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What is a Million "Likes" Worth?
January 26, 2014 12:15 PM   Subscribe

The creators who can afford to work for free will be the same creators who have always worked for free: the very young, and the comfortably wealthy. At some point the young will not be young anymore and they will want and need the things that only money can buy: homes, food, health insurance. And while the comfortably wealthy have many valid things to say (and their wealth certainly shouldn’t be held against them) I personally believe that we need more voices than just the young and the rich.
posted by Kitteh (88 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is an entirely valid point, and I'm very happy to support artists directly. I practically open my wallet and throw wads of cash at Jonathan Coulton and Paul and Storm (see especially their recent and highly successful Kickstarter). I find myself increasingly reluctant though to pay my money into the artist-exploiting musical-industrial complex, so that the RIAA can pay musicians a pittance and spend the rest on lobbying for ever increasing police power over the internet. In my case, it means choosing to forgo those artists' work, but I'm not going to lose much sleep over those who choose directer methods.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:28 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Is there an equivalent to the Canada Music Fund in the U.S.? Should there be? (Not that I'm Canadian though sometimes I wish I were).
posted by jimmymcvee at 12:37 PM on January 26


I am liking Patreon, which lets you throw dollars at artists for the work they do. It's micro-patronage.

I recently backed the wonderful AssassinPrincess (previously, previously)and Cara Ellison of Rockpapershotgun, and it's satisfying feeling such a direct connection with helping them make cool stuff.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:38 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I was interested to find out how she was able to make a living from her music but I don't think it explains in the article.
posted by cell divide at 12:40 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


One frustrated musician from New Zealand wrote to me once to tell me that he had decided to only play live music, mostly busking on the street. He refused to record and release his music because of what he felt was an unfair sense of entitlement that the denizens of the internet had to his work. “People feel ownership over everything they can access with their computers.” he wrote, “I decided long ago to never put anything on the internet.”

This is an important point. I know of at least one niche magazine which closed down because its images would be scanned an posted "for free" online within days of publication and sales dropped below sustainability.

On the other hand, vendors are engaged in monitizing everything, and so doom is coming from the other direction, too. The creators and many consumers are trapped in the middle.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:47 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


i'm creating, i'm not young, nor am i comfortably wealthy - this idea that if you can't make a living from it that you're going to give up on it is a stupid one - you can be busily employed at an ordinary job and still find time to do music

if she doesn't want to do it if she doesn't get a living wage, that's her call

my call is to do it anyway
posted by pyramid termite at 12:48 PM on January 26 [14 favorites]


I was interested to find out how she was able to make a living from her music but I don't think it explains in the article.

If you click where it says "smart pop music" in the article, you'll see she makes a living in the way most "internet-savvy" artists, musical and otherwise, seem to these days: by pandering directly to nerds with a decent amount of disposable income. Witness song titles like "The Big Bang", "The Drake Equation" and "Sex, Drugs & Nuclear Physics".
posted by adecusatis at 12:49 PM on January 26 [12 favorites]


Ahah so that's what the 'smart' means. It's code for 'nerd'. It struck me as odd when I read it.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:51 PM on January 26


This is a nuanced issue and it will continue to change rapidly. There will be no cookie-cutter answer that works for all of us.

Socialism? Seems like a pretty straightforward answer to me.
posted by RogerB at 12:53 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


more and more artists will choose to no longer share their art in a world that places so little value on their work and their lives.

This is straight up bullshit, because she fundamentally misunderstands what art actually is. The significance of 'art' (especially pop music art) resides in the relationship it creates between the giver and receivers, and how they then collaborate to give it meaning. If she chooses not to 'share' her art it will not be art any more. As for valuing her life.... ?
posted by colie at 12:54 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


hey now Stellar Alchemist has a great beat AND teaches you about star development!

(disclaimer: I directed one of Kim's videos a while back).
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on January 26


(and their wealth certainly shouldn’t be held against them)

It is important we protect those who are randomly infected with afluenza because but for the grace of carefully constructed social and political barriers go we.
posted by srboisvert at 12:57 PM on January 26 [11 favorites]


I find myself increasingly reluctant though to pay my money into the artist-exploiting musical-industrial complex, so that the RIAA can pay musicians a pittance and spend the rest on lobbying for ever increasing police power over the internet. In my case, it means choosing to forgo those artists' work, but I'm not going to lose much sleep over those who choose directer methods.

I can respect your boycotting companies you dislike, but I'm annoyed when others claim that because they disagree with the RIAA or whomever that they are therefore morally in the right when taking something for nothing. Most convenient how that works out. Having their cake and eating it too, as it were. Civil disobedience without risk.

I think her point is valid. When you create a tragedy of the commons, everyone loses. Worst part is, you don't know what you'll lose, how many creatives who see the brass ring disappear and say screw it, I'll take up carpentry instead.

this idea that if you can't make a living from it that you're going to give up on it is a stupid one - you can be busily employed at an ordinary job and still find time to do music

Well, maybe you can, but in general, the less time one has to put into any creative venture, the less good and the less period that person will be creating. Or performing. Not a lot of working chartered accountants in the brass section of the Metropolitan Opera.

This is straight up bullshit, because she fundamentally misunderstands what art actually is.

In your opinion. Plenty of artists don't give a damn what other people think.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:08 PM on January 26 [14 favorites]


Plenty of artists don't give a damn what other people think.

The pop music artist with zero audience would cut a forlorn figure indeed.
posted by colie at 1:12 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Some of history's most enduringly popular artists at least very carefully cultivated an image for iconoclasm and not caring about their audience. It seems to me imposing your own arbitrary limits on what art is (though I admit I'm partial to the idea that truly great art is a kind of dialogue with the public) is pretty grandiose and arrogant.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Plenty of artists don't give a damn what other people think.

