, mention them on Twitter, facebook, send links etc.

    I buy physical media mostly and download occasionally, usually on a try before I buy basis or old tracks I can’t find (Separate Ways by Elvis Presley anyone?)

    I don’t buy band merchandise anymore and I have absolutely no idea why 😉

    • Steve

      InkySmudge – really glad you’re enjoying the music – yeah, Lo’s got a pretty incredible voice. I still marvel at it when she’s sat at home practicing, or singing to the baby 🙂

      Anyways, I really agree with Kevin’s point about how the release of an album used to feel like an event … I try but, y’know, having the CD makes me feel I spent my money on something.

      …which is why physical isn’t going anywhere fast… at least not amongst the kind of demographic that feel the way you do. It may also account for some of why vinyl sales are higher now than they were 10 years ago 🙂

      …I’d love to know why, I really would, it’s like lending someone a book, something about the physicality of it. Any psychological suggestions most welcome

      Just habit and association, I’d say. You’re used to that being the social object around which the transaction takes place. It wasn’t just about music, the physical product and the activity it made happen were all part of where you felt the value. That’s all good.

      I remember a line of yours about ‘the soundtrack to the day you wished you’d had’ or something like that. That sums up pretty well what a lot of creatives (whatever their field) aim for. They try to articulate what it is that other people are unable to and that goes right to the heart of why the value of creative endeavours is in a sense priceless/hard to quantify in monetary terms.

      …for me it’s about creating the Soundtrack to the Day I wish I’d had 🙂 Turning it round is just a reflection of how lots of people perceive it. Make it for me, find people who agree… seem to be working well so far 🙂

      That said, in practical terms, it does cost money to try and earn a living from being creative and to pay the rent/mortgage, buy new strings or whatever else. It’s that side of the equation that certainly frustrates and terrifies me in equal measures.

      Maybe the problem is ‘trying to earn a living from being creative’ – that’s never been a particularly stable proposition. You can earn a living from music, but it’s always been overwhelmingly the case that you did it playing other people’s music. Pub bands, pit bands, orchestras, church bands, function bands… Forming an originals band to make money was never smart, particularly under the old order where we had absolutely no control over how our music got heard. None. Now, it can all be ours. That’s fab! Making a living from your own music is what happens when you start earning enough for that to be the case… It’s a coincidence of talent, serendipity, help, culture, zeitgeist, luck, and hard work… Impossible to plan for in the strict sense, but you can shorten the odds on those things colliding…

      You said in a previous post response to me how the ‘old model’ was an illusion and how we were left feeling shortchanged by the ‘myth’. I certainly agree with that. Nowadays I feel almost a paralysis induced by the potential opportunities, simultaneously not knowing which avenues to explore whilst marvelling at the likes of you, who are clearly making it work. I know that sounds awfully sycophantic but it’s not meant to be, it’s just the way it is. I agree that the new community building tools that we have at our disposal are incredibly useful but they still require a skill to use properly as alluded to in your ’superstars desperate to look approachable’ comment. Simply, not everyone has the aptitude for it as per the much discussed ‘broadcast mode’.

      That’s really honest, thanks for posting it. I think a lot of people feel like you. Some of it comes from seeing an imagined destination, rather than exploring an open-ended journey. Some is just technophobia – there’s a whole lot of geek-stuff to be unpacked. Some is just good old fashioned unfamiliarity… Curiosity is an easier start point than trying to harness it all to reach a pre-imagined goal…

      Likewise I think you said somewhere that to have lots of listeners and no money is an ok place to be.

      …what I actually said is that having 10,000 fans and no money is an awesome problem to have to solve. It’s still a problem, but the potential in it is FAR greater than where we used to be where we were 100K in the hole to recording and marketing costs, and the record wasn’t even out yet… That’s a lot of ground to make up before you break even!!

      …if fans willingly take the free downloads but neglect the paid content, what’s going on there? It’s a rhetorical question, the answers numerous, maybe the paid content just isn’t worth it, it could be anything but I think that that essential point is what everyone’s frightened of/trying to get their head around.

      I value listeners. I love it if people take the time to listen. If people download my music and don’t listen, neither of us have lost anything. If they do download it and listen, they’ve invested in me. The initial investment is time. The percentage game kicks in, and a certain percentage are going to go nuts over it, some are going to hate it, others are going to like it as background music etc… If I’m in conversation with them, or at least am available for conversation with them, we can have a conversation about value. I can give them the opportunity to contribute. I don’t know about you, but I’m REALLY greatful to people who make the music that I love for making it, and am happy to pay them. I don’t feel any obligation to people who make ‘OK’ music, or people who force their music on me – I’m going to blog more about the biggest problem of the webosphere for music – the notion that the evolutionary model is ‘the survival of the pushiest’ – that’s bollocks. I’m only interested in hearing awesome music. The filters I have in place are such that I am utterly overwhelmed with incredible music to listen to. I just can’t keep up. I have very little time for following links to stuff foisted on me by eager people who I have no reference for… Which is great for me, but is a problem for them if they see me as a ‘market’ rather than someone to talk to. If the initial value to both of us in talking is conversational, no-one’s lost. There’s no struggle over trying to ‘make’ someone hear our music. We just make it available, be interesting, and see what happens.

      And at some point down the line, we may find that we’re consistently making a coupla grand a month and can give up the day job… Or not. 🙂

      Really great thoughts, thanks so much for posting. I’m humbled by the time you guys have all taken to make the blog post infinitely more useful as a conversation that it was on its own.

