The Copyright Folly: Making A Living As A Creator Has Always Been Difficult, Stronger Copyright Doesn't Fix It

from the a-trick-by-the-industries dept

Dan Hunter and Nicolas Suzor (two Australian academics) have a great article for The Conversation, which officially is looking at the latest copyright reform proposals in Australia, but makes a much bigger point: Making a living as a content creator has always been massively difficult, and it's foolish to think that stronger copyright will change that. Unfortunately, in a campaign driven by the legacy gatekeepers (who often do benefit from stronger copyrights), many artists (especially independent ones) have been misled into thinking that the internet is the problem and stronger copyright laws will fix things. What's left out is that it's always been difficult, and the internet has actually made it easier to build a successful independent career. That doesn't mean it's easy and many will still fail, but it's not the problem of the internet and copyright laws being too weak.

First, a reminder that it's always been difficult for artists to make a living -- even when it came to famous and "major label" musicians, approximately 90% of them flamed out and didn't turn music into a career. Only the very top of the top in the old system were able to make a living as musicians.
Artists and their representatives are right, of course: it is unfair that artists and creators can’t make a living from their art. Society probably would be a better place if creators could spend all day writing great novels and great songs, and not have to support themselves in other ways.

But it’s always been like this: Beethoven taught piano to the children of nobility, Bach earned his keep as an organist and choirmaster, not as a composer. The old joke about barkeeps and waitstaff being mostly underemployed actors and authors is a cliche because it has always been true.
But does stronger copyright solve this? The evidence certainly suggests no:
Since the 1990s the copyright system has been made more and more onerous – but most artists haven’t been getting any richer. Each one of these reforms has failed, and the new proposal is almost certainly going to be a bust. The government could impose the death penalty for copyright infringement and it still would not create a future where the bulk of people who want to be independent artists can reliably make a good living from their work
Instead, stronger copyright seems to help the traditional gatekeepers, but doesn't filter down to the actual creators:
Copyright helps large producers and distributors in film, television and publishing industries. An individual artist is still more likely to win the lottery than make the big time. Those artists who do win the lottery win big – and those who don’t have to take other jobs.
But the internet -- despite all the blame being placed on it -- has enabled many more creators and artists to make money and build careers. That doesn't mean that every artist can be successful because of the internet, because that's just not true. It's still a very, very difficult world in which to make a living. But that's because of the nature of the market for creative works, not the internet or the state of copyright laws. But if you look and see how many artists are making a living today because of the internet, who never would have gotten anywhere under the old system, you realize how much more opportunity there is today.
The internet has allowed a brand-new group of creators to emerge, like remix artist Pogo, off-beat current affairs show Juice Rap News, and the creators of video game channels on YouTube.

The internet makes it easier than ever before to be a creator and to build an audience for your works.

Some of these creators are being paid for their efforts – and some aren’t in it for the money. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re living in a Golden Age of Creativity, even if creators who won under the old media model are suffering.
As they note, it's still tough to be an independent artist, but there's much more opportunity than in the past:
Becoming a successful independent artist is still a worse bet than the lottery. But for the much larger group of artists working in arts industries and the even larger group of creatives working in other industries, wages and job satisfaction are actually substantially higher than the national average.
And thus, proposals like the one in Australia by Attorney General George Brandis get the equation entirely backwards. They attempt to make the internet worse, by imposing onerous restrictions and liabilities on the internet providers, thereby setting up barriers to the tools that are helping artists.
At the same time, the current proposal will impose costs on communications providers like ISPs, search engines and cloud computing providers, as well as the everyday consumer.

Compliance costs and liability risks will drive some providers offshore. They will also increase the cost of internet access for everyone.

[....]

Harming the communications infrastructure is a bet against the future – and against those newly emerging creators who don’t follow the model of the past.
It's unfortunate that so many have twisted the fact that it's always been hard to make a living as a creator into an attack on the tool that has provided the most help to many of those artists... and as an excuse to ratchet up laws in a way that will make the internet worse.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:05am

    However...

    Making a living on the backs of creators has proven quite effective.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Whatever (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    Not exactly right

    Only the very top of the top in the old system were able to make a living as musicians

    If you look only at label acts and say "90% failed", that would be missing so much of the working people of the music industry. Session musicians, producers, writers... there are all sorts of people who make a reasonable to good living in music. Clearly, that would have been better before the internet / piracy days, as a 50% haircut in income for the industry generally trickles down and hurts the smaller guys.

    I just wanted to point out that label acts are not the start and the end of the employment line.

     

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  3.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    I thought this was obvious, but copyright law is not intended to help content creators. It's to strengthen the middlemen. E.g., the publishers, the labels, the performance societies.

