If You Want To Make Money As A Musician You Need To Be A Musical Entrepreneur

from the that's-how-it-works dept

One of the common criticisms we hear around here when we talk about the various business models that are working for more and more musicians these days, is that it's somehow "unfair" or even "wrong" that musicians need to think about business models these days, since they should just be spending all their time creating music. Of course, this assumes (incorrectly) that the same thing wasn't true in the past as well. For years, musicians have always teamed up with business managers and music labels for that very reason: to delegate some of the business tasks. That doesn't change in the modern era. What does change is that the different opportunities have grown significantly. Either way, Andrew Dubber (who's always worth paying attention to on these topics) recently put a comment on a blog post on this particular topic that is so good it shouldn't be buried as just a comment, so I'm going to highlight some of the key parts here:
Musicians deserve more money than they get. Most train harder and for longer than brain surgeons in order to do what they do, and then they earn less than checkout operators for what they do. I strongly believe that more money should go to more musicians more often than it does....

Making music is not (usually) a job of work. It is a creative act. You don't have the RIGHT to make money from your music. You only have the opportunity.

If you make music speculatively - that is, you create it in the hopes of making money from it, then you are a music entrepreneur. As such, entrepreneurship rules apply.

You may invest a good deal of energy, effort and expense in your creative ideas. You may make a lot of money. You will probably make none. But nobody OWES you money just because you put the work in.

If your business model is to grow and sell oranges, then it's no good picking the oranges, then leaving them on the footpath outside your house with a price tag on each one. It doesn't matter how great your oranges are, or how hard you've toiled in your garden. Someone WILL take your oranges. Some will get kicked to the side of the road. Some will get stepped on. But it's not because people are immoral and don't understand or appreciate fruit properly.

If you wish to be reliably rewarded for your music, then get employed to make music as your job.
Bingo. That's the point I've been trying to make for years on this, but said much better than I could express it. He then goes on to make another point I've tried to make in the past, which is that if you compare the situation today to what it was in the past, there are so many more opportunities to make money. In the past, it was nearly impossible to make money on music because there were so many gatekeepers.
The odds are stacked against you. History is littered with musicians who are disillusioned, embittered and broke. This was true before the internet just as it's true now. The internet is neither your saviour, nor your enemy.

Let me make that bit clear: prior to the internet, most people spent NO money on music. If they bought a record in a year, it was a gift for a nephew (and it was usually rubbish). Some people spent a lot of money on music, because it was tied up with cultural things like identity that they were really invested in.

Back when you needed a record label to just be heard, it was a lottery. The odds were bad, the lottery tickets were expensive, and most of the prizes - if you did happen to win - were just awful. Now you don't need to play that game - but you need to be smart and you need to understand what the rules of the new game are.

You CAN, of course, get signed to a record label (and that lottery is still in play) but you can also be an entrepreneur. I recommend the latter - but not because it guarantees you money.

But the simple fact is that you don't become a successful entrepreneur by making things that people will not pay for, insisting that they should, and then complaining that their morals are to blame. They may not share your morals, but that's not even the point.

It's not their job to understand your needs. It's your job to understand theirs.

You become a successful entrepreneur by meeting people's needs and wants, solving a problem for them and doing it in a way that allows you to make money.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Even if it was true that all the people you wish to target with your art are immoral thieves who you would never invite into your home - why would you insist on trying to change their behaviour as part of your business strategy?
And he concludes by pointing out (as we have in the past as well) where the real "sense of entitlement" comes from:
You may make great and interesting music, and put on an amazing show with amazing costumes.... But decrying a sense of entitlement among those who won't pay you for what you insist on doing is back to front.

The people with the weird sense of entitlement are the ones who stamp their feet and say 'look at all this hard work I put in - where's my money?'

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  1. identicon
    Josh, 12 Apr 2011 @ 11:48pm


    When people are in university, and they want easy credit to boost their GPA, do they do it with a science course, or with an arts course? Nobody says, "hey, my gpa is low, so I think I'll take organic chemistry to help it out."

    True, but they take "music appreciation," which is just a BS course. Nobody says "Hey, my gpa is low, I think I'll take vocal pedagogy IV."

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