    • Brenda K

      Hello Inky,

      I’m a new Steve Lawson devotee, and your comment to this post hit a nerve with me on several levels, particularly the feeling of non-specified dread overtaking me now two years into turning myself inside-out trying to figure out how to effectively promote my original instrumental project with painfully underwhelming results while the costs continue to mount up. I’ve latched onto Steve because he is an instrumentalist doing something I find musically interesting, and because he seems to have a good grip on how to make a viable go of this and generously shares his wisdom with all who will listen. (Thank you Steve!)

      I also strongly empathize with the paralysis from being faced with the overwhelming array of available opportunities along with the stupefying amount of information to digest as to how to best exploit them, and being only one person, can only proceed at the pace that traffic will bear. You also touched on my general sense that being a musician nowadays apparently has precious little if anything to do with being a musician per se, and virtually everything to do with having or manufacturing a personality that would logically form the nucleus of a personality cult (I am starting off with that box clearly ticked “No!”), and driving oneself insane trying to figure out how to use all these new techie gadgets and gizmos to reach people who we hope might like our music.

      About the physical CD vs download or link, I think that’s an “old school” type of thing. This download culture doesn’t resonate with me at all, and I prefer hard copy CDs, at least at this point. Perhaps its because I’m a musician and our recording credits are the equivalent of tear sheets for models? What happens to liner notes and recording credits in digital downloads? Is that information simply not given anymore, or is there just a different means of capturing it now that I haven’t yet heard of? Perhaps my attitude would change if I had some effective means in hand of coping with downloads. At the present time, it just seems like an awful lot of bother to have to download tracks to my computer in my home office, and then burn them to a CD (which still has to be labeled and packed in some sort of protective covering w/identification on it) to go play on our stereo in the living room.

      While thinking through the thought provoking questions Steve asked in this post, it suddenly struck me that I am the epitome of the reason why current music doesn’t sell, and thence I don’t relate to this whole process very well. In fact, I just now realized that the biggest problem I am having in promoting our music is that I am having to learn how to individually connect with people who are very different from me. I guess another structural adjustment is in order…..As I read over what I just wrote, I now feel like I have been literally erasing my own psyche for the sake of taking on this obstreperous monster of promoting Chi and my music!

      Cheers,

      Brenda K
      @PanacheBrendaK
      http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/

      • inkysmudge

        Hi Brenda K,

        Lovely to meet you and thank you for your thoughts. It goes without saying, I hear you. ‘Erasing my own psyche’ – there’s great lyric in that!

        I was talking to an old work colleague at the weekend and she was asking me how my adventure was going. We had talked many times before about ‘fortune favouring the brave’ and the difference between people who take risks and those that don’t. Both of us were in the latter camp. Now I am a little less so. In trying to articulate to her how it came to pass that I decided to jump, I said that it just got to the point that the alternative became intolerable. Circumstances played a massive part (my mum died just over a year ago and a little bit of money came my way) and having no real ties, I could not, as I told my boss, justify to myself why I came to work every day.

        The thing is, deciding to try and pursue a creative endeavour ‘as a living’ is not a rational decision, though clearly it should be. I think, without sounding like a pretentious twat, that creatives brains are just wired differently. I told her that the problem for me is, if I have a moment when I suddenly need to work on something, then I have to do it, as the potential for where it may take me creatively (and this is the game changer for a lot of people) is ‘more important than anything else’. In past relationships this has certainly been a problem! I wrote a lyric years ago in my last band ‘if you want the life you know it will cost you’ and I just didn’t realise at the time how prescient that was heh, heh, heh.

        The thing I’m realising more every day (thinking back to you alluding to erasing your psyche and personality cults etc), and, thinking of how @Steve conducts himself on here and elsewhere, is that I have to be me. Without artifice or trying to make myself more interesting than I am.

        Given the nature of social media (which I am still incredibly uncomfortable with) I told myself that I have to get past my natural inclinations (read: not a joiner) and just get on with the work. If I want people to hear my stuff (even if they’re to reject it) I have to put myself out there. Another friend of mine (a bit spiritually intuitive and psychic bless her) told me that my mum would not have wanted me to live my life in fear, as she had done. With that ringing in my ears, I just cracked on and made decisions to allow me to immerse myself. As I said, I’ve tried the alternative and I nearly lost it.

        My old self would have just gone round and round the list of ‘what ifs’ but in the end I figured that I would be dead in 50 years regardless so I might as well try and have some fun while I’m here.

        I don’t worry about trying to be cool or relevant or any of that stuff. Besides which, in my own head my music sounds like Michael Stipe singing for Van Halen after they spent the day listening to Pink Floyd and watching John Hughes films. I’d be fighting a losing battle on that score 😉

        Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine. Whether I’ll be able to sustain myself who knows, it’s what this little journey is all about. All I know is that I would not be able to forgive myself if I didn’t at least try……I could get hit by a bus tomorrow 😉

