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Musicians Making a Living: What's Coming That Works?

edited July 2012
I know some of you are deep in this. I'm not, though I took a class on it once. Philosophical musings, examples - working/non, or references to great thinkers, articles and stuff.

First, I think eventually all aesthetics will be social. The music press, critics will start to be social network mediated, as they fade into nonexistence. The music press is supported by advertising, which will become individualized, so no need for mass publishing.

Second, came across this Portland startup who were webcasting PDX Pop Now. They have a revenue model: ad split with the bands. Hope they pop.

Third, heard this dude at Portland Creative Mornings: Eventually the video will be on Vimeo. Everyone as small business.


  • edited July 2012
    Executives will be the only people who can afford to make music. Prepare yourself for calcu-pop, as execs start registering for conferences that teach them how to compose music on their graphic calculators. Ironically, people will pay to see them play and to buy their recordings, because they prefer to give money to those who already have lots of it. The class of people who formerly held the role of artist will go into the calculator repair business. They will continue to make music but no one will want to listen to it, because the audience will find it "depressing."
  • edited July 2012
    I would be interested to hear what this writer's really trying to say: "Affability is a commercial virtue, but it is also the affect of people who feel themselves to be living in a fundamentally agreeable society. Already, the makings of a new youth culture may be locking into place. "
    Did he define the new youth culture at all?

    I don't think this argument takes into consideration any possibility of future economic tightening. The article feels like it could have been written ten years ago. The writer says that the hipster rose during the real estate boom, but mentions nothing of the bust. What, for example, about the coming generation of youth who find that college isn't worth the money. I think the shoe hasn't dropped on this one in a big way yet, but I can see a future where you can't rely on the cultural fruition that occurs in college. I mean traditionally hipsters come together in college. So either less hipsters will self-identify as students, or else if traditions continue those who get a hipster education will be the small class who go to college.

    Personally I think that punk values and aesthetics will come around again as the middle class loses ground.
  • edited July 2012
    This guy's argument also seems to be that hipster culture stands apart from previous youth cultures because it does not stand in opposition but in alignment to the mainstream culture. That hipsters are entrepeneurs, and therefore they play by the same rules. I would like to just make the point that the whole point of youth culture is that it stands in opposition to the mainstream culture. So if it looks like there is no opposition, you just have to look harder. In this case I think that being media consumers has made us savvy enough to negotiate the straight world. Furthermore, the affable language of consumerism makes it easy to hide in plain sight, while simultaneously standing for alternative values.

    Different classes of people can adopt this language. Therefore, I see that this time precedes a further fracturing of hipsters. Those who go to college but also have non-capitalist values will be the new yuppies. Those who don't "make it" in the mainstream economy will be punks. Each group will have anti-capitalist values, but will differ on how they can cash in using the aesthetics of hipsterdom. Punks will beg for pennies (Kickstarter) to pay next month's rent, and yuppies will use the same system in a venture-capitalist model.

    I think we expect these social media technologies to change how art is funded. But I don't think we are there yet. Social media eliminated the opportunity to make money by selling CDs. But I don't think the same methods will put the same amount of money back on the table. Kickstarter isn't it. Personally I am interested in how the subscription/membership model can somehow be leveraged. That's my two cents for the future.
  • edited July 2012
    1) A bigger role for government is possible. There's tons of untapped touring markets all over the country because infrastructure is woefully underbuilt.

    2) Thoughtful progressive arts and culture foundations could give up on propping up giant outmoded new urbanist institutions and just subsidize leaner and more decentralized and more experimental outposts such as, say, independent record labels. Labels will still have a hugely important curatorial role to play. Few of them are turning profits anyway.

    3) Consumers could be made to realize the impact their choices have on musicians. There have been few well-designed efforts to communicate with consumers about what the material reality of musicians' lives is like. "Fair trade" music could start to be a thing.

    4) Punk's definitely not dead. Punks could get more adept at fighting the real enemies. I like to think we will.