Not many of the classic outsider artists made a living at it.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:21 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


Doesn't sound like much of a living to me. Just reading her own opinions of her "smart pop music" made me not want to hear it. Who describes their music as smart? What does that even mean? Is it full of complex harmony, deep structure? Are there challenging musical theoretical underpinnings? Is she even a trained musician? Let's see her make it as a freelancer in NYC or London or Australia, performing in public and with others. Can she read music? Can she write music down? Or does she spit it into a computer program and press the reverb button? Whatever.
posted by ReeMonster at 1:25 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


Carefully cultivating your image for iconoclasm is part of a dialogue with your audience. Dylan going electric was in one sense him not caring about his audience - but the fact that he'd built that relationship with his audience enough for them to get all heated up about it over the last 6 or 7 years was what made it possible.

It may be possible to make a purely private work of art in some fields, but pop music is basically a hustle (albeit a multi textured, rich and very wonderful hustle) and if you're too delicate a flower for it then you are best off doing something else.

Or there are other angles, like maybe go to the world's most expensive private school in Switzerland and then use your dad's connections in high-fashion NYC to get yourself out there, for example. That worked fantastically for The Strokes. They were like interns.
posted by colie at 1:29 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


see she makes a living in the way most "internet-savvy" artists, musical and otherwise, seem to these days: by pandering directly to nerds with a decent amount of disposable income

I saw that but I was wondering if she is generating the income through album sales, merch, touring, etc. She could do her fellow musicians a favor by breaking it down. I'd just like some more info to help understand the economics of it, how much "making a living" means to her, etc.
posted by cell divide at 1:29 PM on January 26


Doesn't sound like much of a living to me. Just reading her own opinions of her "smart pop music" made me not want to hear it. Who describes their music as smart? What does that even mean? Is it full of complex harmony, deep structure? Are there challenging musical theoretical underpinnings? Is she even a trained musician? Let's see her make it as a freelancer in NYC or London or Australia, performing in public and with others. Can she read music? Can she write music down? Or does she spit it into a computer program and press the reverb button? Whatever.

It's code for 'nerd'. Like Jonathon Coulton.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:32 PM on January 26


Who describes their music as smart? What does that even mean?

Smart means isn't Brittney Spears or Beibur.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:48 PM on January 26


Who describes their music as smart? What does that even mean?

it means it's not about going to the club, wearing rocks, telling boys they aren't going to get you, or telling girls they better not try to get the guy, or how they're going to party on fri-fri-fri-friday

other than that, it's not that different than a lot of stuff that's out today - decent vocals, serviceable, but unremarkable arrangements
posted by pyramid termite at 1:50 PM on January 26


Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

I am one of the lucky - I inherited enough money to not have to work for several years. I'm spending that time working on something that I've done no market research on, that doesn't have to appeal to anyone but myself. A graphic novel about a lesbian robot and her PKD problems is aggressively Not What The Market Wants, if you look at what sells.

I do not have to frantically grind on a day job or two to support myself and draw this thing in what little time is left. I can take as much time as I need to make it a gorgeous thing. I think I've made like four months of rent in profit after working on it for two and a half years, plus covering a decent number of convention trips. I do not need to worry about keeping a roof over my head while I slowly draw and write this very personal comic. What little ad revenue I earn goes right back into buying ads, in hopes of slowly growing my audience.

I am insanely lucky, and I hate that. I want the world to be flooded with super-personal work like this, that speaks intensely to a small demographic underrepresented in its field. I know of ONE other queer lady doing a comic that speaks to some of the same issues as mine. I want to be one of dozens, if not more.

Basic fucking income, guys. Or at least a livable goddamn minimum wage so that you can work ONE mediocre job and still have time left for yourself. But far better would just be obliviating most work. America is more than rich enough to do that, but most of the money is locked up in the bank accounts of the 1%.

Culture has become basically free, and we are all immensely richer than that. But we NEED to make it possible for the people driven to produce culture to live while they do that.
posted by egypturnash at 1:51 PM on January 26 [38 favorites]


"How to make a living off of terrible music and self-aggrandizing blog posts"
posted by zscore at 1:53 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


I had a listen and 'smart' is in this case a bit like early The Cure. Not offensive really.
posted by colie at 1:59 PM on January 26


The mechanical means of creation has been democratized for writers for a couple centuries. Anyone with even the most minimal discretionary money could afford what it took to write their great novels or poems or essays.

In the last decade, music production has been democratized nearly as much. Given ownership of a laptop, one can have a serviceable recording studio with barely more than the cost of that laptop over again.

If every person who wasn't able to make enough money to make a living off of their music, or their writing, or anything else stopped producing, there'd be that many fewer competitors I'd ever have for getting people's ears to listen to my music or eyes to read my writing.

Mere competence does not mean that you'll be able to make a living doing what you want. You have to be lucky on top of that. If you're going to be angry that you didn't win the proverbial lottery, I don't know what to tell ya. I'd love to make money doing the creative things I do, but that hasn't stopped me.
posted by chimaera at 2:04 PM on January 26 [5 favorites]


A graphic novel about a lesbian robot and her PKD problems is aggressively Not What The Market Wants, if you look at what sells.

Holy shit it's what I want, though. Anything for sale yet?
posted by this is a thing at 2:40 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]


A single MQ-9 Reaper Drone costs about $12.5 million. For the same price, a government could pay 25 artists $50,000 salaries for 10 years. I point this out not because I want to needlessly insert "politics" (whatever that means) into the thread, but because I have become increasingly frustrated by social problems that are in some manner fictional, as they could be solved instantly by reallocating our grossly misappropiated funds.
posted by threeants at 2:49 PM on January 26 [13 favorites]


I think it's important to move the focus away from Kim and the music industry, because when I saw the pull quote in the FPP, I immediately thought "theatre", and I'm sure it could be applied to sculpture, string quartets, and a variety of other things.

Without institutional support for the arts, the only art that survives is pop art. But the arts need room to stretch, to try and fail, and right now, the only ones who can afford to do that are the young and the rich.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:58 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


A graphic novel about a lesbian robot and her PKD problems is aggressively Not What The Market Wants, if you look at what sells.