    The middlemen know there will always be content creators, regardless of copyright. They just want exclusive control over what is created.

     

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  4.  
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    Richard (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:19am

    Re: Not exactly right

    Session musicians, producers, writers... there are all sorts of people who make a reasonable to good living in music. Clearly, that would have been better before the internet / piracy days,

    Where is your evidence? These types of people still can make a good living - since most of it comes from live performance and that, if anything has boomed since the internet came along.

    as a 50% haircut in income for the industry generally trickles down and hurts the smaller guys.

    Huh - where is your evidfence that the industry has ever allowed any of its royalty income to trickle down to the little guy?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    The attack against the Internet is being led by the publishers and other middlemen. They see it as eliminating much of their power by allowing artists to self publish, which also reduces their market more artists are vying for the same entertainment budget of customers. Their business models have been based on a rapid turnover of artists to find the few that have massive sales, and this has worked for them, along with their abusive contracts, because they have had more artists seeking publication than they could handle at any one time. The Internet is allowing many more artists to self publish, and other than the few selected artists pushed by the publishers, success or failure depends on the artists ability to handle their own publicity by making use of social networks.
    Also note that the big name artists that support the publisher are those whose copyrights, and therefore incomes, are controlled by the publishers.

     

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  6.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:27am

    Copyright is abused by large producers and distributors in film, television and publishing industries more often than by anyone else. An individual artist is still more likely to win the lottery than make the big time. Those artists who do win the lottery win big because they are far less likely to lose money to Creative Accounting – and those who don’t take other jobs and take home more money per year than Nickelback made from Rockstar.

    Just sayin'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:33am

    Sigh

    Since the 1990s the copyright system has been made more and more onerous

    These kids today...

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:40am

    Re: Not exactly right

    If you look only at label acts and say "90% failed", that would be missing so much of the working people of the music industry. Session musicians, producers, writers... there are all sorts of people who make a reasonable to good living in music. Clearly, that would have been better before the internet / piracy days, as a 50% haircut in income for the industry generally trickles down and hurts the smaller guys.

    Okay, how about some actual data:

    https://www.techdirt.com/blog/casestudies/articles/20130529/15560423243/massive-growth-independ ent-musicians-singers-over-past-decade.shtml

    Oh look, you're wrong. Shocking. More full time independent musicians today (by a LOT). The decline in musicians mostly comes from orchestras (unrelated to copyright issues like piracy) and religious organizations (ditto). But in terms of musicians working to make music -- way up.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:43am

    Re: Not exactly right

    Here is whatever, talking out of his butt again and making things up as he goes without the need to substantiate anything he says.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Violynne (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:53am

    I think every content creator needs to remember the 10/100 rule when looking for a publisher:

    "10% of all content creates 100% of all revenue."

    Drop the middle men, and that's when things get really tough, because this means management is left solely to the creator, and many just don't have the knowledge or skills to promote themselves or their own works.

    Unfortunately, this is where the gatekeepers take advantage, pretending to do things in their best interest, but in reality, seek only to profit for themselves.

    Those 900 "authors" who signed the Hacette ad should be ashamed of themselves, especially those who know damn well from first hand how much work it took to be a "Bestseller" author.

    One thing's for sure: I'll never buy a book of those 900 authors ever again.

    So take note, newcomers: WORK. IS. HARD. AND. THERE. IS. NO. EASY. STREET.

    If you can't do the work, don't create the works.

     

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  11.  
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    Michael, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:59am

    Re: Not exactly right

    I just wanted to point out that label acts are not the start and the end of the employment line.

    I agree with that, but I am not following your logic trail. I think you are suggesting that if an act that would have made $2 million from CD sales before the internet is only making $1 million, session musicians, producers, and writers are also being hurt, not just the artist.

    Let's examine that for a bit. We can start with the session musicians. Let's face it, most of these are artists that "almost" made it. Because of the internet, many more of them can make a living wage - some of the $1 million dollars that did not go to the artist, actually went to the session musicians. They are probably better off.

    Producers - well, you are right, producers are somewhat being cut out of the picture by technology. This is actually because it has become much easier to produce music than it was in the past. These guys, like telephone operators, may actually need to find a new line of work because some of what they used to provide is no longer necessary. On the other hand, there are new technology jobs that pay more available for them, but let's say we lost some money that would have gone to them.

    Finally, you have writers. These guys have WAY more opportunity now. Music writers get no pity - they can reach a client base to sell their music to that they could not have dreamed of before. In addition, they can do so without having to use major record labels and they can save the 92% fee that the labels were charging (I'm just guessing on that one) when they sell direct. If the major act that only made $1 million can no longer pay the writer for new music, well, the writer can sell elsewhere - that's actually good for them, not bad.