  • RCH: I like what you are saying about hiding in plain sight. I think there is a real problem that a lot of artsy people think they are "pulling one over" on corporate america by managing to get a paycheck with their progressive values ostensibly intact while the negative impact of their complicity in these systems is displaced and pushed out of their view (i.e. out of urban centers, to small towns and distant suburbs). At the same time, it's true that there's a lot of revolutionary stuff that leads with a hug instead of a middle finger so "affability" isn't the best metric of resistance, maybe.
  • edited July 2012
    I feel that a lot of musicians around me think they've pretty much plateaued and are concerned about it.
    This capitalistic music system has given us the illusion that even the most indie bands have to grow to giant beer festival levels, hundreds of thousands of online listeners, tour buses and sponsorship offers. This vibe is basically erasing all true options of independence. The only way to make it now seems to "depend", to rely on heavy management and publicity.
    I think the future will be a lot more bleak before it gets better again. I think more bands are going to contribute songs to corporate advertisement, it already doesn't seem that ridiculous to most of us. I think fewer people are going to pay for music. I think music is going to become more and more social. Bands will have to play live to survive, and they will rely on selling wearables (garments) rather than music in record form.

    There will always always be punks. There will always be people who want to do everything themselves on their own terms. But as truly DIY bands compete with booking agents for dates at the finest music venues, the punks will be faced with more and more house shows. I have sort of given up on booking tours for myself. A bunch of kids' basement is not the place where I think my music sounds the best, but if I want to go on tour, then I have no choice but to take those opportunities. And while I am fully aware that what I do is not the easiest for the masses to enjoy (foreign language, repetition, poor musicianship) I watch other awesome artists who have a lot going for them fail at gaining people's attention over and over again.

  • edited July 2012
    here's the deal:

    its fucking stupid to be a musician for a living. its an extremely bad bet. it was bad, then shit got fucked by the digital world or whatever and now its an even worse bet.

    and that's it.

    those that choose to play this game despite the odds are either incredibly stupid, incredibly egotistical or so dedicated to music as an artform that it leaves them no other option but to dedicate their lives to it, regardless of the shitty payback.

    also tho, as a second generation musician that is currently struggling to eat, etc, i generally don't listen to or read non-musicians opinions on the matter.

  • A guy at my work has the Manta album "Classic Battles" in his shared iTunes library, FYI
  • Also I just saw this project for the first time today, seems interesting at the very least:
  • edited July 2012


    I was paid $3,000.00..... I got to live on that for two seasons

    Art Direction by Dr. YT
    (Thanks, boss)

    Remember how on the inside, there was, like... a ghost fighting a pizza
  • best album art in the world. I love it so much. The poster inside had zombie/pizza and also shark/pizza

    I paid you literally no dollars, can you believe that? What a different time it was, for me. I would not consider such a thing today.

    I apologize for my past self

    but seriously, that artwork is so good
  • edited July 2012
    It was you fighting a zombie!! Some things have changed, some things haven't changed.
  • Everyone should be a business. I mean, sure, I'm expected to say that, but still... Heck, you should be multiple businesses. Let's complicate the fuck out of things and incorporate three or four of our pursuits and make a few of them into non-profits.
  • edited July 2012
    that NY Times op-ed is pretty weak IMHO. the dude so desperately needed to assert his east coast egocentrism that he failed to grasp some basic tenants of what's going on. I suspect he must have hired Brent Burnhoft for some consulting.

    but this whole musicians (can we just say artists?) making a living discussion- spilled over from other threads- is somehow important and ridiculous at the same time. While I'd surely take a grant or two, I don't believe that more government involvement is what we need. Every experience I've had with government funded arts funding organizations has been very mediocre. so much money wasted in bureaucratic mess, such bland and politically correct art being funded.

    The problem, ultimately, in terms of the idea of making a living, is that there are simply way too many of us artsy types trying to make a living out of this. We've turned it into the ultimate buyers market- we simply have made way too much art/music/film/etc, and greatly devalued it as a result. we can only blame ourselves for that.

    the plateauing career thing is so real. with a little luck, a good product and the willingness to work, it seems quite possible to eek out a humble living as an artist. but where everyone gets stuck is at that semi-pro level, where we have pretty much sacrificed our real life professional potential to follow our art dreams. but then we reach middle age and realize that A we are not really making enough money to truly live on, and B we have made ourselves relatively unemployable in the process. Who wants to hire a 40 year old who hasn't had a real job in the past twelve years? and even worse, imagine going back and getting that coffee shop job as a failed 40 year old artist. harsh.