When I went to publishing school twenty years ago, one instructor told us, "People don't know what they want until you give it to them." The best art is something truly new, not derivative, which is what you tend to get when you base your concept on market research.
posted by orange swan at 3:03 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


> This is straight up bullshit, because she fundamentally misunderstands what art actually is.

And your definition of art is authoritative because...?

> The significance of 'art' (especially pop music art) resides in the relationship it creates between the giver and receivers, and how they then collaborate to give it meaning.

There used to be another significance, which interestingly held for much of history before the year 2000 - and that was art, particularly pop music art, was a professional activity for a great many people, an activity for which they were generally compensated, and for which they trained at great length to do professionally, in the same way that one today might train to become a computer program or investment banker.

I think it's no coincidence that we've suddenly redefined "art" to exclude this crass commercial part at exactly the same time that it's become possible for your average person to obtain almost any of this art that they would like without compensating the creators in any fashion.

Not to mince words - because people can steal it, they do, and then justify themselves by saying that the artist getting paid was never important anyway, it was always just the "relationship between the givers and receivers."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:29 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]


Well, I think the world would be a poorer place if some of the more reluctant talents we've known over the years had been systematically precluded (Harry Nillson, Andy Partridge, Michael Stipe, etc.), but I suppose that's not quite the same thing as an artist being willfully indifferent to their audience. Duchamp and other dadaists and surrealists pulled it off, but then, they weren't pop singers, and they kind of meant to turn off their audiences to make a very important point. Actually not caring about your audience at all is probably not really even possible, much less desirable, regardless of the posturing that chracterizes some genres of music.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:38 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


I think her point is valid. When you create a tragedy of the commons, everyone loses. Worst part is, you don't know what you'll lose, how many creatives who see the brass ring disappear and say screw it, I'll take up carpentry instead.

Yes, this, a hundred times. One of the most important things about 20th century music distribution was how it created opportunities, and therefore incentives, for poor kids to dedicate themselves to music. Whether it's The Beatles or The Wu-Tang Clan, many kids have worked hard on their music because if they got really, really good, they could finally get the hell out of Liverpool/The Bronx/whatever horrid factory town they were in.

With the brass ring gone, then music making becomes a hobby for those with enough money to do it. And they'll never work quite so hard. If you can make a few bucks here and there off making music, you perform a couple times a month when you've got the time; you don't play every night at The Cavern Club until you're really goddamn tight. Because you can't. It's only dilettantes who think artists work for pure love and don't care about money.

Music is becoming live theater: a fun thing for schoolkids and middle-class hobbyists to enjoy doing. It's a terrible loss.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 4:56 PM on January 26 [20 favorites]


It sure looks like it's easier than ever before to get your creative juices up on multiple royalty generating services. I just listened to Impossible Girl on one of these. Can anyone report how much I just paid her to listen to two of her songs? A few minutes poking around; I didn't see any nice clean list of numbers and comps from such services. Can anyone provide links to these baseline numbers? What does Pandora, Xbox, iTunes pay per play?
posted by astrobiophysican at 5:46 PM on January 26


What does Pandora, Xbox, iTunes pay per play?

Well, quoting your Xbox Music link, "Each company has its own system and process for accepting music and paying royalties", so how much artists get paid from an Xbox Music play depends on the artists' agreement with the company that provides the music to Xbox. (And that's two middlemen right there between the artist and the audience.)

Quick Googling says iTunes Radio pays 13 cents per play - to the publisher, which is not necessarily the performer or songwriter. I doubt anyone else is much different. Also that's for streaming play, which is not the same as purchasing a digital download.


I didn't see any nice clean list of numbers and comps from such services

Yeah, nice clean publicly available data on anything from the music industry (and iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, etc. are definitely part of the music industry) is not really something I have come to expect.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:09 PM on January 26


13 cents per play sounds way, way too high.
posted by cell divide at 6:17 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


> iTunes Radio pays 13 cents per play

Actually, that article you linked to says that iTunes Radio pays 0.13 cents per play - one-hundredth as much.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 6:17 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]


Whoops, y'all are right, decimal confusion on my part.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:20 PM on January 26


Really? No artist has bothered to go through each service, determine their bottom line, and shared that with everyone? This seems like a few hour/day project. It looks fairly competitive and I bet Apple will turn out to be on the low end. That would be an interesting blog post.
posted by astrobiophysican at 6:21 PM on January 26


I don't have links but I seem to remember seeing people crunching the numbers and basically coming up with results that are beyond insulting even if you're getting a lot of plays.
posted by egypturnash at 7:01 PM on January 26


My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale! -- From David Lowery, formerly of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker.

If you want to support a musician, actually buy their albums. Spotify and Pandora ain't gonna cut it.

My personal rule of thumb is that if I listen to an album (or a significant chunk of it) more than three times on a streaming service, then that means I like it and should buy the thing. That's a pretty good guideline for me.
posted by jscalzi at 7:28 PM on January 26 [7 favorites]


No artist has bothered to go through each service, determine their bottom line, and shared that with everyone?

Sorry, when you said, "from such services," I thought you meant "data from the services themselves", which I would not expect to see.

Cellist Zoë Keating has been discussing how her income stream works in some detail on her blog, and in connection with her (I think) first posts on the topic she released a Google doc spreadsheet of 6 months worth of data.

She's about the only artist I know of doing this. Which doesn't really surprise me - sharing your income with the whole world is not something a lot of people feel comfortable with.

This seems like a few hour/day project.

Um, for what benefit to the artist? As compared to spending those hours creating the art or marketing yourself or, well, having a life?

Although I believe Ms. Keating made that info public because she thinks that the music-buying (or not buying, as the case may be) public is woefully under-informed about how things actually work these days regarding how artists actually make money. To quote from the notes of her spreadsheet:

"if we are going to discuss the ideal structure of the new music industry, we need to know how recording artists make a living today or we're just spouting hyperbole. So, in the interest of evolving the discussion, I am making myself into a data point. I encourage other artists, if they are able, to do the same."

