I have a pretty close family member whose life goal is to be a professional musical performer and live a rockstar’s life, somehow raising a family and financially support himself. I pitifully laughed in his face when he told me. The sheer ignorance and naivety of what he was proposing was dumbfounding to me, and shows some serious misunderstanding of how musicians make money.
Spoiler alert: They don’t.
Musicians are some of the most starved, desperate, and miserable creatures to roam the earth. They have such good hearts and bring such joy to the lives of MILLIONS, myself definitely included, but they certainly don’t get blessed with financial success as much most of us suspect. And who’s fault is that? Ours.
Stop and think, “How much money have I spent on new music this past month?” I drop close to $40-$60 monthly on concert tickets, Spotify subscriptions, and the occasional records if I hear some straight fire that I want to be able to physically hug at night. I know far too many folks who don’t spend anything at all, content with ads in their streaming and non-verified channels uploading music to listen to. Considering how expensive it is to actually make music, there’s not enough cash being spent by the consumers. Even my $50 average doesn’t cut it.
It’s not cheap to record music. Artists either use their own recording equipment (expensive as hell) or rent studio time (expensive as Gucci branded items imported from hell) to record their songs for your cute lil ears to ingest. Then they promote the music and let folks know it exists (still pretty expensive) and they distribute it, whether through digital services (dolla dolla bill yo) or physical platforms such as CDs and cassettes (a disgusting amount of money). Then they normally tour to promote their new release, which is really really really expensive with rarely ever break even, let alone profit. Seriously, touring is so expensive that I emphasized how much it cost by breaking the cycle of use of parentheses. Touring sucks bro.
Recouping those insane costs pretty much never happens. Unless the artist in question has over 50,000+ followers on Spotify, it’s very unlikely that they’re recovering their expenses. Streaming pays on average about $0.006 per listen, which means songs need to be played roughly 167 times to make $1, excluding fees paid to distributors and sometimes labels. Trying to make money with 2017’s distribution infrastructure is nearly impossible, and it’s seen affecting everyone involved. Even the streaming services themselves.
SoundCloud recently cut of 40% of its staff, 137 people, in order to compete with the big kids on the block, like Spotify and Apple Music. In order to cut costs and stay afloat, SoundCloud is making some drastic measures to stay relevant in the music world. That’s really scary because SoundCloud is SUPER CRAZY RELEVANT as it is. I can barely go outside to check my mailbox without being approached by some gang of dudes shoving a CD and URL in my face and begging for cash.
Having all this access to music 24/7 is a double-edged sword. It’s radical being able to listen to Motion City Soundtrack – whenever I want – on whatever device I have – from anywhere in the world, but it also sucks since that privilege is making it tougher for musicians to make music for me to jam out to in the first place. The current status the music industry in is so unstable and shaky and something is either going to snap or change in the near future. Here’s how you can be the change:
- BUY MUSIC WITH REAL MONEY YOU CHEAPSKATE. Think an album is awesome? Put your money where your mouth is and actually buy it. 90% of the CDs I own I’ve never even listened to. I just buy them so I can listen to them on Spotify guilt-free. Other physical mediums like records and cassette tapes are great too, which support your local music stores.
- BUY MERCHANDISE YOU CHEAPSKATE. The title of this article? It’s legit. I’m willing to bet that over half of the income your favorite artists make is by selling t-shirts. They cost on average $5 to make and are being sold for $20. That’s a pretty impressive profit, and I’ve seen some incredible fundraising done just selling shirts alone because of how much dough they rake in.
- BUY SHOW TICKETS YOU CHEAPSKATE. While concerts aren’t really profitable for anyone that isn’t involved in beer sales, they make the financial sting of touring a little less severe. Don’t get me wrong, touring is still the most expensive thing since art school, but every ticket sold is one less tear shed by your favorite artist as they sleep in their cardboard box behind your neighborhood Walgreens.
- BUY THROUGH BANDCAMP YOU CHEAPSKATE. A very real and legitimate scientific study has found that exactly 90% of the bands you find on Bandcamp are the sad and poor ones I was talking about in the second paragraph. THESE are they guys you need to be supporting. By purchasing through Bandcamp, you not only support the platform which works wonders for the underground scene, but you also allow these artists to actually eat food to stay alive with money they earn.
- TELL YOUR FRIENDS TO QUIT BEING CHEAPSKATES. Let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog, there’s a good to fair chance you already know a bit more about how music works than the average bear. That’s super cool that you took the initiative to learn more about something you love. Unfortunately, there’s a ton of other people who aren’t as cool as you, and it’s your job as a missionary of artistic integrity in the music industry to make them as cool as you. Drag your friends to local shows, tell them to buy CDs, and suggest more Bandcamp groups. Inclusion leads to growth, and if we want to grow the underground scene, we need to be more inclusive.
Music is cutthroat and savage. It’s not nearly as profitable as it used to be, and my naive family member’s chances of being a rockstar are essentially 0% because of how the industry is all set up. It costs a ton of dough to make music to begin with. Breaking even is damn near impossible, and the industry is imploding… and it’s all our fault because we’re selfish brats that seem to forget that artists can’t live on ramen. Being a conscious consumer is the only way we can save our scene and my fam’s dreams.
Was it really necessary for me to type out upward of one thousand words explaining to you why it’s important for you to actually spend money on music? Because that’s the very reason we need to talk about it. Pull out your wallet at the next show you go to, Mr. Krabs.