  • Steve thack

    Last.fm was great for sharing. Same some twat at last made changes that buggered that one. Apparently for the unsigned acts ability to play individ tracks is going to return. Thinking of links i have posted on face book, no real pattern :music that excites, music by artists that have previously excited friends. You tube videos embed nicely which beats posting a link. Miriam’s free downloads last year worked well think i posted a few links to them. Most likely to post to tell a story – this is the great band i saw last night kind of post. Or topical songs, england half english went on my wall for st george’s day. Bit of the imagined village for may day. Etc. Ok half my recent posts prob been for bands i’ve organised gigs for – though i’m as likely to do that after a gig as before. Rare to send links to individuals without good reason. Far as purchase goes i’m pretty random. Some albums i still feel i need to own, others i feel need to hear a few times and if that costs quid or two so be it. Some albums are more a spur of the mo thing which is prob more likely after couple of pints at a gig but does happen on line or even in shops. ( Though these days i can spend an hour in hmv with gift vouchers and still leave with nothing. Don’t stock most of what i want and over price what i do) of recent purchases rachel taylor beales is most likely to be shouted about. Because album is bloody magic, she is a nice person who needs the publicity and a number of my friends have seen her or own the good but not fantastic first album and would appreciate me plugging new album. Now question of who’s links i bother to click on that depends on how much time i have and how big my to listen pile is (literal or virtual) steve’s links are always top quality but totally random on genre . So i’d have to be in that mood to try anything. Other friends consistent on genre or i know will only be sharing if artist is a friend – so if i like the tune good chance of finding decent local gig.

  • Steve thack

    Merchandise – i like a nicely packaged cd. Dvd s i rarely buy, more likely live gig Dvd as a christmas pres but they don’t get watched enough to justify the spend. T shirts i have more than enough so it had better be very well designed , a band i really love and even then prob not if my wife is at the gig acting as voice of reason. 🙂 At the mo your likely to see me in event t shirts . Oh and my much loved levellers hoodie. Can’t think of band shirt i wear – steve earle but thats a proper shirt. 🙂 other merch can’t think of any that hasn’t been packaged with an album. ( Ok odd item but not bought myself) very selective who’s name i want on my chest and half the folks i would i ‘ve either not seen live in years ( mike scott) or are too small to do shirts – though not sure if wearing someones face on my chest feels right when i’m on a first name basis with someone anyway.

  • Will

    An interesting question is What is it about music that would make us want to allow people to pay what they want, even free, as opposed to buying a book on Amazon or walking into any store?

    If we want people to listen to our music why is it that we want performance royalties when someone plays it? Do authors get paid when someone reads their book out loud?

    I currently think that pay what you want, even free works because of the ‘reciprocity’ rule. Given the choice to get something for free or pay, we will often feel bad and pay for it. Because the seller is giving us a choice of free we feel the need to reciprocate. And in the case of bandcamp you usually need to provide your email address so you wouldn’t want to download something for free because it’s not completely anonymous. And many smaller bands music can’t really be found on the torrent sites.

  • Steve

    If we want people to listen to our music why is it that we want performance royalties when someone plays it?

    Is it ‘want’ or ‘expect’? I know that some people expect it, but tell most musicians that BBC Radio Newcastle played a track of theirs and their first reaction is delight, not a question about whether or not it fell on a sample day and what the rate is for regional airplay at that time of day? 🙂

    The industry (and to a large extent the MU) has set up expectations about how, where and why we should get paid for our music. I think our instincts lie elsewhere…

    Your point about reciprocity is well-made. And it’s in the personal nature of the transaction that the value lies – we do it because we’re getting it direct from the artist. It probably wouldn’t work for iTunes to suddenly switch. It’s to impersonal.

    Bandcamp works because you’re getting it from me, no mediators.

  • Cath

    OK, perhaps a little of topic but not by much. If we look at full streams of tunes on the likes of Bandcamp and think of this as sharing the music with the hope of a sale down the road somewhere in the back of our minds, then what does one think when someone says:

    “if people can listen to the whole thing, then they have no motivation to purchase it.

    streaming is viable if it’s on a subscription basis, if there is advertising revenue being generated, or if it is being used to generate new fans etc.

    Given that he is in the business of selling musical ‘widgets’, there is no value to him, or us as artists, in giving them away.”

    Here of course the term ‘widget’ means CD or download.

    I’m becoming very confused between the arguement for allowing full streaming and only allowing 30 sec clips.

    Yours bewilderdly,

    Cath

    • Steve

      OK, perhaps a little of topic but not by much. If we look at full streams of tunes on the likes of Bandcamp and think of this as sharing the music with the hope of a sale down the road somewhere in the back of our minds, then what does one think when someone says:

      “if people can listen to the whole thing, then they have no motivation to purchase it.

      I just don’t think that’s how people work – if I get to hear things in full, I buy the ones I like. I quite often don’t listen all the way through before making the decision, but having the option to is good. An embedded (fairly low res) stream of an album is never going to be an alternative to a paid download for something you want to listen to more than twice… and if you do only want to listen to it twice, there’s no way that most people are going to fork out £5 for the privilege… I’d rather they discovered that they didn’t like my music that much and went and spent it on music that they do love…

      With Preston’s album, I did listen to it all online. It was playing away in the background while I was doing things, and I got to the end, realised I’d loved every second and was happy to pay for it. I’ll be back for more too…

      “…streaming is viable if it’s on a subscription basis, if there is advertising revenue being generated, or if it is being used to generate new fans etc…”

      Ad revenue on streams is so infinitesimally small that it’s a TOTAL red-herring for an artist the size of Preston. He might get lucky on Youtube and have a viral hit (I’m sure it’s happened to a degree already) but you’re still talking about a coupla hundred quid for a few MILLION plays, and even then it’s only if you’ve got a premium account and are able to claim the royalties… That’s not where the value is in a few million people hearing you is – ask Andy McKee whether the exposure was worth more than the royalties for him 🙂

      Listen on demand works because there’s no reason not to allow it. If I can’t hear it, I’m not going to pay big money to find out whether I like it or not, I’m just going to spend my money elsewhere and wonder why the person selling it wouldn’t let me hear it!

