The Futility of Flogging Music
August 29, 2008 3:58 AM   Subscribe

The Futility of Flogging Music "I was pondering the other day whether I actually have a field of expertise. I thought for ages, and couldn't come up with anything, and then in a blinding flash I realised, with a slight sense of despondency, what it might be: being in bands that people have never heard of." Actually you may have heard of Rhodri Marsden if you're caught the current Scritti Politti line-up in action, if you've ever followed the broadcasts of the late DJ John Peel, or if you've read Rhodri's technology column in UK newspaper the Independent. This week, in a speech to the Oxford Geek Night, Marsden shared his caustic yet heartfelt observations on DIY music from the early 90s through to the digital age, sighing "I can think of nothing more soul destroying" than social networking and quoting post-punk icon of Pere Ubu as saying musicians should "screw the audience".
posted by skylar (43 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It was an excellent talk on the night, and it's an excellent piece now. The follow-up talk was basically a pitch from Songkick, which rang considerably less true; the fact of the matter is, there's very little money at all in smaller live music, and it's very hard to get by.

And it's getting harder. I was coincidentally talking to someone earlier today who was part of the Edinburgh band scene in the nineties, and knows people who are still trying to make it. Nobody can. The venues that used to support this kind of thing are being sold off to the chain pubs, and there doesn't seem to be the willingness from just about anyone to actually take a risk on new music.

You would think that the web might be the answer, but the same market forces exist here. Yes, any band can now sell music, but that doesn't mean the audience will find it and buy it. It still comes down to advertising and promotion, which runs counter to the spirit of independent music. Also playing that night was Ben Walker, whose You're no-one if you're not on Twitter is basically an attempt to gain Twitter followers and therefore promote his music.
posted by bwerdmuller at 4:25 AM on August 29, 2008

I met Rhodri and his better half in Birmingham (at an absolutely brilliant Steely Dan gig), and he was just as funny and self-effacing in person as he is on his (rather excellent) blog.

I should point out that he got a lot of press recently because he had the #1 video on youtube for a while.

The Schema, "Those Rules"
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:37 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

IANAM, nor am I in a band or a music writer, critic, or in any way make my money off of the Music Bid'ness, but I thought Marsden's article was a good one. I didn't read it as prescriptive--that is, I don't think he is advocating a universal solution, just that he has made his peace with his place in it.

I'm sure musicians and marketers will have plenty to pick at, but Marsden does have a way of making money as a writer and speaker if he wants it. I think people would pay for his advice.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:59 AM on August 29, 2008

I really enjoyed reading that, thanks Skylar.

I also hadn't heard of Oxford Geek Night before. As a geek in Oxford, I feel this is something I should have known about.
posted by iso_bars at 5:05 AM on August 29, 2008

Rhodri's blog is indeed excellent.
posted by mippy at 5:18 AM on August 29, 2008

Interesting article..

particularly the last line: "Because seriously, you're almost more likely to get a blowjob after a gig than sell an MP3."

which really is quite true...
posted by mary8nne at 5:32 AM on August 29, 2008

I can vouch for how depressing it is to be pouring your heart (and cash) into making a really beautiful record, all while half of the members of your band are saying, "Sell it? Haaa... more like give it to family and friends." But the depression turns into gallows humor, and then eventually you realize that in the end it really is just about the music and experiences. Get a day job that allows you to tour every once in a while, and make some art for arts' sake, and be happy. "Screw the audience" is pretty damn good advice.
posted by naju at 5:58 AM on August 29, 2008

yeah, great rant.

It's sad that although the "music business" is supposed to be about, there's (relatively) easier money in the wings - selling instruments and gear, sound reinforcement, tour support, CD manufacturing, production, ticket sales systems, artist management, providing swag (T-shirts etc). And of course the latest musical cash-in - the "[your country here] Idol" shows.

(disclaimer - I did live sound for a while, and sold & serviced pro audio gear. Wearing my mullet and a skinny leather tie)

Being in a large city, I do see an active live music scene, with young people lining up to see bands I've never heard of (I'm middle-aged), so I think there's still hope for the future.

