the state of music and blueberry muffins
“Can you put food on the table with music? Probably not. I see music as a really great hobby for most people in five or 10 years.
I see everybody I know, some of them really important artists, studying how to do other jobs.” – John McCrea, Cake, NPR Interview
And so it goes…another musician, who incidentally just released an album that debuted at number one on the charts, bemoaning the state of the industry and the fate of musicians in the here, now and future. Of course, Cake is a little unusual…their number one translated into just 44,000 units sold…the lowest selling number one in history.
Though he’s happy the new album is doing well [by today’s standards], McCrea says he’s skeptical about the future of music as a vocation. After two decades with Cake, McCrea has started to think about his life after the band — which might mean taking his interest in farming and gardening more seriously. “I think I want to live a little closer to the ground,” he says. “There’s something pretty healthy about working every day outdoors, and not being on an airplane all the time.” (NPR again)
So anyway, this little radio interview and John’s comments did a quick shot around the internet this past week creating quite a buzz as one might imagine. The website Hypebot posted John’s quote at the top of this post and let their readers “write the story” so to speak. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:
Jason Parker: “I find it interesting that all of this kind of talk comes from the major labels and major label artists (Note: Cake is an independent artsist who released their album on their own label.) , or at least the artists that are in the top 1% of money makers. It’s clear that their income has been and will continue to be severely cut from the “glory days”. But there’s an entire “musical middle class” that is not only putting food on the table, but thriving in this new climate.
Rather than echoing the sentiments of the big fish over and over and over, how about covering some of us little guys who are making it happen and living the dream? The music industry may be dying but the MUSIC is alive and well.”
Rob Michael: “Jason hits the nail on the head. Not only IS there a musical middle-class, there has ALWAYS been one. a healthy one at that. An industry that has proven itself to be no more than a greedy middle-man is the only thing being left behind. As a working pro musician (that you’ve likely not heard of) I view that as a huge net gain.
The intrinsic value of music is unchanged and things have never looked better for musicians, both professional and hobbyists alike.
The “Middle-man” industry is the one that will be studied by future archaeologists.”
Chancius wrote: “I really think it varies from musician to musician and place to place. In smaller cities and towns I see that the live music scenes for indies (unsigned) are pretty decent. They can actually get pretty good turn outs and make some dough from entrance fees because there isn’t much else to do and word spreads fast. In NYC (where I live) you’re either playing for for no one or for free because there is so much competition, a lot less place have live music anymore (noise pollution laws), and too many open mic nights.
We used to live in a world where there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, that if you struggled as an artist there was a chance it would pay off, but now it seems like there will only ever be a struggle and that’s just unrealistic to survive by now.”
Suzanne Lainson: “The percentage of musicians in Colorado making it full-time on music is pretty small. A few have done it. I’ve worked with some of them. I know their numbers, and I know it is possible. But it often involves gigging about 200 times a year, playing shows with guarantees, and actually selling music rather than just giving it away.
But even among the buzz bands getting lots of attention in Colorado, most have day jobs and will always have day jobs. And most of those day jobs aren’t music-related day jobs. They are bartenders, or graphic designers, or nannies, or something else that actually pays money.
I think it is very honest to say that music will be a low-income generating activity for almost all who pursue it.
For those of you who are making a living at music, how much are you making, and from what sources? And what are you spending in living expenses? If, for example, you are living with a spouse, with parents, or with a significant other, and they are actually covering the rent/mortgage, that significantly changes how much you need to make.
Are you paying for health insurance? And if you are, are you paying just for yourself, or for a whole family?
I’m curious what people mean when they say they are making a living in music.”
Some very interesting comments and thoughts shared by these people. With music classes in schools being cut or curtailed, continued funding for the arts in jeopardy, a business model in free fall, the remaining media conglomerates further separating the chasm between the haves and have nots (squeezing out the middle class musician…sort of like what Walker is doing in Wisconsin) and the overall economy where a paying audience is becoming hard to find…we’re in tough, tough times.
Which leads us to blueberry muffins.
Martin Atkins Kicks Off SXSW With ‘Welcome to the Music Business, Now You’re F—ed’ Panel
That was the headline in an article I saw this morning on Billboard.biz, a music industry website. Martin was a drummer in bands (Public Image Ltd., Killing Joke, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry) and now teaches at the Madison Media Institute.
Rather than recap, I’ll just cut and paste below from the site. I’m lazy, and it saves time:
“For his lecture, the black-suited, spike-haired Atkins blazed through his do’s and don’ts for bands at a blistering pace that defied extensive note-taking – but he was clearly there entertain as much as to inform, not to mention push his books.
First off, he ran through a list of things that screw bands up as they navigate the biz, dropping f-bombs liberally – and gleefully — throughout.
Atkins’ list of common musician pitfalls included: blaming everyone but yourself (“It’s tragic when the biggest problem you have is yourself”), over-ambition, being a jerk, the pursuit of perfection, seeking external validation, bad contracts (“A contract is not protection — ever!”), looking for shortcuts and deals, and a lack of imagination.
His list of strategies to overcome those problems included: have a strategy, get the f— out of bed, be omnipresent online, don’t be afraid of doing things for free (“It’s not a problem if 20,000 people ‘illegally’ download your music — it’s a problem if they don’t”), don’t worship technology, differentiate yourself from the competition, make your shows into events, don’t overplay your local market, have more than one T-shirt for sale, define success on your terms, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes: “It’s what you do with the accident.”
In conclusion, he said, “If in doubt, throw blueberry muffins,” and then proceeded to do just that, showering the audience with blueberry muffins.
Seems like a good ending to this story…or perhaps I should just write “Let them eat Cake.”