    Did I miss something?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:02am

    'Stronger Copyright Doesn't Fix It'

    of course it does! you ask any of the studio and label heads. they'll tell you how much better off they are!
    what? oh! you meant the artists? now that's a different ball game!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:11am

    Re: However...

    As record companies and movie & tv studios have proven.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:22am

    Re:

    and many just don't have the knowledge or skills to promote themselves or their own works.

    These days self promotion is an essential for any published creator, as the middlemen now expect most of them to use social networks to promote their own work, reducing the advantage of using a publisher.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Alien Rebel (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:26am

    Trickle Up

    The commercial value of content in entertainment, visual design services, and creative writing is mind-bogglingly huge these days, and yet the peons on the assembly line, so to speak, are having a tougher time than ever making a living. Funny how it parallels the wider phenomenon of the largest corporate players patting themselves on the back and proclaiming themselves the true job creators / content creators, while naturally taking a bigger slice of the profits. And, oh yeah, erecting ever-higher barriers to competition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Not exactly right

    Let's examine that for a bit. We can start with the session musicians. Let's face it, most of these are artists that "almost" made it. Because of the internet, many more of them can make a living wage - some of the $1 million dollars that did not go to the artist, actually went to the session musicians. They are probably better off.

    Do session musicians even get paid in royalties or residuals? I would have thought they would more or less have been paid up front at the recording and that would have been that. In that case, a reduction in CD sales shouldn't hurt them at all. It doesn't matter how well the CD sells if they have already been paid for their time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Michael, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    Great question - I don't really know.

    I know a few and they are all on contracts with major labels (well a major label) that makes anything they do a work-for-hire and they just get paid for the session (I just asked one of them).

    There are probably at least a few that get some kind of residuals.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    JP Jones (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 12:12pm

    The government could impose the death penalty for copyright infringement and it still would not create a future where the bulk of people who want to be independent artists can reliably make a good living from their work.

    Interestingly, this is a provable statement. In North Korea the punishment for possessing "unauthorized" materials is typically death or close, yet there are reports that pirated music from South Korea is extremely popular among children in North Korean schools.

    These kids risk their entire families and their own lives yet still "infringe." Forbidding humans to share art and ideas is like forbidding humans to love. You can try all you want, but you'll never succeed, you'll just push it underground.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 12:46pm

    Re:

    The middlemen know there will always be content creators, regardless of copyright. They just want exclusive control over what is created.


    Quoted because absolute truth should always be highlighted.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    CK20XX (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 12:48pm

    Re: Not exactly right

    Eh... I think your argument fails because you assume that the legacy gatekeepers are far more generous than they actually are. You're not playing with a full deck.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 1:34pm

    It's hilarious you continue to write this garbage Masnick, when virtually *all* working musicians say you're incorrect.

    But then again, truth has never been your strong suit, has it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Thrudd, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 2:14pm

    Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 12th, 2014 @ 1:34pm

    Yup. All the virtual working musicians support this.

    The REAL musicians either working or looking for work do not.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    All aspiring footballers

    The problem with trying to relate copyright to artist pay is that that is not what it is for. Copyright doesn't say you can profit - it just says you can stop others using. There will always be artists that don't make money, for the same reason that there will always be aspiring footballers that don't make money. It is something that looks like a fun job and makes lots of money, so kids want to do it. Some aren't good enough. Some don't have particular skills that are in demand. Some don't work hard enough. Some are just unlucky.

    I don't know of any economic theory that says that artists should make a living. Indeed, if everyone who wants to be an artist can make a living, society would still fund the good but it would also fund people who make art like a USPTO examiner examines patents. Similarly, there is no law that says an aspiring footballer must earn a living, no matter how much time they spend kicking a football - you get paid because you convince someone that your skills are worth their money.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 12th, 2014 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Re: Not exactly right

    You weren't actually expecting Whatever to criticize legacy gatekeepers now, were you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Whatever (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 8:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    Exactly, they are either paid by session or kept on contract. However, when the studios have less money to work with, they will generally keep less people on the payroll or look for more "work" for a given period of time.

    The reduction in CD sales would hurt them directly - less money to play with means less people hired. What ends up happening now is technology is used to create the music with fewer and fewer actual players, with significant net cost savings.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Whatever (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 8:41pm

    Re: Re: Not exactly right

    Okay, how about some actual data:

    That one was pretty much debunked right out the door, the number shifts come in a very short period of time (2003-2005) which matched with a reclassification of jobs and work.