I don't know the answers, I only hope that there remains a way to encourage and reward original music that's made for its own sake. We need another John Peel, for sure.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:18 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

You can still make money in music, but you have to travel. Your recordings are not products in themselves, but advertisements for your performances.
posted by pracowity at 6:55 AM on August 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

> Your recordings are not products in themselves, but advertisements for your performances.

That's not necessarily true. Music in and of itself is a product, or else we wouldn't have iPods.

In the past, there was an easy way to meter and monetize the "sale" of music - the physical medium (record, CD). Now that there's no physical bottleneck or technical impediment to distribution, (and at present no qualms from users about distributing copyrighted material), there's no longer as reliable a way to get paid for recordings of your music.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:12 AM on August 29, 2008

(I should also add that: no, artists didn't get all that much from the sale of records and CDs, it mostly went to the record companies)
posted by Artful Codger at 7:16 AM on August 29, 2008

Nice post, but he's likely preaching to the choir. Most of us would probably agree that the age of making money by selling recorded music is nigh over.

It was a fun read nonetheless (although it felt like my left brain talking - I've been in a bunch of bands myself), if a little obvious.

Of course, there's probably a valid question to be asked about whether, if the monetizing of music is eventually revealed to be a pointless battle, whether people will be quite so interested in forming bands. But again, it's not about money, is it.

No, it's not.

And that's the problem that musicians trying to make a career face. If there were no new music recorded from now until the day I die, there's still enough amazing recorded music available that I could listen to a different existing "new" album (new to me) every day for the rest of my life and likely never miss the difference.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:54 AM on August 29, 2008

And there will always be people who want to make music, regardless of whether they get paid. That would be me and lots of people I know.

The collapse of commercial music could create an incredible surge in amateur creation. (Perhaps it already has.) It will take much longer to sort through the sludge to find the gold, but that's the new life.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:57 AM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

> If there were no new music recorded from now until the day I die, there's still enough amazing recorded music available that I could listen to a different existing "new" album (new to me) every day for the rest of my life and likely never miss the difference.

Really? That's like saying that we don't need any more novelists; there are enough novels already.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2008

Music in and of itself is a product, or else we wouldn't have iPods.

Music players exist because people like to play music, but they don't like to and no longer need to pay for it. You'll have to find a way to make them pay before you can call it a product in and of itself.
posted by pracowity at 8:00 AM on August 29, 2008

There's no perhaps, mrgrimm. I think music is better off now than it ever has been. It's mainly down to the ease of making decent records in your own house! With Logic or (eww) ProTools and a good mic, you can pretty much do whatever you want.
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:09 AM on August 29, 2008

What I love about the digitization of music, file sharing etc is how completely it has flipped the paradigm that is the Music Biz. The power no longer rests with a bunch of soul-less suits sitting around a conference table pointing at graphs; it rests with the audience (ie: you and me), the people who love and collect and need music.

What I hate about the digitization of music, file sharing etc is how completely we, the audience, don't really get this yet. I'm not saying send your favourite band a check once a month. I'm not saying, feel guilty every time you download a free MP3. What I am saying is get creative. Get involved in the reconfiguration the so-called Music Biz. Get into arguments. But above all, get your thinking (and your actions) straight as to how you're going to give something back to the people (the so-called artists) who are currently giving you their very best for nothing.

And no, this doesn't mean sitting around waiting for the likes of Radiohead and NIN to show the way. Those guys already have enough cash to never have to work another day in their lives.
posted by philip-random at 9:15 AM on August 29, 2008

You can still make money in music, but you have to travel. Your recordings are not products in themselves, but advertisements for your performances.

He covered that argument by pointing out that most bands don't make any money from touring, either.

Of course, it's possible that his bands, and his friends' bands, just aren't very good. Also worth noting that he wasn't making any money in the early 1990s, either - well before downloading took off.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:34 AM on August 29, 2008

> Your recordings are not products in themselves, but advertisements for your performances.