So I could see the point that making this info public to some degree could have long-term benefits.

It looks fairly competitive and I bet Apple will turn out to be on the low end.

I strongly suspect that (comparing apples to apples) it's all roughly the same. Part of the catch is comparing apples to apples. Just to give you an idea of how complicated it can get, here's a Rolling Stone article from 2011 on "The New Economics of the Music Industry."

There was also a fairly recent AskMe (Which online music store benefits artists the most?) on the subject.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:46 PM on January 26


If you can make a few bucks here and there off making music, you perform a couple times a month when you've got the time; you don't play every night at The Cavern Club until you're really goddamn tight.

Nobody gets to play every night at the Cavern Club or its equivalent. If you get one night, and don't fill the joint with people who drink a lot, you don't get another night. And the club will probably close next month anyway, or change booking agents, and now they don't call you anymore, even if you did bring people.

Live music doesn't work the way you think it does; you really should talk to some people who have actually tried to get out there before you assume you know what it takes. I'm not sure I buy that it wasn't always a bit of a rigged game anyway, with a few lucky outliers, but the myth that talent and hard work will always be rewarded needs to die. There are lots and lots of talented, hardworking musicians who get out there every night and still barely have a place to sleep. Heck, how many blues musicians are worshipped now that died in poverty? They worked plenty hard. They still never made it while they were alive.

Meanwhile, the Grammys tonight give you ample evidence that many who do make it didn't get there by playing out in clubs. They caught breaks, knew someone, lucked out, or were fantastically good-looking, as well as having some (but not necessarily a lot) of musical talent. Many were groomed from a young age to become what they are.
posted by emjaybee at 8:43 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]


IMHO, Kim's best pre-dance-space stuff was Open/Avocado
posted by The Whelk at 11:14 PM on January 26


or you know, a stop-motion animation
posted by The Whelk at 11:16 PM on January 26


It's still okay to amuse myself making music I like though, right?
posted by davejay at 11:28 PM on January 26


Thanks for those links souundguy99. You just uncovered yet another dimension of awesome of Zoë Keating.
posted by astrobiophysican at 11:42 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


There used to be another significance, which interestingly held for much of history before the year 2000 - and that was art, particularly pop music art, was a professional activity for a great many people, an activity for which they were generally compensated, and for which they trained at great length to do professionally

Regarding music, I thought the elevation of the artist into a special professional class was mainly a feature of the bourgeois era?

Personally I think it would be better if we all produced and enjoyed music together, with casual assistance from a few roving minstrels who basically get paid in beer, which is essentially how popular music (which is the specific subset of 'art' that this article is concerned with) always existed before the rise of the bourgeoisie and the commodification of everything.
posted by colie at 11:45 PM on January 26 [2 favorites]


cell divide and everyone else who was curious about how she makes her money: one of the comments asks her that, and she says that a future article in this series is a case study of herself and the way she earns money through art.

This issue really strikes home for me, as someone who tends to be pretty screwed visa-wise: can't get a job or get a grant because of a sticker in my passport. I have made money from freelance and artistic means, but it's not often and not reliable, particularly since the sort of people who want my art or my work tend to be as broke as I am. I've had mixed results crowdfunding, and have noticed that particular identity privileges can affect your crowdfunding success (especially if, again, your demographic tends to be as broke as you are).

If it weren't for my parents supporting me I honestly would be on the streets freaking out on lack of meds. When both "do what you love as income" and "do what pays the bills so you can do what you love on the side" don't work for you - what else is there?
posted by divabat at 11:46 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]


One reason the money from a play on Pandora or the like seems so low is that you get paid for plays per listener, not plays. When your song gets played once on the radio it will have reached many thousands or, depending on the city, tens of thousands of people at once. When your song gets played on Pandora that's one person, one time. So you get a small fraction of the money because your song was heard by a small fraction of the number of people.

Anyway, yeah, if you want to support an artist (whether they produce music, paintings, books, TV shows, or movies) the best way to do so is to buy their product in the form they would like you to buy it in. Albums, books, subscribing to the TV network, whatever.

Or, you know, just keep downloading that stuff and wonder why artists are broke as shit and can't make a living and good stuff isn't made any more...
posted by Justinian at 12:52 AM on January 27


When your song gets played on Pandora that's one person, one time.

I've worked in lots of offices recently where Pandora/Spotify is on all day and 20-30 people hear it, including new music and rediscovering back catalogue stuff. And with no ads or DJ talk there are probably double the number of songs per hour. The eclectic selection means people often go off and buy stuff as a result, as has been attested to by several studies.

if you want to support an artist (whether they produce music, paintings, books, TV shows, or movies) the best way to do so is to buy their product in the form they would like you to buy it in.

People have no trouble doing this for the exceptional talents out there. 25 million people buy Adele's CD and then they buy another one for the car, and when that wears out they buy it again. It's just sad for this woman that she can't write a song like Adele. I do agree however that the gap between the everyday struggling musician and the massive stars is bigger than ever - but that's just modern capitalism and it's everywhere. The only alternative is to start protecting some arts (like the state and sponsorship by oil companies and banks pays for opera to survive), but that isn't really 'pop music' is it?
posted by colie at 2:44 AM on January 27


I have had a PayPal "donate" lnk at the top of my band's " Listen" page for over a year, now. One guy sent me 20 bucks. This doesn't exactly square with my hit counter. But yeah, I do it because I can't not do it.

Fortunately my cover band pays pretty well, but it wouldn't support me even if I were young and single. I basically work 2 jobs-- my 50+ hour a week day job & my 10-20 hour per week music job.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:17 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Regarding music, I thought the elevation of the artist into a special professional class was mainly a feature of the bourgeois era?

