someone on fb posted this pitchfork article http://pitchfork.com/thepitch/591-op-ed-do-you-owe-us-a-living/ and it got me thinking. or angry, or tuned-up or something.
i work on music more than i work on anything. i work on music more than i work at my real getting-a-paycheck job and my social and romantic relationships all combined. im utterly obsessed with it. if i got paid minimum wage for every hour i worked on music, i would have a super comfortable life.
but making little beats and writing little songs isnt the part of music-making i get paid for. the two revenue streams i have are selling the actual albums (and maybe a t-shirt here and there) and playing shows.
when i say selling the albums i mean physical copies. (digital releases of my music have been available for ages and ive yet to make a single sale.) but also, i mean in-person. (my albums have been carried by brick-and-mortar record stores, and ive never seen any money back from that either) when i sell an album, the customer buys it right out of my hand, and pays cash, usually at a show.
an important thing to consider about this model is that no one who buys my music really wanted it in the first place. we are exploiting the drunk and impulsive. if there are 30 people at a show, and you ask every one of them if they would like to purchase a recording, one is bound to be drunk enough, and one is bound to be impulsive enough. this is the same method as panhandling on the street. pure statistics. if you stand on the corner and ask 30 people for spare change, a couple people are bound to help you out.
i dont play the right shows and the shows i do play are for financially-irresponsible and business-inappropriate reasons. this autumn, i turned down a show with a 200 dollar guarantee because i was sure it wouldnt be any fun (reports confirm that it was indeed un-fun). and i consistently play shows with friends (who are in the same low-earning boat as i am) because i know itll be a good time (for which i earn an average of 20 dollars per performance, plus merch sales, which are spotty and unpredictable)
we are building a case here for i probably dont deserve to make a living off my music and no one probably owes me anything.
plus, i make ridiculously unlikable music, filled with harsh tones and anti-social themes. i dont have a hit single or any sing-along jams. my most recent song is about shitting and its like the funnest, most pop-friendly thing ive done in ages.
the chewy center of the issue is: if i changed the type of music i made, and the people i perform with, and the method by which i distribute and promote my music, i could theoretically make a living at it! im not compelled to be in a punk rock band (even a bad punk band can tour squats and dive bars forever) and im not compelled to be in a classic rock cover band (i know a local band that does eagles and led zeppelin covers and gets paid hundreds of dollars every weekend) and im not compelled to be a techno dj (tho i have done that, theres always money to be made as a techno dj for some reason)
what i find distasteful in the pitchfork article is that it ignores the major issues of quality. quality of the music being made and quality of the work ethic of the musicians. it smacks of too much sense-of-entitlement. if i made really likable, un-threatening music and worked really hard to promote it and paid for a booking agent and a publicist, then i might feel like some success was missing. maybe the issue is that pure self-expression is something youre pretty much gonna lose money doing, and we would have to make too many sacrifices to provide a consistently salable product.
art is not defined as a business.