      “Given that he is in the business of selling musical ‘widgets’, there is no value to him, or us as artists, in giving them away.”

      Here of course the term ‘widget’ means CD or download.

      CDs and downloads are completely different – CDs are artifact, download is just music. They mean different things to the person buying (see comments above about the relationship between physical product and ‘event’). I sell CDs at gigs of music freely available on my site. I still sell CDs on my site via a button right next to a button where someone could just get the download for free. I make WAY more money now than I ever have from downloads, and all if it is not only listenable for free, but downloadable for free…

      I’m becoming very confused between the arguement for allowing full streaming and only allowing 30 sec clips.

      …well, it’s only my opinion and experience, but I’d NEVER go back to 30 second clips. The most important process in someone connecting with me and my music is listening, not buying. Buying happens because they want it, not in case they might… I didn’t buy Preston’s music on a whim… if it had been a pound for the album, I might have taken a punt and not bothered listening. Any more than that, and I want to hear it.

      There’s also a whole side to this that’s about environment… I still get people buying my music on iTunes, despite it being lower res and more costly than it is on my site… they’re just more comfortable there…

      • Cath

        I’m hearing you Steve, I got blindsided if I’m to be honest by an email from what we could possibly call the ‘old guard’. And you’re right, I’ve only bought CDs because I’ve been able to listen in advance.

        As for Andy and youtube, yes, I’m hearing that too, but eventually we’ll have a seat and a pint and I’ll explain why I think that could have come to nothing if it weren’t for the timing of a team who arrived on time and we’re thankfully for Andy able to take advantage and build on it. I’ll ask him next time I see him, but I’m quite sure the old system hasn’t quite gone away, in certain cases it’s been smart enough to take advantage of the new ways.

        • Steve

          Oh, I’m sure Andy’s story is way more complex than that makes out! 🙂 And I’m sure whatever help he got was vital to him capitalising on the fame… that’s why the various bits of the ‘old’ industry are still needed – organisation, infrastructure, scale.. they don’t vanish, they just don’t ‘own’ us anymore. But the sold out audiences that Andy’s playing to who’ve watched the Drifting video a hundred times are pure viral 🙂

          • Cath

            But isn’t that part of the equation we all forget about when we talk of the ‘level playing field’ of the net. Yes, we are not any longer the captives of the major labels (she says with a little bile rising given that 4 of Prestons cds are still in the vaults), but what about the other side that we never discuss, how to put that team together, how to break through into a world that is still run and protected by the old boys club.. or am I being completely cynical?

  • Will

    Sites like bandcamp come and go so it’s best not to rely on them too much. I don’t really need bandcamp to sell my music, I can sell it on my own website with free/paid wordpress plugins that I control (I currently sell guitar lessons with wishlist plugin on my own domain/website). The pay what you want feature isn’t easily found right now. So many sites go under so no one should depend on any one site, and they usually take a cut.
    The other issue is that the emails you collect are also stored in bandcamp. Many times when a site goes under, you might be able to export the emails, but often this requires another double-opt in email send to each subscriber, so it’s a pain to have to migrate.
    We can look at the recent decision of Ning to start charging people who were getting something for free. People are now having to migrate their content/profiles, etc to another site.

    • Steve

      Bandcamp is, I can assure you, doing just fine. I just hope they start charging soon – I *want* to pay them for their service. It’s amazing.

      I’ve used all kinds of ecommerce packages, most of them self-hosted. None that were as elegant as Bandcamp. I keep an up to date export of my emails from there, but I’m not about to stop using the best download management service I’ve EVER come across because it might one day not exist…

      I would hope, given the support for that kind of service, that should Bandcamp ever go under, someone would come along pretty damn quick with a similar alternative…

      But until their failure becomes likely, I’m sticking with it 🙂

  • Steve thack

    Cath raised question of 30 second samples v full streaming. Personally as a listener i usually have half a dozen new names i’m meaning to check out, if one is only offering track samples it ain’t going to get heard. Simple. Samples may work to give established fans a pre release taster of a project. But for people to discover music they are useless. Maybe i’m spoilt with too much good music but a band could be doing a free gig on my door step and i’d still need find a couple of full tracks on line first to make my mind up.

    • Cath

      So Steve, what you’re saying is that full streams allows you to do some quality control, makes perfect sense.

  • Steve

    @Cath

    But isn’t that part of the equation we all forget about when we talk of the ‘level playing field’ of the net. Yes, we are not any longer the captives of the major labels (she says with a little bile rising given that 4 of Prestons cds are still in the vaults), but what about the other side that we never discuss, how to put that team together, how to break through into a world that is still run and protected by the old boys club.. or am I being completely cynical?

    It is really important stuff to talk about for sure. The reason I don’t is that a) I’ve never needed any of it, and I *try* as much as possible to talk about what actually works for me, rather than wild speculative stuff… But I could perhaps break down the parts of what I do that are assignable to other people…

    and b) it’s because so few bands are in the position where they need that – it’s still a thing that *most* musicians get into speculatively – they get a deal or an agent based on the possibility of gigs, not because they have too many gigs for themselves to handle any more… I’m far more interested in bands taking it as far as they can on their own, just so it remains sustainable, and THEN getting the help they need, than I am in encouraging musicians to build a team based on the outside chance that they’ll one day be able to pay them.