Artists--artists, musicians and songwriters--have been a special professional class with their own trade guilds and even expectations of some intellectual property protections going all the way back to classical Greece, so no, what you thought is only what you were meant to think by the people pushing their line against content creators.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:10 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


Well Greece was a slave society so there were plenty of groups of specially protected people, and even less chance of an average dude with no connections being able to decide he or she'd like to make a buck at playing the harp or whatever.
posted by colie at 7:23 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Shift the goal posts much? Now you're applying industrial era political concepts to antiquity to justify denying the plain facts of what's happening? Marx's critique of capitalism was explicitly meant to describe post-industrial power relations that were developing in Marx's time. The term "bourgeois" as Marx used it doesn't even apply in the context of the pre-industrial age. It's telling there don't seem to be much of a grasp of actual history behind these kinds of spurious claims.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:42 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Fair enough but there's no need to be rude. I posed a question and in two posts you've told me I think what I'm 'meant to think' about 'content creators' and that I don't know much history. Whatever mate.
posted by colie at 7:58 AM on January 27


Regarding music, I thought the elevation of the artist into a special professional class was mainly a feature of the bourgeois era?

Why shouldn't people who spend years of study and practice be in a special professional class? Why is an IT person, programmer or engineer, a lawyer or an M.D. paid well and highly regarded, but not the artist who practiced, sacrificed, worked hard, and perhaps formally studied and - at their best - brings enlightenment and emotional/ spiritual satisfaction?

I've been in two professions whose economics have collapsed in my lifetime, music and writing.(Wait, sorry, in many realms I'm not even a freelance writer anymore, I'm a content creator. $5 - 50 a pop for the kind of article that would've drawn at least a couple hundred bucks two decades ago.)

And when the paying markets devalue you, you also become more desperate and more taken advantage of, resulting in not even getting a pittance. I recently was manipulated by a schmuck with a space blog who fancies himself a media mogul in the making. Before that I was stiffed by someone I met on the Blue, whose projects are ethically questionable to begin with.

And finally it becomes a vicious circle. Not being particularly well to do, I myself yield to the temptation to view movies and listen to music in a way that's not giving fellow artists the proper compensation. I dislike that.
posted by NorthernLite at 8:53 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


She's about the only artist I know of doing this. Which doesn't really surprise me - sharing your income with the whole world is not something a lot of people feel comfortable with.

I'm finding the interest in indie artists' being transparent about their income angle very interesting. It almost comes off as "prove you need my money before I legally pay for/buy your work." The fact that some people--not talking about the Blue specifically but on other corners of the Internet--demand this of artists and not other professions is fascinating.
posted by Kitteh at 9:11 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


A single MQ-9 Reaper Drone costs about $12.5 million. For the same price, a government could pay 25 artists $50,000 salaries for 10 years.

The MQ-9 is not produced by putting a bunch of cash in a pile and setting it afire as an offering to Zeus, and then collecting the drone from the ashes. Although some percentage of that $12.9M ends up as profit margin to the manufacturer* the rest gets doled out into the almost entirely domestic labor and materials supply chains that lead to the Reaper.

In other words, the government is already doing exactly what you're suggesting, only instead of employing artists, they're employing engineers/assemblers/technicians/etc. You could argue — and I would — that this is a pretty inefficient way of subsidizing engineering, and that we'd be better off doing the same thing by giving the money to the NSF for grants, or funding NASA, or any number of other things — but that's very different from suddenly saying "hey, let's have more unemployed engineers and fewer unemployed musicians." Because you really don't want a lot of unemployed engineers running amok.

* General Atomics (possibly the most unflinchingly 1950s name for a defense contractor ever) is privately held, but looking at similar companies it's probably around 20%.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:43 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Let's compromise. We'll subsidize the production of bizarrely elaborate electroacoustic musical instruments, massive architectural stunts, precision steampunk orreries and watch movements, muppetlike animatronic creatures....
posted by this is a thing at 9:51 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


It's still okay to amuse myself making music I like though, right?

Please don't be obtuse. This isn't about the people who pursue things as a hobby for themselves, because they understand that what they do is indeed just something for their own selves, and what's more, you already know it's not.

This is about the people who are devoting a much deeper commitment of time, energy, study, passion, and practice to a craft - just as much of a commitment of time, energy, study, passion, and practice as do the people whose fields are in economics or medicine or law or sports. And despite that commitment, they are expected to content themselves with a much lower compensation than do the businessman, doctor, lawyer, or athlete, or to content themselves with people enjoying their work for free.

If you have something to say about how artists should have found a much more lucrative job and just stuck to the arts as a hobby, just come out and say it rather than making an obtuse statement like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on January 27 [7 favorites]


Disposable pop is hardly a new concept, and pop art now is more disposable than ever. The supply is seemingly endless when one considers that consumers have a fixed number of minutes each day.

I know and follow many artists online and in real life who are trying to make a living at it. Most of their work just plain sucks. Great art after all is the product of mistakes. However, a good many of them have yet to produce a single work that I judge as salable.

Between the good stuff that is available so cheap and the crap sold on etsy and eBay or given away on soundcloud, the market has no choice but to set a low price when demand is fixed and supply is unlimited.

Mozart may be remembered as a great composer, but in his lifetime, he was foremost a performer and a salesman.
posted by Ardiril at 10:41 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


've worked in lots of offices recently where Pandora/Spotify is on all day and 20-30 people hear it

That's not typical though, and the important point is that they pay for one person hearing the song. Which is why the royalties are so much lower than radio play.
posted by Justinian at 10:48 AM on January 27


people who are devoting a much deeper commitment of time, energy, study, passion, and practice to a craft - just as much of a commitment of time, energy, study, passion, and practice as do the people whose fields are in economics or medicine or law or sports.

Yes but aren't people who make pop music supposed to really enjoy it and to value the unique bond they have with their audience etc. Whereas most people I meet doing law for a living absolutely hate it, or at best are pretty indifferent and use it to get themselves nice things.
posted by colie at 10:51 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Fair enough but there's no need to be rude.

You're right, of course. Touchy subject for me. Please forgive the lapse.

posted by saulgoodman at 10:59 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


> Yes but aren't people who make pop music supposed to really enjoy it and to value the unique bond they have with their audience etc.

