Right. Just for one second, let’s have a rational discussion about the real-world ramifications of being in a band in 2016. Let’s all put aside our huge collective dicks, stop waving them in the wind, and actually try to open a sane, balanced dialogue in relation to an issue that is extremely touchy for musicians:
Firstly, we need to establish some common ground. I think everyone will agree that musicians get a pretty rough deal nowadays, or at least in comparison to the Golden Ages, when rockstars and popstars alike rode a wave of cash so golden, that it was almost embarrassing to behold. Of course, there are still plenty of multi-millionaires around, but that’s beside the point. It is irrefutable that the advent of the internet, and more specifically file-sharing, has irrevocably altered the landscape of our music scene, for better or worse.
On the plus side, bands have unprecedented scope for promotion via the internet, but that is somewhat mitigated when every man and his dog just heads to Pirate Bay as soon as an artist they like’s new music is released. Album sales are down, and will never recover. Even digital downloads don’t seem to be closing the gap as was hoped.
The fact of the matter is, none of this is going away. People will download music. They won’t always fix this by purchasing physicals/merch/concert tickets either. It is partially a product of the environment, in which there is such an overwhelming amount of content, and it is considered instantly disposable because we can’t attach a tangible worth to a subjective art form. I could go in-depth on that subject alone, but that is perhaps best saved for another editorial. The point here is this: you probably won’t make a fortune off music anymore.
So if not a fortune, how about a liveable wage for you and your bandmates? The current minimum wage in Australia is AUD$17.29, and you can earn that by any number of menial jobs that require absolutely no natural talent whatsoever. I can, and have, earned far more than minimum wage by applying a trade that I worked as an apprentice for three years – for substantially less than minimum wage, mind – to earn, and that trade still requires practically no latent talent on my behalf. Enter the musician. I have been a musician for 15 years and am still essentially doing my apprenticeship, although the end goal is much less quantifiable, and almost always less financially viable. Being a professional musician is a job, just like any other. Except for a few key differences.
Music is quite possibly the weirdest form of art, in that it somehow has a static value. We accept that we should expect to pay a more or less flat rate of $17-$20 for an album, regardless of the stature of the artist. Bandcamp has obviously changed this model a little, but it is not typically used by bigger artists, so let’s disregard that for the sake of this article. If you are purchasing physical copies, they vary between $20-$45 depending on format and platform. Imagine going to Rene Magritte, or Vincent Van Gogh in their prime and expecting to pay the same amount for one of their paintings, as you would for the work of an honest jobber in your home town? Granted it’s a different situation, as multiple copies of the same album exist, but that is pretty much my point. Music is a strange, strange artistic medium, and it is constantly subject to unwritten rules, until those rules are broken and come to be accepted as relics of a time gone by.
A successful music career requires talent, money, hard work, money, luck, sacrifice, money, and did I mention the most important thing, money? As consumers, we accept this, and understand that our part of the agreement is to pay for what we consume. Or at least, it used to be. Now, the same people that whinge about crowdfunding, are the ones that have a library of 10,000 songs that they haven’t paid for, programs to block ads when they stream content on YouTube, and a sense that they are entitled to continue doing so, thank you very much. And who could blame them? The technology is there, isn’t it? We’ve all done it.
Enter crowdfunding. I’m not going to bore everyone with the history of it, because everyone more or less knows how it came to be. What we are looking at specifically, is how it pertains to the music industry. Plenty of bands have compartmentalised their expenses, and crowdfunded them with success. We’ve seen Twelve Foot Ninja successfully fund a music video or two, and Ne Obliviscaris themselves fund their US tour. The thing is, with these campaigns, there is an implicit goal in effect. Help us fund ‘x’. So why, then, is it such a stretch to think a bit broader, and fund the entire band? Isn’t that what fans of a band do, in the most fundamental sense? We trade our hard earned cash, in exchange for creative content that we aren’t capable of producing ourselves. And for the most part, we’re happy to do it when there is a tangible reward. Apparently, if you remove that tangible reward, and instead put forward the financial stability of your band as the end-game, people get mad.
So who is getting mad, you might ask? Well, it seems practically everyone, from current and former peers, fans, content creators and critics alike. I think it’s quite interesting to note that a substantial amount of the gripes have been raised within the hardcore community – whom pride themselves on a DIY ethic – and it is certainly not at all surprising, considering a fair amount of them don’t particularly see the music itself as the focus, so much as the ideology behind it. I can’t at all imagine Trapped Under Ice or Terror launching a crowdfunding campaign, if you follow.
From a fan’s perspective, I must admit I’m a little nonplussed as to what the issue is here. I’m not a fan of the band in question, but I can state with absolute certainty that if Periphery were to do the same thing, I would pledge immediately. Why? Because it is in my best interests as a fan. If you aren’t a fan of the band, you are quite clearly not going to pledge anyway, so it all comes down to this. If you are a fan, and you want the band to continue to produce content for you to consume, then it is in your best interests to get on board. The only difference between this approach, as opposed to relying on pure sales and tickets, is that the music industry has changed substantially since the days when that was a viable thing.
The simple fact of the matter is, if you want to survive in today’s instant-consumption-based market, you must adapt. If you try to employ the same methods that worked in 1984, hell, or even 2002 for that matter, you will not be around very long. The only acts that can do that and survive, were already around before the physical media bubble burst anyway. As fans, we can either accept that the onus is on us to support the artists we love, or we can watch them make better use of their time when it becomes apparent that a career in music just simply isn’t worth it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to trying to get people to pledge to our Patreon, so that I can quit my soul-destroying day job, and do what I actually love for a living. Cheers.
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