    Most of the "musicians make more money" studies tend to come up short, because they show gross revenue for all musicians, and don't cover two issues, which is that much of the increase in revenue is related to super high ticket prices for top artists, and that the number is now often gross revenue and not net, which makes it hard to compare. There is very little indication that the average musician has suddenly gone from working a day job to living as a working musician. You could double the average musicians income and that still wouldn't buy most of them dinner out once a month.

    citations? let me google that for you... do your own research, it's been hashed over 100 times already here and many other places. Read Rick Falkvinge's latest snowjob about it a couple of weeks back... the underlying numbers of hilarious!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    steell (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 9:06pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    If that is a quote, then it's what? From some blog or something? Or did you just make it up?

    Otherwise it's simply your opinion, and I value your opinion very little.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    techflaws (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 10:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    It's similar to technology's effects on any other industry. So what else is new?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:40pm

    Re: Re: Not exactly right

    "Where is your evidence?"

    Don't hold your breath.

    "These types of people still can make a good living"

    Of course they can. The goalposts just move so much that these people forget where they're placed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    "From some blog or something? Or did you just make it up?"

    Bingo. He won't cite anything, because he knows how quickly he can pretend to debunk any link provided to him (or deflect/ignore if it is actually true, which is most of them). He's not about to enable people to tear his claims apart any quicker than they already can.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 12th, 2014 @ 11:45pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    "What ends up happening now is technology is used to create the music with fewer and fewer actual players, with significant net cost savings."

    So, they have to deal with something every other industry has had to deal with over the last century - including the advantages for smaller players and the new industries the new technology creates while some aspects of the old one are made obsolete.

    You're yet to explain why this is a net problem, apart from your lies and false assumptions, which you still refuse to cite or defend when someone calls you on them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Rummeltje, Aug 13th, 2014 @ 2:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    I don't know about US and their major studios, but the productions I've worked as a tech, usually offered a choice to the session guys :
    Take money upfront, or sign in for a tiny (tiny tiny) part of the royalties (that can still amount to a lot of money if it's a hit)

     

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  33.  
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    Whatever (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 3:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    Go look at Falkvinge's site... he's been talking about it recently. I am sure you can manage that.

    You can also search around here on Techdirt for the "musicians make more money" studies, they are generally point to higher ticket prices, and not huge increases of attendance. It's out there, you can go look for it like a big boy :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 4:03am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not exactly right

    "Go look at Falkvinge's site..."

    Ah, classic misdirection tactic. You can't quote the evidence you're thinking of, so everyone else has to look for it (since that's "easier" than you linking to the words you're thinking of). Usually accompanied by the "that's not what I was referring to" if/when someone comes back with a link to something that proves he wasn't saying what you think he's saying.

    What a dishonest fool you are.

    "he's been talking about it recently."

    ...and not even intelligent enough to present what you believe are the pertinent parts of the discussion. You can't even argue for yourself here, you have to refer people to the arguments of others (while refusing to tell people which arguments they are, of course!). Pathetic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Samuel Abram (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 5:02am

    Aye. It's difficult.

    It is indeed difficult to make a living as a content creator, even with some degrees of success. Take the example of Luke Silas, drummer for Anamanaguchi who also has a side chiptune project called knife city (for whose latest album yours truly contributed a remix). He's from L.A., but currently lives here in NYC.

    Now, both projects are by any means successful. Anamanaguchi charted two albums on Billboard in the US, played on Late Nite with Jimmy Fallon and twice played Ultra Music Festival in Korea. So they're no strangers to success. As for his side-project knife city, the album made it briefly to #1 on the bandcamp charts.

    However, Luke still has to work a second job. This is not a plea for you guys to take pity on him; this is just a reflection of the truth of the situation. We're still grateful that he gets any money at all, considering that the knife city albums are released under a creative commons license and people support him anyway. Then again, it's been done many times before (as with Jonathan Coulton), so it shouldn't come as any big surprise. Anamanaguchi releases torrents of their albums, so there's no ©-infringement there either. It's still a good idea to give them money, though; they have a lot of wonderful ideas (if you don't believe me, check out their amazing live show).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 7:20am

    Re: Aye. It's difficult.

    I'd never heard of Anamanaguchi before your comment. I'll have to check out knife city.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 13th, 2014 @ 8:01am

    Re: Re: Aye. It's difficult.

    Me neither, although according to their Spotify listing, I already own some of their music on a game (Scott Pilgrim soundtrack)! Knife City also sound interesting, though my first thought is that that project might be having problems gaining traction partly due to the name's similarity to the dubstep Pendulum side project Knife Party (very popular over here at least).

    I'd argue, however, that if both projects are having problems gaining enough income to do it full time, that's because they're in relatively niche markets, which feeds into the point of the original article. Nice to see people promoting work through the comments here rather than anonymously whining that they're not earning what they ideally want, which is too often the case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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