    If you’re already in a band, you have 3, 4, 5 or more people who can take on roles (no, I clearly have no time at all for musicians who say all they want to do is play… If it’s even a part time job, you do what the job requires, lots of which is not playing… 🙂 )

    For a solo artist like Preston or I, you may need help at an earlier stage, and a manager can prove to be a REALLY smart relationship to build early on, especially one who can multitask (live sound engineer, web/poster/flyer/merch design, etc.)

    But it’s all up in the air, we can build teams based on what ‘we’ need, rather than having to take what we’re given with the record deal that was needed to even get close to recording…

    Artists who used to be on labels can often have the toughest time, as you say, with labels hanging on to albums long after they themselves have stopped doing anything to promote/exploit them… But that’s a whole other question!

    • Cath

      Yes, once upon a time… a label was the only way, thankfully as you say it’s not the only way now. However there are difficulites in finding people who can “do what is says on the tin” when putting a team together as you need it (a pick n mix system). As for stuff being locked into vaults, I’ve had some very odd phone conversations. What ever happened to the ‘use it or loose it’ that was to be heard of not so long ago.. must go have a look

  • Tim Hall

    Suppose I’m honour-bound to respond here after I derailed Steve with a long discussion with a drummer inside Facebook’s walled garden…

    * Who’s getting it right?

    I’m not sure I can really answer that question; I’m not sure there’s enough evidence (yet) on what works and what doesn’t. I can think of one or two bands who are getting it wrong, though.

    * Whose music do you share most with your friends, and how to do you share it?

    Tends to be the incestuous scene of British prog bands. Used to use last.fm quite a bit until they bollixed it up and removed full track streaming. Use YouTube sometimes, but I’m aware that one band (who I’m not going to name) are very, very anti YouTube, probably mistakenly. I don’t see it as my job as a fan to tell them how to run their business, but I’m concerned that they seem to be getting it wrong. Has signed up to mFlow, but so far it’s proving a bit of a dead loss as far as having much of the music I want to share on it. Finally, I do sometimes burn sampler CDs to give to friends.

    * What entertainment media (physical or digital) have you paid the most for over the last couple of years?

    Live performances. Last few years I’ve averaged 30+ gigs a year, and spent far more than on recorded music. Recorded music tend to be CDs rather than downloads, and the majority are bought direct from the bands (I buy a *lot* of pre-orders before the music’s even be recorded, or in some cases written).

    * What kind of band merch are you most likely to buy?

    CDs, but I have an overflowing wardrobe of band t-shirts as well.

    • Cath

      Tim, you’ve possibly answered two of my questions…’not enough evidence yet’ and, not so much answerd the question but asked the important one, who and how do you share music with?.. it’s the latter I’m trying to figure out, and so far without much success. that’s the one I’m having a nervous breakdown over…

  • Suzanne Lainson

    While the old system (e.g., labels, royalties to songwriters, exposure via radio) wasn’t perfect, we did understand it.

    In this new world, we haven’t really figured out a path to success. There’s no clear cut “If you do A, you’ll get to B, which will get you to C.” Now you can get tons of exposure online, have lots of fans, and still not have anyone spending any money on you.

    But making money in music isn’t really an issue if there is some way to pay your bills. Generating an income of some sort from somewhere is really the bigger issue for both musicians and artists in general. Music and arts are often activities people are willing to do for free, so if we have some way for them to support themselves and still have time for creativity, then it is less important whether or not those creative acts are directly earning money.

    We’ve been trying to jump through hoops looking for music-related activities to generate money for musicians. Maybe we should focus more on how everyone in a community can make a living, and then let the music sort itself out as it will.

    • Cath

      Suzanne, the first two paragraphs I completely understood, but the next bit ‘but making money in music isn’t really an issue if there is some way to pay your bills… etc. ? I’m sorry, that bit loses me completely.. the idea of ‘letting the music sort itself out as it will’ ? Looses me even further. What if you’re an artist who’s profession is music? There are men and women out there that have spent the last 30 to 50 years and some newer ones who’s (this might sound odd) path in life is to be a musician, so there isn’t ‘another income stream available’ it isn’t a ‘part time job’ ‘hobby’ or otherwise. What do we say to these people?

      • Brenda K

        Bless your heart, Cath, you just hit it right on the head here! In fact, your post literally made me cry. That is the exact situation with my husband (and music partner) Chi! He has been a career musician/instrumentalist/composer ever since he was 15, and really can’t do anything else. I on the other hand have been both a pro musician that also composes and arranges, and also aggressively developed a “Plan B” skill set/career path since by the time I was getting ready to graduate from university into a hideous economic recession, making a viable go of it as a freelance violinist wasn’t looking overly promising. It’s been insanely depressing relocating from Tokyo where we met and began working together to my hometown of San Diego, and after a thoroughly degrading experience there, fled as economic refugees up to L.A., and not even being able to get him a job in a freaking bar band!

        It is an absolute travesty to watch a player and composer of his brilliance and originality just sitting in the house rotting away and mentally disintegrating before my eyes while I drive myself frantic trying to make it work with our project with 40+ hours per week tied up in a day job to support the household. Thank you also for bringing up the reality that there is a class of musicians who have devoted their entire lives and education to learning to play instruments proficiently and interpret music masterfully and compose as well. That doesn’t allow for much of an alternate career, especially when the bottom falls out when they’re in their 40’s or older!

