An open letter to Amanda Palmer and Stephanie Nilles: A fellow musician’s take on the TED video

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.

Stephanie,

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.

Respectfully,
—Jordan

Jordan Corey Official | Facebook | Twitter | Kickstarter

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4 comments
RobbinB
RobbinB

Noah, I certainly agree that artists need to be true to their art in all aspects.  For me, however, "branding" is an essential part of the achievement process and is based upon the uniqueness of the artist and does not in any way detract from the work.  I believe that music is, was, and always will be a consumable (hopefully gorged upon) commodity.

stephanienilles
stephanienilles

I'd truly happy this conversation keeps going... That said, what you're doing Jordan and what I'm doing are like apples and oranges. As I said, I couldn't care less about what happens to my recorded catalog, which I only record to have cds (merch) to sell at gigs for gas money. I'm talking about live gigs. How many gigs have you played so far in your career? If your focus is on recording, branding, and potentially loaning songs you've written or covered to commercials, tv shows, and films (the only way I can think of a musician like yourself to make any money), then you're in the advertizing business. I'm playing 200 gigs a year: I'm in the service industry (supes glamorous as that is). I see you've started a kickstarter campaign to fund a tour. Can't you agree that the fact you need to start a kickstarter campaign to fund a tour is absolutely absurd? 

Yes, the pinnacle of the recording industry was in the early 90s, but considering the lifespan of MUSIC, not of the RECORDING INDUSTRY, the record making business has been only a tiny blip on the radar screen. Prior to and during the heyday (70s-80s) of major record labels, bands went on the road to make a living. In the 90s, major pop stars were awarded both stardom and, sometimes, an exorbitant amount of money--as were their marketing machines (major labels). But the touring mechanism is not a response to fame, or the result of records no longer making any of us enough money... it's historically a way for musicians to make a living (bleak as that living might be). But more importantly, it's what defines us. We play live music in rooms with live people in them. That's our job. Musicians of the Baroque era (and before that era, and after that era) were not called "musicians" because their records were popular across the continent, they were "musicians" because they played for other humans in concerts, at banquets, at church, during animal ritual ceremonies... whatever. 

Furthermore I don't know about the argument that "most people expect recorded music to be free, therefore that's the way it should be and always will be" holds up.  It's a tenuous/long shot of a parallel, but it's a parallel nonetheless: pioneers in this country started enslaving other people simply because the lack of legal construct allowed them to get away with it. And most Americans were fine with the institution of slavery, even though it was wrong,.... until the Civil War. And then they weren't. Obviously our plight is less extreme, but you get my point: just because everyone's doing it doesn't mean it's right, or that it should and will continue as is.

Jordan Corey
Jordan Corey

@stephanienilles"Can't you agree that the fact you need to start a kickstarter campaign to fund a tour is absolutely absurd?"  -- Absolutely. 

At the end of the day all we are trying to do is make music that we LOVE, that makes us spiritually fulfilled and happy while being able to pay the bills. However we do it, we make it work. I'm in your corner.


Mad respect,

J

NoahThomas
NoahThomas

Being true to you art in your life and your life in your art seems to be the pathway for making a living by both Amanda Palmer and Stephanie Nilles, and it works for them to a degree.  I think both options can be viable but I am suspect of identifying your art with a brand, it seems to put image over substance and therefor detracts from artistic content.  At that point you might be financially viable, but then you are the product, a consumable to be consumed, spent, burned, and I question the long term artistic viability of that approach as Nina Simone did in the '70s

http://youtu.be/RZGnplDRH_o


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