The Beatles didn't tour after '67. XTC after '82. Of course, one of these bands is not like the other.
posted by mippy at 9:45 AM on August 29, 2008

Records are records, live performances are live performances. If you consider them as mere advertisements for each other, you will be foiled by the economics. Consider yourself lucky if you can sell either. To actually break even should be considered a great success.

Great post!
posted by bonefish at 10:31 AM on August 29, 2008

Really? That's like saying that we don't need any more novelists; there are enough novels already.

Read any modern literature lately? J.L. Borges has produced an imaginary quote to this effect, which I do not remember enough to reproduce here.

I am only half-joking.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:35 AM on August 29, 2008

Hermann Hesse: "...and as far as talent is concerned, there will be such an excess that our artists will become their own audiences, and audiences made up of ordinary people will no longer exist." - The Beautiful Dream from The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse
posted by specialbrew at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2008

This goes a long way towards something I've been vaguely thinking for a while: While the industry of making and performing music is not going to go away any time soon, and we will not quit having rock stars and big important bands in many genres/scenes/whatevers, it's still fundamentally true that widely-known profitable popular music is (mostly) a big fat historical anomaly and any assumptions about its future economic profile based on less than 150 years of rapid technological & social churn are probably hopeless.

Lots of people want there to be a viable model for making a decent living as a musician who (primarily) produces original creative artifacts for a fanbase. I certainly would like for that to be the case; a good friend of mine is a helluva performer and songwriter and I'd like to see him make a living singing his own songs to people who came to hear his songs, instead of slipping half a dozen of them in-between covers for bar patrons who want something they could get on the jukebox any night of the week. But what if it mostly just isn't going to be like that?
posted by brennen at 11:29 AM on August 29, 2008

This is an interesting eight-years-later followup to the industry talk Courtney Love gave at the Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference in 2000. Her "Courtney Love Does the Math" speech was reprinted in Salon. Love blasted the label/distribution system for soaking in profits that rightfully belonged to musicians, and portrayed some cautious optimism about Napster et al: "The present system keeps artists from finding an audience because it has too many artificial scarcities: limited radio promotion, limited bin space in stores and a limited number of spots on the record company roster. The digital world has no scarcities."

Turns out the Brave New World isn't lining the pockets of its "content providers" either, though. I'm not sure which Machine creators are supposed to be Raging against at this point. Marsden seems to have all the rage leached out of him and is now Sighing Against the Masses.

(I'd forgotten how much I adored that missive of Love's, laden with lines such as: "Here, take my Prada pants. Fuck it. Let us do our real jobs. And those of us addicted to celebrity because we have nothing else to give will fade away. And those of us addicted to celebrity because it was there will find a better, purer way to live.")
posted by cirocco at 12:22 PM on August 29, 2008

The Beatles didn't tour after '67. XTC after '82.

Well, you're talking about ancient history. Now we have this thing called file sharing. You spend months recording an album and paying lots of people and then some kid, at little or no cost to himself, gives copies away to everyone with an internet connection. Your recording may still be art -- I was being mean to call it only an advertisement -- but good luck selling enough copies to make a living when someone else is giving it away.

You can, however, play out, and though that same little shit who gave your recording away can also record and give away audio and video of your show, he can't duplicate and distribute the experience of being one of many excited people singing and dancing together at one of your shows while you interact with them. That's all you've got left that can't be cloned and given away. If you control the gate, you can sell tickets and souvenirs (people will always buy that shit) and refreshments (you have a captive and thirsty audience).
posted by pracowity at 3:05 PM on August 29, 2008

Also worth noting that he wasn't making any money in the early 1990s, either - well before downloading took off.
posted by Infinite Jest

Exactly. That's what the whole article is about, in my opinion. It's not about the difficulties that musicians might face in this changing environment, it's about the fact that in the media (or in pop culture perhaps) there is a myth being distributed that you can easily, if you are talented and committed, make it big writing and performing your own songs. Notice that I didn't say "as a musician", because that opens other possibilities that are besides the point. The article, in my opinion, is about the difficulties that songwriters will face.