    Being an artist is being a business. and like most start-up businesses, most artists fail- at least in terms of making a living. what complicates it, however, is the immense value of all the non-monies stuff. friends, experiences, being part of amazing communities, making work people think is important and the exhilaration of micro-fame. That is where the real wealth is, and we have to remind ourselves of that. (EDIT: but we can't confuse that wealth with making a living)

    if i died today i'd like my headstone to read "i may have died poor, but i showed at fucking MoMA"

    but then again, i won't have any money to leave for a headstone, so fuck it.
  • I feel a combination of what Frogtor and Bigmac said.
    Ultimately, the reason why I make stuff is because I can't help myself. Shit just comes out.
    Even at my darkest hours of poverty I felt compelled to take on large projects and pour my heart and soul into them.
    When I feel the need to vent about how finalizing a project is hard I will sometimes get advice from mentors who tell me stuff like "The most important thing is you love what you do." and as much as I agree, there are times when I feel slightly offended because yeah, I love doing the things I do, but a little recognition goes such a fucking long way sometimes. I am fine with things as they are now, but I would hesitate to tell someone else "The most important thing is to love what you do." because all cases are different.
    To be the type of musician who has mastered their instrument and crafted hundreds of songs and still struggle to get attention must suck. I feel empathy. I think making a living from music should not be that ridiculous of an idea, I just think that some people need to redefine what a "living" means.
    I also think that "making it" is different for everyone.
    It's weird to see people who spent twenty, thirty years playing in influential bands put out a solo record which makes them go back to playing shows to three people in an empty bar.
    Fans cannot be taken for granted and the interest increases and decreases in very mysterious ways.

    I like the essence of what Mikey said. Without thinking of myself as a business person, I do think it's essential to have your hands in many pies. I have a few artistic back-burners going on and I do hope that in the future I will not feel like it is beneath me to paint houses, wash dishes, make food, sweep floors, teach classes, sell shit at stores, because who knows how long anything lasts.
  • edited July 2012
    The 16th word of his article is "hipster", which is a pet peeve of mine, so perhaps I share some of the burden of my own distaste of that article. But then he follows up saying that "style is superficial." One could argue that semantically style is superficial (it being on the surface), but it's clear that isn't his intent. "Style is superficial" isn't even presented as an argument, but just a universal statement of fact. In case you can't tell by how much I'm dwelling on this phrase I totally disagree with that idea!

    Style isn't a layer you drape you over yourself. Style is like sweat. It is drawn out of you over time after much effort. It's singular and unique and even if someone said that all sweat smelled the same those with a better sense of smell (sorry Meg!) would know the truth. To dismiss style and lump "skinny jeans, the retro hats, the wall-to-wall tattoos" together as a tribe who worship at the singular alter of Hipster is a proclamation of his own ignorance and frankly I didn't read much further.

    On the other hand, dude was fucking in the the New York Times and teaches and writes for a living… so… you know, maybe he has a point later in the article I didn't read.
  • How about...

    "i may have died poor, but i showed at fucking MoMA"
    "headstone sponsored by"
  • edited July 2012
    Oh yeah...
    I should point out that I totally didn't read the article this whole thread seems to be about. I am not really interested or curious, I would just rather talk with you guys about it.

    The use of the word "hipster" at this point should be left to blue collar dudes who hang out in the dingiest bars and don't give a fuck about "culture". It's just a dumb word people use to say "people like them, not people like me". I hate the word but if I take a look at my life, I am pretty much what people call a hipster, so I don't feel the need to call anyone else it.