Your "unique bond with the audience" won't fill your stomach or keep a roof over your head.

Frank Zappa told a story about the time he was in a club where Duke Ellington - Duke Ellington! - was begging his manager for $10 so he could buy a meal.

(Seeing this led to Zappa's well-publicized decision to break with the music industry, something which did work out well for him.)

> Whereas most people I meet doing law for a living absolutely hate it, or at best are pretty indifferent and use it to get themselves nice things.

The idea that you should automatically hate your job is a horrid one.

One difference I've noted between Europe and the United States is that in the US, people mostly hate their jobs, and yet they spend a long time in the office, often not actually working.

In Europe, people generally seem more positively disposed toward their jobs, even the "lower" ones - and yet they get in, do it and get out.

(Yes, these are all anecdotal - purely for your entertainment...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:01 AM on January 27 [5 favorites]


Yes but aren't people who make pop music supposed to really enjoy it and to value the unique bond they have with their audience etc. Whereas most people I meet doing law for a living absolutely hate it, or at best are pretty indifferent and use it to get themselves nice things.

There are just as many people who went into law because they wanted to help people.

And whether you love or hate your life's work, you still need to eat.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:26 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Interestingly enough, I just put on a music show in Bushwick (you can see a video of my performance here, though for some reason the audio gets more out of sync the further it goes - but, well, lasers, more and more as the show goes on...!)

The space (Silent Barn) is advantageous for several reasons - they're open to "new music" and tolerant of things like "smoke machines" - but also, they don't take any of the door, you pay the sound guy and the person collecting tickets directly and all the rest goes right to the performers. And we had a pretty good house - though residents of the space do get in for free.

I was therefore able to give the princely sum of $60 to each of three performers and a video performer. I myself did not take any money out of the door, and considering that I put quite a lot of money into fliers and transportation, I probably lost a little less than $200. (I also didn't pay the laser guy, who apparently owes me favors... thanks, Benton!) If I amortized all the gear I use... I don't even want to think about it. And this is a very stripped-down setup - for people who don't just bring a computer and nothing else...

Money well spent. But it's an expensive hobby. The headliner is a full-ish-time musician of stellar and long-established reputation (in electronic music circles) who's touring a new album. She left the Bay Area a decade or so because she couldn't afford it and lives in Rhode Island. I doubt this covered her gas expenses, though she probably sold quite a few CDs (but that probably wouldn't have covered even one night in a hotel - I'll bet she stayed with friends).

We could certainly do better. The show was well-received, if I do a similar bill again I'd expect quite a lot more people. We could charge a little more, but there's a pretty hard limit on what we could charge. If I brought it to a bigger venue, we could both charge more and get more people. This was definitely an experimental venture on my part.

I'll bet we could bring in three times as much money. If I realistically paid for expenses, I could double what I paid the performers - perhaps even as much as $150.

And this won't pay anyone's rent, and we're happy to get it.

When I was young, I used to go to small clubs and see obscure bands all the time. Some of the best of those ended up becoming famous - it seems I saw "Men Without Hats" on Saturday, February 5, 1983, just three months before they hit the Canadian charts - but the worst is that I missed the chance to see an unknown Irish band on Tuesday, March 10, 1981 (my friend Pierre (RIP) saw it and asked me to come...)

I still go out as much as I did back then(!) but it's been a long time since I saw an unknown band that later become famous from touring. The most recent bands who became successful would probably have been Oneida or Lightning Bolt, but that was a long time ago, and more, they weren't "successful" in the way that Men Without Hats or U2 were.

The worst is that I see all sorts of mind-blowing bands with amazing skills - and I see them a few or many times over a couple of years or several, and then not again. (Gosh, I miss Sleepytime Gorilla Museum...) And every time - EVERY time! - it's one reason - economics. People get married, have children, get medical expenses and simply cannot afford to live on nothing any more.

What I AM seeing is lots and lots of DJs who I see in clubs and then become fabulously wealthy. It makes me sad, because while I love DJ music, the majority of them aren't either writing or performing their own material but artfully curating the music of others.

And frankly, I don't see the huge difference between the DJs who do really well, the DJs who continue to make a living, and the decent DJs who can't make ends meet and drop out. When I saw, e.g., Nina Hagen in my university's auditorium, it was immediately clear that she was going to be a star - both from her material and her performance. I don't think it's my inability to tell the difference - I simply don't think that there is much difference in competence amongst professional DJs, and their success depends simply on how well their taste jibes with the taste of the audience. Nothing wrong with that - but why should the curators get paid so much more than the creators?

The Amen Break is the pathological limit of this. Yes, it's "only six seconds" but for The Winstons and drummer G. C. Coleman to get to the position to be able to produce that six seconds took them thousands of hours. That little drum segment has been used as the basis of easily tens of millions of dollars worth of dance music (considering the multi-billion dollar DJ industry and the fact that it's been sampled heavily for three decades now) and yet none of the original creators received even a single penny in compensation for it - the copyright owner considers musical works based on the sample "plagiarism".

And we roll back again to, "I can steal it, so I will, and this makes it right."

Thanks for reading my little ramble!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:03 PM on January 27 [4 favorites]


"whether you love or hate your life's work," --- you still have to find someone willing to pay for it.
posted by Ardiril at 12:06 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


As for the question in the title, a million youtube plays is worth a million opportunities to present the link to your online store.
posted by Ardiril at 12:17 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


a million youtube plays is worth a million opportunities to present the link to your online store.

Which only a fraction of those million will use because why bother when i can get this on youtube for free whenever i want.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:18 PM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Exactly. That's why it's called advertising.
posted by Ardiril at 12:26 PM on January 27


... and salesmanship. :)
posted by Ardiril at 12:26 PM on January 27


Because you really don't want a lot of unemployed engineers running amok.