In the article he mentions how most of the musicians just were not going to profit from the model that the industry used to have. He mentions that, despite all hope, it's becoming increasingly clear now that most musicians will not benefit from the current model, or from the model that may arise after the transition. In my opinion, the article is written from the perspective of an older musician, telling a younger musician: "kid, it's really tough, you might find it useful to find a job you like so that you can make a decent living and still continue to make your music, the way you like it"

It's not bad advice. And it does make it clear that what's important is to make music, that making music is what musicians should be doing.
posted by micayetoca at 5:46 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm not saying send your favourite band a check once a month.

Why not? I'm totally convinced that this is the best way to move forward.

Making a living selling music in units is a crazy idea- brilliant if you've got radio stations and can control access to markets, terrible when distribution and copying are low/no cost and uncontrollable.

People complain that they couldn't possibly afford to support all of their favorite bands- well, you're seeing it wrong. Give yourself a music budget and divvy it up. And if something new comes along, don't feel guilty- you'll get them later.

Or only support the bands you really think are amazing... or only support the bands you feel most sorry for... or only support bands that wear purple pants. It's all entirely up to you.

I'm running a studio based on the idea of sponsorship. You sponsor the work, you get access to the music. Sure, it might be free somewhere else, but then, there's more you haven't heard yet, and more to be made, and isn't it good to be part of that?
posted by Liv Pooleside at 6:37 PM on August 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Interesting thread.

Also, Rhodri belongs.
posted by humannaire at 7:02 PM on August 29, 2008

"I want what I want," he says, "and you are either going to help me, or get out of my way."... To me, this utterly joyless statement completely misses the point of playing music. Jonathan Coulton is another one; he is often cited as the king of online DIY music, because for 18 months he has been making a living by spending 6-8 hours a day vigorously social networking and sending birthday greetings to pre-pubescent girls in Wisconsin in the hope that she'll send him her pocket money in return. Personally, I can think of nothing more soul destroying. And it's worth noting that if I hadn't been told that Taglieri and Coulton were supposedly famous internet successes, I would never have heard of them. David Thomas, from legendary American post-punk band Pere Ubu, has these wise words to say to me on the topic of social networking and music:

It encourages a delusional state in the audience, a warm and cosy feeling that their opinion matters and counts for a hill of beans. That they’re part of a community, in this case a community of creative endeavour, in which, of course, they have not participated... Screw the audience.

Oh my FUCKING GAWD I don't think I've loved David Thomas more since I was 14 years old, living in the middle of nowhere (Kansas, so... literally) and my English teacher in high school gave me one of many mix tapes (he saw the Sex Pistols in Tulsa, noticed I had a Black Flag sticker on my Trapper Keeper back in the 80s) with "On the Surface" on it. I wore that tape out within 6 months because that was the only song I ever listened to for long periods of time. And I've since bought many Pere Ubu albums and reissues, directly from Thomas and his company. And I've since seen him and the band every chance I had (opening for The Pixies, They Might Be Giants, on their own in small clubs, etc. et CET-er-a: one of the funniest things I've ever seen was people stage diving to Pere Ubu at a TMBG show) and I swear if that bastard makes it back to the US, and especially Portland, I'm rushing the stage and giving him one big sweaty man-love hug and kiss as well as all the money in my pockets because he deserves it more than any horseshit I've heard anywhere (that's a capital ANYWHERE) in the last 10 years from anyone. I may hate his new albums when I hear them, but I know that he's what brought me here (among others, but even then he probably influenced me) to where I am, listening to the soundtrack of the original "The Bride of Frankenstein" in one ear and the casual conversations of an office environment in the other.

By the way, this article was excellent. Thanks for sharing it, skylar, or else I would have missed it. And thank you, Rhodri, for writing it.