    On the Saturday of our festival a few of us went and had a drink at this place here called "the Anchor Inn" which has been around for decades and is the place where people who want no fancy bullshit drink. As we left a regular sitting at the bar made a joke about hipsters without turning around to make eye contact, it was obviously aimed at us and I was like "Fair enough, dude. You probably come in here every week and here we are nonchalantly walking into your zone discussing the zodiac, tarot cards, touring the West Coast and obscure music.".
  • edited July 2012
    I used to do music regularly. I remember making money, and then all that money went away. It was a bummer. I worked at a Borders for a long time afterwards. Then that died too. That was a bummer. I make bad life decisions when it comes to money it seems, but I have some good stories I guess. I still do music, but without any opportunity to play anymore only my close and inquisitive pals hear it. Music might become more of a hobby than a profession for a lot of people, but as sad as that is, hobbies are about doing something you love on your own terms, and that's pretty cool still I guess. As much as I sorta miss hurriedly assembling CDs before a show, I get to take a lot more time to think about music now than I did before. I don't know. It's kinda hard not to be a little bummed I guess, but I still have hope that someone will think of a brilliant way for more musicians to survive again for those dudes still trying to live the dream. What happens after the internet? Where do things lead?
  • Whoa! Check this one out!

    Charlie Kaufman! Dan Harmon!
  • "Our goal is to produce this unique and beautiful film outside of the typical Hollywood studio system where we believe that you, the audience, would never be allowed to enjoy this brilliant work the way it was originally conceived. We’ve been working in the television and movie industry for years and we just want to make something ourselves. Something pure. Something beautiful. "
  • I tried to read the article just now, it is solely comprised of obnoxious generalizations, a pseudo academic approach, which leads me to believe this guy really doesn't know anything and is part of the bullshit East Coast nepotism.
  • edited July 2012
    Remember those dudes that were selling off the Dr. Evil-ish commune/bunker in Florida a few years ago?

    The Venus Project.

    They are back with a worldwide petition to make everything free. This would be a good development for musicians.
  • edited July 2012
    Also @M_Z, "Starburns Industries".
  • Star Trek future! Everything is free! Also, warp drive would surely be a good development for musicians.
  • edited July 2012
    One characteristic of the term 'hipster' that may not have had enough attention, is its use as a racial identifier. While one could make a case for the identification of 'hipsters of color', this would seem to be a small cohort with a fairly late start compared to the presumed population of so-called 'white hipsters'.

    Among other things, 'hipster' seems intended as a negative marker of privilege, so it would follow that those identified would tend to come from the dominant social groups in a racially stratified society.

    It is interesting that this contemporary racial value is consistent in certain ways with the term's original usage in the generally dissimilar Jazz contexts of the early to mid 20th Century.


    Next exercise:

    Who's cooler? Warhol's Factory or the Harlem Renaissance?

  • Harlem Renaissance, duh!
  • i know a lot more about warhol's factory than i do about the harlem renaissance.
  • A model that may work for some is someone you may know in town Jen O who started AikaMusic to connect musicians to film and ad projects.

    But it's well accepted that the film industry will eventually follow the music industry in declining profitability. But until then, if the current contract regime holds up, musicians receive residuals for music in films, I think.
  • edited July 2012
    yeh i made a track for aika once. didn't get picked up by their client, but i got a lil demo fee, which was fair enough for a day's work.
    i sorta like working on this sort of commissioned production music, but its hardly art when they generally give you a song and tell you: we don't want to pay for this actual song, please make a cheap quick and dirty song that sounds as much like this as possible without it being that song and we'll give you a couple hundred bucks.

    anyway, i just finished another track like that for another friend. im crossing my fingers they think its ok, but really its hard to completely get the vibe of a song you are directly ripping off, do it on the spot and make it fit into 1 minute or less, which is basically what i've been asked to do when doing these things.

    if i could churn out library/production/stock music and get it put up in some stock music catalog and make money doing it, i think i would choose that route rather than direct commission

    there's a great article about library music in this believer magazine i just got 10 copies of (which also includes a cassette tape comp curated by calvin with a track i made on it)
    some other funny stuff in there. i dont think i've ever read the believer (because it seemed mostly about bland twee indie rock white people with sweaters oriented) but it has some cool stuff in it.

    anyway if anyone wants a copy i will sell them for $10 (thats $2 off cover price!), but you will have to pick them up from me.

    or whatever, you could probably just have one.
  • very little is cooler than harlem renaissance
    certainly not warhol's fucking factory
    jesus christmas
  • Not really fair to compare a single cultural location to a cultural movement. The question should be more like, what is cooler (?): The Factory or the Cotton Club.

