In my last blog post, I indicted us all as consumers for not valuing and respecting musicians and their craft enough to invest money into it. Today I’m calling out those of us in the music industry for being desperate, desperate sluts.
Honesty time: how many of you who are musicians have played for free or what winds up being less than the federal minimum hourly wage? How many of you give CDs out for free? All of you should have your hands up. How many non-musicians have done this [excluding internships – musicians also do those and we’re even less likely to get paid for them than the rest of you]? Would you do someone’s taxes for free? Give their kid a set of braces? Serve them a gourmet meal you went to culinary school to learn to make?
Consumers don’t value our product, but how can they when we don’t seem to either? The listener – whether that’s the public, a record label, a manager, or a publisher – is the senior quarterback. His name’s Joey, he’s super hot and, like, everybody knows he never dates freshmen but we totally can’t stop thinking about him. We – the musicians, labels, managers, or publishers – are the desperate freshman girl (or guy; there’s no right kind of love, even in a crass analogy). We’re going to be called Becky. We’re not super confident and way inexperienced, but so desperate for Joey’s sweet quarterback loving that we’ll gladly cash in our V-card on the delusional off-chance that sex will make him love us back. If we had our head on straight, we’d recognize that that first time is very special and not something we can get back once it’s gone. Also, Joey’s been making out with Tina behind the bleachers and she totally has his letterman jacket and everyone knows they’re going to end up together but he’s also a teenage boy of a rather lower moral caliber so he’s not going to turn down sex if we offer it.
Before we know it, we’ve given ourselves to Joey and he’s already hooking up with Tina again and isn’t even getting our name right when he sees us in the hallway between classes – if he acknowledges us at all.
This is the music industry. This situation is what happens every time we give our music out for free or sign a shitty deal with a publisher/manager/label because we’re so happy that they actually acknowledged us.
It’s time to get a grip, Becky. Joey’s got zero emotional interest in you; he’s just in it for the cheap, awkward sex.
We give the public our music for free in the hopes that they’ll notice us, but they’ve moved on to the next desperate band trying to get followers before we can blink and you’ve made zero dollars or leverage-able connections in the process. We sign a deal with a publisher that is going to leave us completely screwed in two years because we’re so excited that someone is acknowledging our talent we don’t bother to make sure they actually appreciate it as well. A label makes their entire catalogue available free on streaming services – including smaller artists who can’t rely on an invested fanbase to cover the loss – because peer pressure, am I right, guys?
If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?
I’m not saying that no music should be free. Sometimes, giving it away is the best way to get your foot in the door. But we’re not doing it intelligently anymore. Everything is free. We went from just trying to get Joey’s attention to doing the whole damn football team and it’s not very becoming. We need revenue streams and we need to say what our art is worth and stick to our damn guns. Remember, you’ve invested thousands of hours and dollars into your craft. It’s worth something.
People are consuming more than ever. Clearly music has importance to them. We have a certain amount of power to say that that importance has a monetary parallel.
But that’s not an easy path to tread. That V-Card is nonrefundable. We may have put too much out there already. The free nature of music and the ease of access has become this unwieldy Frankenstein’s monster that now seems to be controlling us rather than the other way around.
Take back the power, Becky! You’re better than this!
Part of the issue is that we out-slut each other. Case in point: Almost all of the bands on Broadway in downtown Nashville (and at plenty of venues around the country) are playing for tips and nothing else. This isn’t always a bad thing; they have the potential to make hundreds a night in tips at certain spots on certain days. But even waitstaff know that they’re at least getting a few bucks an hour, even if it’s a slow day or there’s a raging asshole convention in town that night and no one leaves a gratuity. If those musicians don’t get any tips, they lose money at the end of the night. But if one of these bands demands to get paid an hourly fee by the venue, the venue will just call up another band from the seemingly endless pool of desperate acts looking for a coveted spot on LoBro.
We’ve given into the every whim of the consumers, which in some ways is awesome and in other ways is fucking stupid. Mostly stupid. When everything is free, nothing has value. It’s hard to manage the toddler-level temper tantrum that is digital piracy, but now the kid’s smearing shit on the walls and we’re complimenting him on his creativity.
Even the cheapest prostitute isn’t free. Hookers don’t give away freebies to get “exposure.” Guys, hookers have a better understanding of their value than many young (and not-so-young) musicians.
Music is incredible. If you have a musical gift, you have one of the closest things to a super-power most of us will ever see. You possess a special kind of magic. It’s freaking amazing! Remind people of that. Maybe throw in that great fact I found for the last post about how you’ve spent more time on your craft than someone who’s just receiving their commercial pilot’s license has spent in an airplane (enjoy your friends’ and families’ sudden fear of flying). When someone asks if you charge to play say “yes,” loudly and clearly and know what you charge. Give some things away for free but make sure you’re getting something in exchange for every interaction – whether it’s money through a tip or a merch sale or an email address for a mailing list (a vague promise that they’ll like you on Facebook does not count; dignity, Becky, dignity).
This industry, unlike almost any other industry, has the most unforgiving “entry level” you can imagine. “Entry level” in the music industry means either working in another industry while you attempt to launch your career or bleeding money, and it can take years to get past this point. This has become the accepted norm, but we have the potential to change this. For a true sea-change we’ll likely need a change in how our culture treats musicians, but we can be part of that process.
Let’s start by having business practices at least as good as those of your average hooker and move forward from there.