--and if you don't want the extended rant, just end here--

pracowity, just from a perusal of your many comments, I can tell that you may actually know something about music, so I hope that you (and everyone else I've read here with the same take on making music, which is amazingly a lot of people) take this bit in the way it is meant and that is from someone who loves music, has made music for years, but has never, ever had an illusion that they're actually going to make money at it:

Last night I had the good fortune to go see a MeFite from Canada play in my (newish) hometown/city. Quartermass and his band Endangered Ape played to maybe 20 people at a crappy club in PDX. Melissa may and I were there and it was completely amazing. They were wonderful. Thing is, I know they were heading home afterwards. That's about 13 hours, not counting on dealing with border patrol travelling in a van as a band. All we had was about $10 to give, and that doesn't amount to much in today's economy. And there were two bands travelling to Canada. So, have these people had an international hit? No. Did they make it home at a loss? Oh, hell yes (trust me, I've been there when you've made no money for three or four days and you have to get home--they didn't). They did it because they wanted to and they did it so that they said they played a few shows here in the States. And, you know what? They did it. It may have sucked but they did it and that's what touring as a band without support can do. Say they did it.

Sadly, the way to make money in music isn't to travel, it's to have money to pay for promotion, for distro, for food and gas, which is exactly what this article says and exactly what Endangered Ape reminded me of last night. Money leads to money. Love never equals money. It's like any other business in a capitalist society--it all amounts to money and luck. And if you make it, good on you. But telling people to go travel to find their dream (or their best balance in their bank account) isn't accurate or really even close. There's way more to it than that.

You want to support that band you friended on myspace? Go give them money when they're in town or actually buy something from them (or hell, promote them on your blog that three people read). Or that photographer you love? Go pay and see the show when it's in town. Otherwise, you're just another person living vicariously through the work of others and justifying it as just another part of the digital age that we live in, which makes you just as pathetic as any other 14 year old, no matter how much money you have. Or better yet, make your own and see where that leads you.

Personally, even though I make music, I have a job that has nothing to do with it that I love for exactly the above reasons--I can live here, today, and eat food and enjoy life. And I wish you all the luck in the world if you've decided that's against a code of "honor" or whatever is selling nowadays.

Or, as that genius micayetoca said, "[W]hat's important is to make music, that making music is what musicians should be doing."
posted by sleepy pete at 11:09 PM on August 29, 2008

That's like saying that we don't need any more novelists; there are enough novels already.

We don't need any more novelists and there are enough novels already.

The only good reason to write a novel is because you absolutely have to do it. Your chances of finding an audience are even slimmer than the chances of a band. If you do decide to do it, and you're both lucky and good, you may find an audience who connects with what you write, but anyone who writes because they believe the world needs another novel is deluded.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:42 AM on August 30, 2008

We don't need any more novelists and there are enough novels already.

Abandon creative pursuits, everybody. Put down your pens and your acoustic guitars. Peter McDermott is suffering from media overload.

In any case, everything MUST have been said by now. Every story has been told, I imagine, and everything must surely have been sung – I mean, sheesh, there's only 12 semitones in a scale, and there can't be many more ways of mixing those babies up.
posted by rhodri at 4:30 AM on August 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

We don't need any more novelists and there are enough novels already.

Stanislav Lem said this - it's either in A Perfect Vacuum or One Human Minute. That enough books had been written, and that from now on if we wanted to publish a new one we'd have to get rid of one of the old ones. I think - I can't find the precise reference, but it's been fun looking. Lem is fab.

Anyway, rather tellingly, he put this insight into a book.
posted by Grangousier at 4:57 AM on August 30, 2008

And something that I think is quite important about the internet as opposed to physical media - if you make (say) 1,500 copies of a CD it suggests that you assume up to 1,500 people would be interested in buying it. Putting something on the internet makes it theoretically available to billions of people, but there's no inherent assumption that anyone will be interested. Everything I've ever put on the web (and a lot of it is quite difficult to find, even if you want to find it and know what you're looking for) has been put there with no expectation that anyone will ever listen to it or read it. But making that gesture towards "publishing" makes a huge difference in the relationship to the doing it.