    Could one argue that the Harlem Renaissance was a response to a positive economic climate? It grew during the "Roaring Twenties" and ended with the stock market crash of 1929.

    Would it then be fair to draw the conclusion that economic prosperity creates an environment for great art? Thus, as proponents of a more creative culture, we're actually proponents of a political strategy that promotes economic prosperity. Not that anyone is pro-recession, but perhaps less thinking about the arts and more thinking about economics would be a better approach.
  • edited July 2012
    One could not really argue that the Harlem Renaissance was a response to a positive economic climate... well, you could, but that would be incredibly reductive.
    Also, it started in the twenties, so that was not a great time for $$.
    Started in a depression!!!!!!!!!!

    The Harlem Renaissance was born out of emancipation of slaves and their northward migration to escape the still-oppressive culture of the American South.

    There were things going on like the emergence of an African American middle class, and continuing shifts in African American family structures, but a lot of the movement came out of people simply having the freedom to live as citizens, gather in groups, and freely examine their lives and history.

  • Not that anyone is pro-recession, but perhaps less thinking about the arts and more thinking about economics would be a better approach.

    The Harlem Renaissance had little to do with overall economic prosperity and much more to do with community and discourse.

    Not that general statement is wrong for right now- I don't know what we freakin' need to make this world right! Seriously, someone should tell me.
  • I thought the Harlem Renaissance *ended* at the Great Depression and existing during a time of economic prosperity after WW1 known as the "Roaring Twenties"?

    But honestly I just the wikipedia... I don't know shit. My theory is that everything good comes from capitalism (The piano was invented by a man who was sponsored by a Medici, the rich banking dynasty that famously used double-entry bookkeeping as a competitive advantage!).
  • It started in the late teens to early twenties!

    There were economic factors, of course, but going from SLAVERY to living independently in a semi-middle class black community is a different kind of economic change than what was up with capitalism at the time. Yes? No?

    Mikey loves $$$!
  • BUT the Factory thrived because of the booming post war economy. I mean, Warhol was blatantly criticizing consumerism and CONSUMERS ATE IT UP!!! How genius? Most of the Factory frequenters were all children of the depression who could not handle their own new-found lives of excess. Warhol delighted in getting commissioned to do pop portraits of the rich and famous (taking their money). He also spent every holiday volunteering in soup kitchens and giving his food to the homeless. Post-war Robin Hood?

    I'm PRO Andy, CON Factory-ites
  • edited July 2012
    Matt: I understand some healthy degree of skepticism about lame-o safe govt-sponsored art, and like, rainbow fused-glass orca whale tiles at bus stations. Anyone who thinks government money is a panacea is tripping ballz.

    But: like, France's system is pretty good! even if all we did was catch up to what other countries are doing in public funding of the arts, the ecosystem would be WAY HEALTHIER.

    the reason I can't get on the train of "there's just too much supply and too little demand" is that there is still the mass society/misallocation of attention issue. There's still this fundamental reality that a small handful of corporations are actively, violently controlling everyone's attention. Less visible in big cities, but more visible elsewhere. There'd be way more people interested in weird gorgeous arty movies about ghost towns and landscapes and tugboats and stuff if there weren't massive ideological apparatuses convincing people that they should be watching stupid sequels and Real Housewives. Yes there's an incredible amount of media/art out there. But people consume media 10+ hours a day. Film and music is still a 100 billion dollar industry. The problem is still that too many people are consuming the same kind of (usually shitty) media. It's all about how that attention/money pie gets sliced. That's a structural problem, and I don't think it's naive to say that structural problems can be fixed, difficult as it may be.

    And it will be difficult. Things are getting worse. If the UMG-EMI merger goes through, 2 corporations will control 74% of the domestic music industry. One of the most surprising things I've learned in the last few months is how viciously the big media corps fight to keep professionally produced indie content away from consumers, or to create revenue models that make indie models unsustainable. (This is one reason the majors, rather than being threatened by Spotify, actually are investors in it)
  • You can't be pro-Andy and anti-factorites! They were essential to the whole process! That's like being pro-money but anti-capitalist!

