Earlier in the month we waded into the raging discussion following Amanda Palmer’s TED talk which advanced the notion that crowd sourcing and “the art of asking” your fans for payment for performance (in any form) might be the smart way to advance one’s career in music. In an open response letter to Amanda, Stephanie Nilles addressed some of her differences with Ms. Palmer tactics, and yet another raging discussion in the commentary was had.
We’re keeping the dialogue ongoing with LA-based singer/ songwriter, Jordan Corey’s take on the topic. We again invite your feedback, and if you’ve got a knowing response in you, let’s hear it.
Let me start by saying that I wholly agree with your argument that artists should be adequately compensated for the work that we do. As a musician, I agree with almost all of your points as I constantly find myself thinking similar thoughts. It is interesting that while Palmer’s TED talk inspired you to write your letter, it inspired me to do this:
My name is Jordan Corey. I am a singer/songwriter based out of (and recently relocated to) Los Angeles. For the past four years I had been a full-time student at UCSB while simultaneously writing and releasing new material. I can say without question that Social Media is the #1 reason why my music has been heard. While I would have loved the opportunity to go on tour to market, promote, and perform for fans, I was tied down to Santa Barbara. Now don’t get me wrong, I could have taken time off of school and gone on tour, but I made the decision to stay enrolled. I was confident I could have both a career in music and stay on track to get my degree.
I graduated from UCSB last June, packed up my things, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music full-time. It didn’t take long for me to realize how much money it costs to not only record music, but to promote it. When I was 18 and decided to make a career out of music, my family supported me on the contingency that I learned the business. So as a wide-eyed 18-year-old I began to discover the harsh reality of the music industry.
I quickly realized that there is hardly a “music” industry…at least not anymore. With the release of P2P file sharing programs like Napster in 1999, the lucrative music industry as we knew it was over. Strictly from a consumer perspective, why pay for something if you can get it free? Today, music is no longer considered a “viable product.” A tough pill to swallow as a musician, but nonetheless it is the reality.
We live in exponential times. 90% of the data available on the Internet was created within the last 2 years. Looking at that figure, can we honestly expect a 50-year-old business model to hold up?
During the 90’s when the industry was booming, record execs and board members sitting at quarterly meetings were satisfied. Bonus checks were written, vacations taken, and lunches paid for. But…the well dried up. The lower grossing bands are now let go (as we’ve heard in Amanda’s story), records are shelved, budgets are slashed, and artists are shafted. Consumers aren’t flocking to Best Buy or their local music store to purchase new records, just as they aren’t taking as many trips to the movie theatre, or to the drug store to develop rolls of film. Just like Kodak went bankrupt, the artist who doesn’t adapt will suffer too. DJ’s play songs they didn’t write, and get paid tenfold what you, or I, could make in one night. Do we continue to be unwilling to change, complaining until we become irrelevant? Or do we evolve and figure out a new way to make a living making music?
So here we are, independent artists in 2013. We have chosen a career path that is as dead as print journalism. What are we to do? How can we get people, our fans, to support our art if they can download it free with little to no consequence? One answer is to give away our music free, and ask people to donate so we can keep making music. Do as Amanda did and, “ask without shame.”
Now, asking people to give money for something that we deserve to be paid for is frustrating, if not completely damaging to our egos and the work that we do. In fact, it sounds ludicrous coming from an era when successful musicians were millionaires. The industry is changing, people are changing, and as artists we must adapt to survive.
While I often preach about how unfair it is that we [artists] are not paid for our work…it does nothing to help solve the problem at hand. Arguing for people to pay for our music and tickets to our shows is beating a dead horse at this point. As artists, just as any other occupation, we no doubt deserve to be compensated for our work. However, in 2013 we would be naïve if we didn’t accept the fact that the industry will never be as it was. As artists, we have to change our approach and figure out a new way to monetize our product—just as iTunes figured out a way to compete with popular file sharing programs, and Netflix a way to compete with television and film pirating.
It pains me to think of myself, or you, or Amanda as a “company” simply putting out a “product.” Anyone who has ever created something knows art is SO much more than that. But at the end of the day all we are trying to do—all anyone is trying to do—is figure out a way to pay the bills and do what we love. Right?
Amanda Palmer did it by crowd funding. Beck did it by having his last release available on SHEET MUSIC only. Other artists have done it by licensing their music for film and television. But most artists today will do it by branding items.
So what did Amanda Palmer ultimately figure out? How to keep doing what she loved. She didn’t “miss the big picture,” she actively pursued a solution to her problem.
The truth is, music isn’t making money anymore—and I don’t know if it ever will. Great music is no longer the path to riches; great music is now the path to establishing a badass brand. Artistry is not dead. We have simply found ourselves in a period of extreme change, cultivated by a major shift in the industry. We need to be smarter, more intuitive, and persevere.
Maybe one day, if we’re lucky, the days of playing empty bars will grow into sold out shows and a lucrative brand. A brand where we can continue making music and doing what we love, while simultaneously making money by endorsing products, selling merch, and who knows. I believe there is no right way to handle the current geography of the music industry; the beauty of it is the freedom to define our own. We aren’t just artists anymore, we must be entrepreneurs.
Lets keep doing our thing.