Almost all live music in London (as far as I can tell) is based on the notion that the customers for the venues are not the audiences, but the bands - the bands rent the performance spaces using the audiences, or at least the promise of the audiences, as currency*. If they bring enough people (an awful lot of people), the venue give them some money, but almost all bands don't cross this threshold.

I long ago found the process to be too depressing to engage in, and I can't blame the venues or the promoters, but it's tended to result in the ideal band/customer being someone who has lots of friends rather than someone who's interesting or good. Many promoters will find space for someone who's that good, or that quirky or that different, as the reason they drifted into what they do is that they loved music. I have neither that much talent nor that many friends, and opted for discretion and the anonymity of the internet.

On the other hand, a performer who really can attract more than fifty people to a show could find their own room-above-a-pub and keep all the money or not charge anything at all. I'm not sure why more people don't do it.** Except that that strategy wouldn't provide them with the illusion of the professional that a "proper' venue does.

If you actually want to make money in the music industry the way to do it is by selling services to musicians, so yer man with the CD burner is probably right, although it's interesting that he defines that as a part of his musicianship (rather than someone who's running a CD duplication business to support his interest in music).

Sorry if this has been a bit of a ramble. I don't really do coherent.

Long live the new amateurism, anyway.

*This goes for the large venues as well, if you think about it. Though a band who books the Shepherd's Bush Empire or the 02 has probably decided that they can get enough bums on seats (or, more to the point, beer glasses in hand) to make it worthwhile.

**I don't do it because it's embarrassing to go downstairs and explain to the bar staff what I'm doing up there by myself. I mean other people.
posted by Grangousier at 5:26 AM on August 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

On the other hand, a performer who really can attract more than fifty people to a show could find their own room-above-a-pub and keep all the money or not charge anything at all. I'm not sure why more people don't do it.

For the same reason that you now have to pay to play in a lot of clubs in New York City - real estate costs. There are very few "rooms above pubs" that are just lying around in major cities any more.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:48 AM on August 30, 2008

You can still make money in music, but you have to travel.

Depends on your definition of making money. If you mean, "Being able to make enough money that you aren't one step away from living on the street at all times," then it's simply not true, particularly in the US. If you're a bunch of kids living in Motel 6s while you travel it can be a lot of fun but you won't be able to make a living that way.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:52 AM on August 30, 2008

The collapse of commercial music could create an incredible surge in amateur creation.

You know, I've heard this for ten years and it makes me sad.

There's a good reason that nearly all the "great" music up until now has been done by full-time musicians - it's that making great music is extremely time-consuming.

Even in the 60s, when people had a great deal of leisure time, most of the great work was made by full-time musicians. Now we're in an era when you have to work harder and harder just to survive.

I manage to keep a full-time job and do music in a half-assed fashion - only because I don't have a family. Even then it can be pretty hard.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:11 AM on August 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

ast night I had the good fortune to go see a MeFite from Canada play in my (newish) hometown/city.

posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:12 AM on August 30, 2008

There's a good reason that nearly all the "great" music up until now has been done by full-time musicians - it's that making great music is extremely time-consuming.

Without meaning to dismiss you for a second, I think this a very common myth. I don't think that all the "great" stuff was done by professionals, but that there just weren't any channels to distribute the rest of the stuff, and I'll elaborate:

I've lived perhaps in ten cities in 4 different countries in my life, and in each one of them I've met local musicians who have done amazing music (truly great stuff) that I would have never found had I not moved there. Before the recent technological developments there was no way of finding out about a song like Arboretum. Now there is.

Of course, the fact that the guy who wrote that song has a means to distribute it now doesn't mean that he is going to be able to profit from it, but that only reinforces the point of the article: it's very hard for songwriters to make a living writing songs.

So yeah, in my opinion there is a lot of great, great music (as good as that by any of The Greats) that we just couldn't find about. These days, luckily, if you get tired of listening to the same songs by Gorillaz you can listen to The Harvey Girls' Hazy Heat, which is just as good and isn't brought to you by the industry, but by the pure commitment of the HGs to continue to make music.
posted by micayetoca at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2008

I don't think anyone is stupid enough to go into music for the money, are they?