Al Qaeda is bush-league. What you really don't want are failed artists.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 12:35 PM on January 27


> Exactly. That's why it's called advertising.
> ... and salesmanship. :)

This is exactly like advocating purchasing lottery tickets as a way to riches - a complete mis-evaluation of your expected return by more than one order of magnitude.

All the salesmanship in the world isn't going to let you make enough money to pay even one day a week of your rent from sales from YouTube videos. The way to make money is to parlay that high status into highly-paid appearances.

For example, Gangam Style, a video with over one billion views, managed to make $300K from consequent download sales - and this is a very good rate.

Based on that, your one million views will let you sell the princely amount of $300 worth of downloads, if you're lucky. Even if you triple that total number with merchandize, it isn't even going to pay the cost of shooting your video...

You'll do a little better from YouTube royalties, but that's still going to be about $2K. No matter how you slice it, you aren't making a living or even close to it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 1:07 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Why do so many people who presumably are appalled at how other types of workers, even unskilled workers, past and present were/ are mistreated, think nothing of contributing to the demotion of artists to the status of making-less-than-McDonalds-clerks.

Imagine a day when software/the Net can virtually replace attorneys, doctors and stockbrokers, then fix itself and develop new versions.

And when you come crying about how your hard-won professional expertise is no longer valued, I'll respond, you should just do your law/medical/WallStreet/tech job for fun, and find some other way to pay the rent.
posted by NorthernLite at 1:09 PM on January 27 [7 favorites]


Why do so many people who presumably are appalled at how other types of workers, even unskilled workers, past and present were/ are mistreated, think nothing of contributing to the demotion of artists to the status of making-less-than-McDonalds-clerks.

because they're not the ones who "demoted" them to that status - the number of recorded rock and roll acts that ended up making less than they would have at mcdonalds is legion, and goes way back to the 50s

the simple fact is that artists have never been valued all that much - and in the long term, the vast majority of them never did make a living at it as artists

for the past 60 years, anyone who goes into this has been faced with the reality that they are probably not going to be one of the winners in this game

so, you'd better be doing it for fun, or artistic meaning, because odds are you won't be doing it for money

and blaming it on the audience isn't going to get you anywhere
posted by pyramid termite at 4:24 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


All the salesmanship in the world isn't going to let you make enough money to pay even one day a week of your rent from sales from YouTube videos. The way to make money is to parlay that high status into highly-paid appearances.

You contradict yourself. Parlaying those clicks into highly-paid appearances is exactly the salesmanship I meant. Music videos are advertisements for the brand and always have been. It is an investment much like a movie trailer.

Let's put it another way. If a million youtube views does not attract at least a dozen contract offers from various media representatives, then your art isn't salable.
posted by Ardiril at 5:35 PM on January 27


Mozart may be remembered as a great composer, but in his lifetime, he was foremost a performer and a salesman.

Mozard died a debtor.

Music has always been hard for musicians to monetize. But music is valuable and many (all?) people want music in their lives. So maybe we should consider it a public good (which currently has a major free rider problem) and not try to wedge it into the market?

We've sort of tried to treat it as a public good before, and funded organizations/initiatives like the National Endowment for the Arts and the WPA -- and those actually were (I think) pretty great, for individual artists, and the economy, and everyone who enjoys any type of art.

Personally, I think it would be a good idea to start up projects like that again (at the least), not just because it would be great for artists and we'd benefit from having more/better art, but also because some of the biggest and most stable exports from the US are actually American cultural products (music, literature, art, film, etc etc etc).

I think that it would be really useful for the long-term stability of the US economy if we'd stop pretending that the arts are a red-headed stepchild -- they're actually an amazing resource. Such a waste.
posted by rue72 at 6:44 PM on January 27 [6 favorites]


> So maybe we should consider it a public good (which currently has a major free rider problem) and not try to wedge it into the market?

> We've sort of tried to treat it as a public good before, and funded organizations/initiatives like the National Endowment for the Arts and the WPA

I favorited your comment - because it's just good common sense - but the idea of a "public good" is considered "socialist" in modern America, as are the NEA and the WPA (particularly). Neither political party is interested in spending money in this direction. I honestly think we have a better chance of educating the populace about the free-rider issue than we do to change the government to want to spend money on the arts.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:08 PM on January 27


> and in the long term, the vast majority of them never did make a living at it as artists

I get a bit bored with saying this, but at the time I went to university, people seriously went to school for things like music, expecting to make a living at it, and did.

There's the usual list I always trot out - session musician; wedding bands; cover bands; working in music stores; music copying; working in record stores (if you can believe this, any record store of a certain size had a "buyer" who's main job it was to simply listen to a lot of music and decide what to order!); live bands for shows; symphony orchestras (even small towns used to have one!); that sort of thing. All these categories of jobs have been decimated. Even teaching has been sharply cut into by the competition from DVDs and interactive courses.

As I keep mentioning, I know two Grammy award winning drummers. Both of them work in technology these days - as one said, "I was replaced by a producer's left hand" (and quantization and a drum machine as I'm sure he knows).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:15 PM on January 27 [5 favorites]


the government to want to spend money on the arts.

I think there might be some progress on this, in some places, at a local level. Which I guess could be viewed as trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, but "act locally" might be a more practical route in the near future, rather than big nationwide projects like the NEA & WPA. Which, yeah, would have a snowball's chance in hell of passing these days.

I do wonder if and/or how much government support for the arts has been undermined (in the U.S.) by the practice of counting on the rich to fund the arts as a tax deduction.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:47 PM on January 27


"act locally" might be a more practical route in the near future, rather than big nationwide projects like the NEA & WPA.

The NEA is where the local arts programs get most of their money.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:38 AM on January 28


Right now, sure, but I'm saying changing that may be something worth considering - local artists looking more to local (state/county/city) sources of funding, which may involve working to create those local sources.