    @the_owls Of course the end of slavery was a massive part of it. You can't really participate in economic prosperity if you are a slave, that doesn't make sense. But check this out...

    The 13th Amendment was adopted in 1865... clearly shit was still pretty fucked up. But it wasn't until 1914 to 1920 that the Great Migration of 500,000 black southerners headed north. Why? WAR! The industrial economy grew significantly because of World War 1 and the war machine needed more labor. ECONOMIC PROSPERITY!

    Of course shit was still fucked. African Americans ended up being segregated to their own units (the 93rd Division was "loaned" to the French). And there wasn't great progress after the war... but there was also a seven month recession from August 1918 to March 1919, then another more recession/depression in 1920. Bad economy = no cultural progress. 1921 the unemployment rate was 20%.

    What happened?

    President Harding proposed to reduce the national debt, reduce taxes, protect farming interests, and cut back on immigration (he died, but that shit mostly happened) The income tax on the wealthy was rolled back (it had been raised during WWI) and President Coolidge blocked any attempt at govt intrusion into private business. Harding and Coolidge's managerial approach sustained economic growth throughout most of the decade. Mass production kicks into gear and makes all kinds of shit for the middle class affordable: cars, films, radio! CULTURE VIA BUSINESS!


  • I'm pro-money but anti-capitalist.
  • "President Harding proposed to reduce the national debt, reduce taxes, protect farming interests, and cut back on immigration (he died, but that shit mostly happened) The income tax on the wealthy was rolled back (it had been raised during WWI) and President Coolidge blocked any attempt at govt intrusion into private business..."

  • K-Dawg, please further explain your statement "One of the most surprising things I've learned in the last few months is how viciously the big media corps fight to keep professionally produced indie content away from consumers, or to create revenue models that make indie models unsustainable."

    on an emotional level, i agree with much of what you are saying. but there is just no denying that lots of people love mass produced entertainment. getting the masses interested and invested in art, while a worthy fight that we are both engaged in, is clearly a losing battle.
  • edited July 2012
    Just throwing this out there... a big part of how I got hooked on art was that where I grew up, the art museum was free! These awesome industrialists from the early 20th century put up a trust in perpetuity for free admission for all citizens. And this is in the midwest.
  • edited July 2012
    @kdawg Sorry, you can't be. :(
    @bigmacattack No one knows what caused the Great Depression. But I can tell you what solved it... WAR, and the ECONOMIC PROSPERITY that soon followed.

    (It turns out that you can make a country RICH by destroying another country and then having them pay you to fix it. Note: This is not guaranteed to work, see also Iraq.)
  • what solved (or at least got us out of) the Great Depression were three giant stimulus packages. The first wast FDR's New Deal, which helped to keep people from starving/looting in the streets, the second was war spending, which as you say created some economic prosperity, and the third and often overlooked was the building of the Interstate Highway System- the largest and most costly public works project in US history, which kept us from slipping back into recession.
  • edited July 2012
    and wars are really just a re-distribution of wealth. we didn't pillage Germany and Japan for their riches during WWII- that money was self generated, through taxes and deficits, etc. war spending is the most pinko communist thing this country has ever done.
  • History is intoxicating and Wikipedia is a wonderful blender for making it all slushy and delicious!
  • edited July 2012
    "My theory is that everything good comes from capitalism "

    Exactly, like an ocean, and sunlight!

  • edited July 2012
    "what solved (or at least got us out of) the Great Depression were three giant stimulus packages."

    I think you are missing the crucial element that converted those stimuli into the middle-class colossus that, even in its withered state, has made our lives relatively luxurious and 'free'. I mean, of course, The Labor Movement.

    That's also the crucial element that has been missing in discourse around the current crisis. There is nobody at the table any longer making sure most folks get a cut. Instead, the money mostly flows to banks and 'financiers' who mostly use it to finance more finance. Who needs a 'public' in such a circumstance?

    So instead of building public institutions, government is nowadays called on mainly to preside over the excruciating task of shutting them down.
  • But yeah, music is cool!
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