I manage to keep a full-time job and do music in a half-assed fashion - only because I don't have a family. Even then it can be pretty hard.

I manage to keep a full-time job *and* play consistently, while still be a good family man. Don't ask me how; I think I'm just lucky I think (and my wife is very supportive).
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:28 PM on August 30, 2008

Excellent post, and at such an interesting time in my life. I recently, just within the past week, decided to start asking for donations for my music, and I did so because I found out i've got a kid on the way. Previous to that, since 1998, I have been giving away my music for free, and now my sixth album just came out. Back in the heyday of I pretty much saw the writing on the wall and realised, "from now on, there's no money in music, except for those few who are already established with the big labels." For 10 years I have not received a dime for anything that I've recorded. I managed to get my stuff played on the radio a little. But I never played live so essentially it came down to a hobby. I didn't mind, I was a early adopter on my things, including mastering recording software which I downloaded illegally (and justified stealing it by giving away my music), so the recording process was pretty much cost-free too so I figured it was just evening out anyhow. When I said I never made any money. I did manage to get a check from for $137 during that brief time in history when they were actually paying people for plays, just right before they bankrupted themselves and sold themselves to universal and deleted everyone's accounts. The only way I managed that was by doing A LOT of promoting on online boards and what not.

I found your post shocking for some reason, I can't decide why. Maybe I suppose because I had deluded myself in to thinking people really would pay for my music if given the option, but not forced to actually do so. After releasing sixth albums and not getting any money for it, but more importantly not getting any real recognition for it, that's what sucks the most. It seems like everyone who comes across the the musician who doesn't charge for his music, well that music must just suck. I can't give it away it seems. I'm pretty sure it doesn't suck, though. It's difficult for mp3 blogs to review it, music magazines are way out of my league it seems, never a response from them.

Will music survive the mp3 revolution? Without a doubt. But the only people who will be left are people like me, who are doing it just for the pure joy of doing it. The process itself is what interests me. Like I said, I never played live, never had much desire to do so. I have considered doing it recently, ever since I found out I can sing (my first five albums were instrumental music only.) So maybe I'll expand my joy to doing gigs, but I don't expect much money from it.

So since the new album came out, I've been ramping up my efforts to get the word out. Any and all social networking site, i've joined it. Any website where you can play music at, I've joined it and uploaded my music if I can, or written those who run the website. I'm still waiting for a response on my itunes application. One thing I've done is talked to my fellow friends who do music, but who aren't really active online. I've "signed" them to my "label" and told them i'll take care of all the online stuff for tehm, for half the profits. we'll see how that pans out.

So anyway, I can't go without taking a moment to pimp my own stuff. So check out my band, 76, at or or If you wanna help me out you can donate at that first link. You won't have the honor of being the first to donate, but you might be the second!!!! Lets see if I can get that revenue stream up to double digits finally ;)
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 3:48 PM on August 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

micayetoca, thank you for your endless kindness. But I have to say this

the pure commitment of the HGs to continue to make music

was painful to read, because I haven't been able to manage it for quite some time. It's got too strange. If it's not the all-the-great-novels-have-been-written sentiment, it's the odd loneliness that comes from being one of untold thousands of people singing at the top of their lungs but seldom carefully listening to each other.

I used to be quite hopeful about the advent of social networking but seeing so much of it devolve into SEO-type snake oil and the chilly hacking of people's desire to truly connect to each other I've just abandoned it of late. Rhodri very accurately described how the more popular self-promoting artists manage their success online. Personally, the thought of using Myspace or the like to say happy birthday to people or leave a heartfelt :( when they announce their cat has died with the vague hope they'll buy a shirt just gives me the bone-deep willies. It's not a stance of superiority. It's just something I don't want to do, to pretend at intimacy with people I don't know. It makes me want to hide under the bed.