For example (disclaimer: I have provided tech support for some events put on by the following organizations), here in Cuyahoga County (aka the greater Cleveland Ohio metropolitan area) a variety of arts organizations & NGOs got the voters to approve a "sin tax" on cigarettes, with the proceeds being distributed to artists and arts organizations via Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

The biggies, like the orchestra and the Museum of Art, do get a large share of this money, but there was a strong call for the proceeds to be shared with smaller groups and individual artists, so CAC partnered with the NGO Community Partnership for Arts & Culture to set up a system where some of these public monies are distributed as grants to small arts groups and individuals.

And IIRC, during the creation of CAC & the grant program of CPAC, both groups did some extensive consulting with people in places like Boston and Pittsburgh and D.C. & so on and so forth - places that already had similar programs in place and functioning.

I'm not saying this is an ideal situation, the best of all possible worlds. Just that it may be possible for artists to make a strong case for government funding for the arts when money is locally collected and locally distributed.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:49 AM on January 28


Right now, sure, but I'm saying changing that may be something worth considering - local artists looking more to local (state/county/city) sources of funding, which may involve working to create those local sources.

Disclaimer: I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who once worked in off-off-broadway theater, and was intimately involved with two such entities.

The thing is, local artists are already looking to local sources of funding. They're looking to every bit of funding they can get. The bulk of the funding grants we applied for at one of my companies weren't national - they were local, on a city level. That city institution got most of its money from state arts grants, and the state in turn gets a lot of its money from the NEA. We also applied for state grants, and had we been aware of federal ones for which we qualified we'd apply too. Plus a lot of private grants, and a lot of direct appeals for direct donations.

We still had to fold, largely because after ten years with only two people in charge of a company - and neither of us very good at fundraising - it just got too difficult to simply raise sufficient money. Not because we were doing bad theater - and not because we couldn't get some money here and there. We could. Every time we made an appeal we found people who were happy to open their wallets and give us a couple hundred, or when we had an emergency appeal for "we need just a thousand more dollars to fund this important show," we were able to pull it off. But when that money ran out...there was nothing left to pay the rent on the office, or to continue to pay rent on the storage unit where all the costumes were, or the petty cash for the copying machine down the hall, or....

Those local sources of funding that I believe you're looking for already exist, in the forms of private grants. Institutions which issue private grants exist by the metric assload. The problem is that they often only contribute a pittance, and that pittance comes only once - but you never stop needing money, and the reason you continue to need money is often for stupid piddly reasons which are hard to appeal to the public about.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on January 28


Sorry, I guess I wasn't quite clear - I'm talking about what I believe is a new(ish) approach.

they were local, on a city level. That city institution got most of its money from state arts grants, and the state in turn gets a lot of its money from the NEA.

Yes, this is the current standard model, but it's a "trickle-down" approach, and it's vulnerable in that if the NEA gets its' funding cut because a bunch of conservative Congresscritters get ticked off about "Piss Christ", everyone down the line suffers. So theater companies in NYC get it in the neck because of a photograph initially exhibited in D.C. & Winston-Salem.

Whereas the programs I'm referring to are largely self-contained - the money is derived from a tax on cigarettes that applies only in Cuyahoga County, and the various grants are awarded only to artists and organizations that are based in Cuyahoga County.

The tax began in 2006 and was initially approved for a 10-year stretch, so it'll be up for a vote of renewal in 2016. As in an issue on the public ballot, to be approved (or not) by the voting public.

And while I'm only really familiar with this particular set of programs, from conversations I've heard and had with people from other cities (often in the context of events put on by CAC and/or CPAC), there are similar programs in other cities, and the whole core concept of using locally-collected taxes to fund local arts is generating a lot of interest in the world of arts funding organizations.


Those local sources of funding that I believe you're looking for already exist, in the forms of private grants. Institutions which issue private grants exist by the metric assload.

Yes. I know this. But I was talking about publicly derived sources of funding, not private grants provided by foundations.

The thing is, local artists are already looking to local sources of funding. They're looking to every bit of funding they can get.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not at all suggesting that artists are being morons and if they just looked under the couch cushions for loose change they'd be all set. And I'm not saying it's all hunky-dory, nbd if the NEA goes down the tubes.

I work in arts & entertainment (see username) and while I work for a for-profit company, a really significant number of our clients are non-profits, many of them arts and culture organizations that rely on all the many & varied sources of funding you've described in order to stay afloat. So while I've never had to fill out a grant application myself, I've had lots and lots of conversations with people who have, and I'm well aware of the trials and tribulations and complications of trying to keep these organizations going. Thinking about how to maintain and increase public (and private) funding for the arts is in my own self-interest, albeit somewhat indirectly.

I'm pointing out that there are some different (and, as far as I know, fairly new) approaches and strategies out there for developing public funding for the arts, and some of them are being put into practice. I am all for throwing my tax dollars at the NEA, and reviving the WPA, but actually creating new ways to use tax dollars to support the arts is also worth considering.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:10 PM on January 28


Yes. I know this. But I was talking about publicly derived sources of funding, not private grants provided by foundations.

...I understand that, but I'm not certain where you're expecting these publicly-derived sources of funding to come from, when the public is resistant to taxes as it is, especially on a local level. The people in a given community who would be in favor of a tax supporting the arts are the ones who already donate, and the ones who aren't donating to the arts would raise holy hell and have a referendum and kill those bills in the town hall committee.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:37 PM on January 28


where you're expecting these publicly-derived sources of funding to come from

Well, as I said, here in Cuyahoga County there's a specific dedicated tax on cigarettes. Which was presented as an issue on a ballot right next to a continuation of a property tax levy to fund libraries and voting for or against judges of various courts and state representatives and congresspeople and whatever the heck else was on the ballot that year. And a majority of voters approved the tax.

Sure, there was plenty of debate about it, and "sin taxes" are pretty problematical in the first place, and maybe in a few years the tax won't be renewed and it will all have been a short golden dream of "if only", but . . . . . .

I'm a little frustrated that you seem to be telling me, "That won't work," when I'm giving you a specific example of how it actually is working right this very minute.

Maybe it wouldn't work in NYC, I dunno.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:05 PM on January 28


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