        Best wishes,

        Brenda K
        @PanacheBrendaK
        http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/

  • Suzanne Lainson

    The way music is evolving, I’m not sure most people can do it without a day job. Yes, there are music-related jobs that generate money (e.g., teaching, playing weddings, being on salary at a church or in a symphony). But for most musicians, they need that day job and probably never will survive without it. And most of those day jobs aren’t music-related.

    So I think if we accept the idea that music doesn’t pay a living wage for most of the people who want to do it, we can deal with the realities.

    • Cath

      Suzanne, that response has left me speechless, teaching, playing weddings or being on a salary at a church or in a symphony, all of which need extreemly different and highly evolved skills (apart from maybe the salary at a church, my brother played every Sunday as part of the folk youth group, no salary involved). The idea that playing music doesn’t pay a living wage (or won’t ever) may work for people who love to jam in a band for the joy of it, or for those people that decade after decade keep traditional music alive purely because they love and belive in it. But a statement like that in relation to people who compose their own music, push the bar of what’s been before, it just doesn’t stack up. It’s a profession and one that needs to not only to have a bar (imposed by it’s own quality) but be recognised no matter what genre, instrument, time. We cannot and should not accept the idea theat music doesn’t pay a living wage, ever. If we do, we’re on the slipery road to nowhere, pay to play, the $ is king.

      • Suzanne Lainson

        This blog post is about sharing your music and then hoping people will pay you something. The concept does work for professions where tipping is the norm or where there is a community built around donations (like church). I think it works best when there is face-to-face contact between donor and recipient.

        Kickstarter has expanded the concept a bit. There isn’t face-to-face contact, but there is a personal online exchange between donor and recipient.

        When it is a matter of selling music online where there isn’t a personal exchange, I don’t think the pay-what-you-want model will work as well.

        If we don’t have that, what else do we have? Musicians can sell merchandise and they can also sell live performances. The issue I have with merchandise is that if this is the primary way to generate money, the musician is actually in the “stuff” selling business rather than in music business.

        As for live music, yes there is a direct connection between music and income. The primarily limitation here is that there are fewer venues than there are people wanting to play them. So often there is competition to get those slots.

        Using non-traditional music venues, like playing in homes, schools, churches, etc. is a good idea. And it harkens back to the day when traveling musicians would play in exchange for a meal and a place to sleep. I can see that. But again, it’s not a lifestyle that works for everyone who wants to make music.

        Personally I like the idea of fans going to shows and continuing to buy physical CDs. It’s a very direct connection between music creation and supporting the artist. I also like the idea of towns supporting their local musicians because the musicians enrich the community.

        But I see so many people making music that I know the system can’t support them all as full-time musicians. It isn’t always about talent. Sometimes average musicians who are very social and/or great at marketing make more money than those who have great musical skill, but no social skills or no marketing team.

        Rather than trying to figure out who “deserves” to make the most money in music, I’m suggesting that if we aren’t tying music creation with income, but we are helping people make an income, then the music will get made, it will find audiences, and we won’t have starving musicians.

        • Brenda K

          Hi Suzanne,

          Your thoughtful posts made me stop and think at length.

          One issue at play here is that the term “professional musician” is an oxymoron given that playing music has never been a viable way to earn a living, as you rightly pointed out. As best I can tell, the only thing that has ever lent sustainability to a career as a composer or performer is the rise of the film industry just a few short decades ago, and all the opportunities it created for syncing music to films, as well as providing a steady supply of jobs to session players to record the soundtracks. Session players of course didn’t benefit from the ongoing royalty income, but at least it gave orchestra players an additional income stream so we could earn a humanly decent living. The bottom has fallen out of that too since recording of soundtracks has recently been moved offshore to China and central Europe, and the L.A. session cats are feeling the pain. That’s been the buzz around Local 47 here in Lala-land the past couple years.

          That said, the same thing happens in other industries as well, and pretty much the same thing happens to the workers in those other industries who don’t evolve their skill sets to keep up with changing technology and market trends. However I think what most musicians are feeling is that given the historically important role of music and the arts in uplifting human civilization (as opposed to simply manufacturing widgets), it ought to have some inherent value, and that value has been strip-mined out of it in a variety of ways, leaving the public with the perception that music is just another ubiquitous and disposable commodity that doesn’t cost anything to compose or record or perform.

          Basically we are left with a situation in which a whole class of people – career musicians (oxymoron aside) – are left flopping around gasping for breath like fish stranded on the shore, and the current dialog is telling us that if we want to live, we will just have to grow lungs and sprout legs or wings since the ocean we used to be swimming has reduced down to a mud puddle. In that case, the million dollar question is “Who is willing to go through the pain and effort to metamorphose into something completely different from what they are in order to survive?” Responding to your post compelled me to think more deeply about my comment to InkySmudge’s post above where I said I felt like I have been having to erase my own psyche in the process of trying to make our original project viable. I just realized that that sense of psychic erasure represents what I am going through trying to fight against and overcome my my basic nature and essence in order to become something I am not, never have been, and have no particular interest in being. The whole thing has so far just left me with an epic headache!

          For what it’s worth, I feel exactly the same as you about the merch thing, i.e., going into the “stuff-making business” which is why I haven’t yet done anything with that end of it, but it seems to be yet another thing I have to do.

          Best,

          Brenda K
          @PanacheBrendaK
          http://fiddlerchick.wordpress.com/

  • inkysmudge

    @Steve – now look what you’ve done opening this can of worms. Thanks for your response, I’ll try to keep my rambles shorter in future 😉

    @Suzanne & @Cath – reading you two was like hearing the two voices in my head. It is actually very comforting to know I’m not the only one trying to figure it out.