All the stuff that A&R types used to do musicians are now looking for ways to do for themselves and it's just too simplistic to say that the former were all pony-tailed greaseballs and the latter all pure of heart. Whenever I think of the best parts of the old ways I think of Kate Bush, one of my favorite artists ever. The amount of support and guidance she received from people in the business who loved her music was truly extraordinary. She was permitted to be experimental, and she was permitted to fail. When she found performance to be too big a distraction from recording, she simply stopped after a single tour, never to perform again. Granted, even for the time that level of support was extraordinary, but I simply can't imagine the reaction to an artist like her now. Few people would have patience for her strangeness or her refusal to see her records as mere ads for shows. Without a record company to support her, her natural shyness would preclude her from doing the aggressive self-promotion you simply must do now to have a hope in hell of getting heard.

Is the bloat and greed of the old system worth the occasional grace of an artist like Kate Bush emerging? As much as I truly love her, I doubt it. But I do know the new self-promotion model doesn't inspire me either. It rewards a certain kind of savvy extrovert, people with the confidence and social skill to forge a lot of connections. At times, they may even be great musicians. But the model they're using elevates people-pleasing above real feeling or skill.

I didn't mean to write such an opus but this has all been weighing on my mind lately, because I just don't feel compelled to make music anymore. It feels like yet more pointless noise in an endless sea of same. The most widely expressed opinion in this thread and most others like it I've read is that if you truly love music, you'll always make it. That seems so obvious, yet I genuinely don't know if it's true. I do love music, but I hate every last thing about the current process of actually getting it heard. And making music that's never to be heard seems as queer and pointless as talking to yourself and expecting an answer.*

*Coincidentally, that's also how it feels to write a long depressing comment in a two-day old Metafilter thread.
posted by melissa may at 7:18 AM on August 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

I do love music, but I hate every last thing about the current process of actually getting it heard.

As somebody who has been making music and playing shows for over 15 years now, I totally agree. I'd rather just stay in and make my own crazy tapes more and more these days.
posted by stinkycheese at 1:40 PM on September 1, 2008

In case it wasn't evident by whom I've been favoriting, I'd like to make this explicit: I offer nothing but respect to the individual musicians who make music out of a combination of love and compulsion, absent a profit motive. You alone have been feeding my ears for at least a decade. What you do is nothing short of magic to someone whose musical education is limited to pounding out the major scales on an upright piano. I know that most of your work feels like shouting down a well, like it does to most writers, who routinely shout down wells.

When I go to shows and see that I am the only one pumping my fist while the rest of the audience is impassive (apparently there only to drink and be seen), I despise that audience for being too in love with their own cool to show proper appreciation. Please know that you are heralded despite the cool of your listeners. They are afraid of scaring you with their adulation.

I may be too shy to approach musicians after the show and tell them how much they affected me, but dammit, music does affect me, and the affect is not related to how many units the artist can shift. Please know, musicians, that you have more fans than whoever dare approach you, lest they be accused of stalking. But if thousands of people download your song, they hear you. I know this doesn't put food on the table, but you are heard, for whatever value you assign to being heard.

There are local musicians I haven't given a dime to because they offer free downlonds, and play venues I don't frequent. Hearing from you all is making me want to pony up. So don't stop talking, even though talking about music is not why you make music. It illuminates your dilemma to people like me, who just don't get your process because we don't have your gift. (I am not being facetious--I think facility with music, like facility with math, is a brain-shaped gift that not all of us are privy to.)

I don't know what else to say without getting gushy. Thanks, music-makers, for giving me respite and understanding. You are heard, although absorbed quietly. I went to a show last summer where the lead singer, whom I've admired for years, stepped off the stage after the show and into the audience. He asked me if I'd had a good time, and I think my answer ("This is the most fun I've ever had in [insert venue here]!") struck him as damning with faint praise.

But we love your guts; we love it when you get up in public and play your hearts out. We know what it takes because we can't do it ourselves, not with our own art. So thank you. I don't know how you keep risking your souls, but you keep doing it, and those of us who don't have the guts love watching you being gutsy. We're rooting for you.
posted by cirocco at 12:58 PM on September 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

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