    I have tried the day job and ‘making music as a hobby’ thing for a long time. Then it got to the point where I was unable to concentrate at work and so on and so forth. Then my mum passed away and that triggered the whole ‘what am I doing?’ thing that these events often do. Long story short I resigned from the day job but they offered me a year’s sabbatical instead and here I am 5 months in, tinkering away. The net result is that I’m happier than I’ve been in about 15 years but, as David Gray sang once (something like) ‘what you gonna do when the money runs out’…..

    That’s why I’m always hassling @Steve for advice, both practical and ideological, regarding life as a musician and God bless him for taking the time out to engage.

    @Cath – if, like me, the idea of the day job is 40 hours a week of your life that you consider wasted then I hear you.

    @Suzanne – however, me being a Sagittarian (blunt, tactless etc!) I absolutely love your direct reality check. What am I going to do ‘when the money runs out?’ For me, I keep in mind the memory of waking up and vomiting at the prospect of going to work, not because there was anything wrong with the company or people I worked with but because, I just wasn’t interested. Bad for me and bad for them.

    As sappy as it sounds, I feel more alive pursuing my ‘passion’ than I have done in years which is its own problem in a way. How do you go back?

    Cardboard box under London Bridge, I’ll be with you shortly 😉

    • Suzanne Lainson

      I’ve been a writer and it’s a career that has been hit by the Internet as much or more than music has. Magazines (those that still exist) are not paying more than they did 30 years ago, and often less. Book advances are smaller. Etc.

      I’ve always tried to talk people out of becoming writers. It’s a low paying career for most people.

      But the thing about creative fields is that many people do them because they MUST. It’s not a rational choice. So if I try to tell you all the reasons you shouldn’t expect to make a living as a writer or a musician or an actor or an artist and you still want to do it, God bless you.

      If you pursue it as your passion, and if you know the odds against making much money from it, then what success you do achieve will feel great. Do it because you love it, be realistic about what you can accomplish, and then you won’t be disappointed with the outcome. It will be tough and there will be sacrifices, but as long as you know that, then you can plan accordingly.

    • Cath

      Inkysmudge, I fell into the music business ten years ago, quite by accident (I’m supposedly the business side), Preston is the music side. I worried till I made myself ill about how I was going to adjust to this non 9 to 5, no secure pay packet life, but if I’d worried too much about that, I’d never have been able to leap over the cliff edge. Belief got me to jump and it hasn’t always been a soft landing, but we’re still here. Here’s something you might like to have a read of http://gapingvoid.com/books/

      • inkysmudge

        Indeed, I bought Ignore Everybody last year having seen Derek Sivers mention it. I enjoyed it thoroughly, except the part about ‘keep the day job’ obviously…….so I ignored him as well 😉

        • Cath

          That made me laugh, very witty 🙂 , I did think as I pressed ‘submit’ oh no I should have said ignore that bit about the day job!

        • Suzanne Lainson

          One thing that is good about taking the plunge is that you will know what it is like. If you decide that it isn’t working out or you don’t want to do it anymore, then you will at least have a sense of closure.

          I recommend that people who want full-time careers in music to give it a try when they have no family depending on them and no major bills to pay (like a mortgage).

          Once people have kids, they need to think about their interests as well. If musicians are always traveling to support their careers, is that going to work out for the kids?

          Also, in the US at least, health insurance becomes a factor. Health insurance isn’t too expensive for a healthy single young adult, but add a pregnant wife and/or kids and it becomes quite expensive, which leads people to give up a life as a self-employed musician and take on a day job with health benefits.

          • inkysmudge

            I agree totally Suzanne. I think many ‘hobbyists’ for want of a better term (and I included myself in that prior to trying to do what I’m doing now) probably have some idealised vision in their head. That’s not to say that vision had to include private jets, mansions and global adoration, for me it was more prosaic – simply – ‘if I’m going to spend 40/50/60 hrs per week working it’s got to be something I care about’. I tried the other way for 15 years and it made me ill 😉

            But, I prefer reality. I needed to know:

            1. What it’s like to spend all day working on something I think is great, that other people can dismiss out of hand.
            2. How much it costs for me to go and play in the US, Australia, Scotland, France, Belgium & Germany.
            3. Will the travel get boring.
            4. Will I get cabin fever/writer’s block/be distracted/waste time.
            5. Will I earn any money.
            6. Will I end up no longer passionate about my passion.

            All these things are what I’m learning about now because the time to do it is if you have no real ties. In the end, as you say, at least I will know because the ‘ but what if I really applied myself’ internal monologue became a torture of sorts. And then I’d end up regretting a life I only thought I could’ve had 😉

  • Kevin Hewick

    I regard myself first and foremost as a musician but I don’t earn enough to live on from that, I have to support that with a ‘day job’. That seems to cloud my status, it’s always said to me oh it’s good you have a hobby/a passion like it’s an amateur thing – in fact in physical time it’s all the time and yes, it ‘bleeds’ into my day job, I’m always scribbling down lyric ideas taking music related calls on my mobile/answering related texts etc but ssh about that lol.. somehow people with demands like jobs, kids, debts etc still make music of a standard of ‘established acts’ if not better with a fraction of the resources.

    This really is the age of small is beautiful but so much that is beautiful is hidden from a public fed the same couple of dozen tracks on rotation on their local radio station.. that’s just life I guess but what a shame it is.

    However we can but try to find ways – I’m helping to put together a three day festival of (non churchy) music in our local church for example, and this summer my band will baffle and beguile at village fetes, micro festivals and charity benefits, getting something over to people who don’t normally get to hear our kind of thing. It IS all about the music in the end, and we are both wandering minstrals and rockstars in our minds lol.. the biz end I’m not so good at, that’s where my dreams need help or I’d still be twanging on a tennis racket in my bedroom!

  • Steve

    @Cath @Suzanne,

    thanks very much for engaging with the topic in such an impassioned fashion. It really helps to illuminate just what it is we’re talking about.

    The first thing we need to make sure to avoid is comparing non-likes as though they were the same. So looking at one person’s experience and mapping it to an entire industry, or looking at what people ‘earned’ without looking at what it ‘cost’, or talking about careers without considering the length of employment of most musicians…

    The biggest confusion is the idea that music is a chosen career – it can’t be, unless you actually take up an appointed position within a going business concern, as in a seat in an orchestra, a position in a gigging well paid covers band or whatever… Being brilliant has never mapped to a guaranteed salary, and working hard previously would only shorten the odds on you being a success.

    So there is no ‘right’ to employment, only the opportunity to understand the culture, communities and prevailing economic climate in order to weigh up how best to connect the music we love with an audience who share our passion for it, and then to do so in a way that means we can keep doing it year on year. I don’t think the ultimate aim is always to be ‘full time’. I even think that a lot of people who talk about wanting to be ‘full time musicians’ don’t actually mean that they are ready and willing for the kind of life that one takes on when that happens.

    So here it seems we have Suzanne’s attempt at grasping the paradigm shift (with some wistful nostalgia for a previous system that I don’t think ever existed in any meaningful way) contrasted with Cath’s very real fears and concerns dealing with the day to day career of a musician who does make all his money from playing, and understandably wants to continue to do so (while hopefully making enough to also pay the support team that makes it possible…)

    And as I say at the end of the post, I think it all makes sense not in some abstract conversation about shifting business models, but in direct relationship with ones listeners. People who fall in love with your music aren’t going to be trying to rip you off. People who don’t know who you are, and see you as part of ‘The Man’ are going to see if they can get round paying for anything that’s put behind a paywall. But they don’t matter – anyone trying to get your music for free to prove a point is not a serious consideration in this discussion. It’s like the BPI/RIAA worrying about college kids downloading 70,000 songs and seeing it as seven grand in lost earnings. That’s insane, because the vast majority of those songs will go unheard, the next largest chunk will be listened to once and forgotten, and the ones they listen to over and over again are very often the ones they’ve paid out good money for, and will continue to pay good money for to go and see live.

    Likewise, if I have 100,000 downloads but 80,000 of those remain unheard or listened to once, that’s less listeners in real terms that I’d get on a local radio show. It’s not even close to being worth worrying about. None of those are lost sales, because people don’t buy music to let it sit there unlistened to… It happens occasionally due to circumstance, but it’s very rare for people to intentionally stockpile bought CDs for later listening…

    So if we’re comparing like with like, the massive accumulation of MP3s is analogous to radio listening practices, not a challenge to CD sales. I’d go so far as to say that the games industry is a far bigger challenge to CD sales than free downloads.

    So, how do we get past that? We make the act of downloading a significant one. It’s not generic in the sense of copying a friend’s harddrive, or grabbing a massive torrent of stuff from BitTorrent. It’s an action that requires people to come into our space, and gives them the chance to pay. I don’t see it as a ‘tip jar’ at all (clearly not if, like many people do with Bandcamp, the streaming from the the site is there but the downloads are paid)… It’s a totally different kind of interaction, and if it comes AFTER the person has made contact with me, the chances of them understanding the opportunity to be a part of me paying the bills, of them supporting my music financially, but also by telling their friends… So the relationship is where it makes sense, not as an extension/alteration of a massively expensive, creatively prohibitive, ultra-mediated business model that was built on the scarcity and chargeability of a physical product…

    Does that make any sense? 🙂

  • Suzanne Lainson

    I know a lot of musicians who have had varying degrees of financial success. They are all talented, but don’t all make the same amount of money from music. The major label system has rewarded some of them extremely well. While they haven’t necessarily made money from the labels themselves, they have made lots of money from royalties as songwriters and from getting to play arenas around the country. Of course, I also know some who have been signed to major labels but they didn’t get the same promotional push and they didn’t end up with much worldwide visibility.

    I also know some musicians who have done well following the jamband model. They put out their own albums and they build their fanbases by non-stop touring. Some have done better than others, but they all are on the road many days of the year. So it isn’t doable unless you like that lifestyle.

    And then I also know others who stay mostly local or regional. The one I know who made very good money did it by playing about 200 shows a year and also selling about 3000 CDs a year for $15 each. She couldn’t have done it without those CD sales.

    I know another who was very popular on the college circuit and since those were paid gigs, she was making very good money from that. But few artists get booked to 100 college shows a year like she did, so it’s not an option for many. And she got really sick of traveling all the time. She just got married and has decided she doesn’t want to do it anymore.

    There are others who are very talented and try to do it, but just don’t quite generate as much money. Their fans don’t buy as many CDs. They can’t or won’t play 200 shows a year.

    So I have seen it all. It is extremely hard work. If you have a band, you have to generate much more money than if you are solo if you hope to have all band members make a living wage at this.