who makes money in music? i have the answer.
I’m sitting in the audience with the bass player’s wife and we’re chatting a bit while listening to the band. They are sounding pretty darn good with the new guitarist and the addition of a young fiddle player. Tonight it’s a free show in the park for maybe a couple hundred baby boomers and young families who are probably there more for a cheap night out and less for the artist. But they are receptive and appreciative, although I see no action over at the merch table during intermission or after the show.
The band drove here in a couple of vehicles, and they’ll each clock ninety miles by the time they get home. With loading up, sound check, performance, break down, drive time and returning the borrowed PA system, I’m guessing it was a seven hour experience. They each put a hundred bucks in their pocket, assuming that it might be forgotten come tax season. Roughly double then what they’d make flipping burgers over at the In N Out out on the highway, minus whatever it cost for gas.
These folks actually do pretty well compared to others who are out there struggling. They have three releases under their belt, play a regular circuit of clubs and local venues, have done shows in Nashville and other geo-pockets, and recently did over a week’s worth of festival dates in England and France. Seasoned musicians, strong repertoire, a fan base both local and beyond, steady flow of gigs, some airplay on the radio and yet….
“Who is making money in music?” the bass player’s wife asks me. “Because it’s not the musicians, and it’s not the promoters, and it’s not the record label. So who is it?”
I look around and point to the ice cream truck in the parking lot. “See that guy over there? He’s making money tonight.”
When the band traveled overseas, they each paid their own way and hoped to recoup the money from the festivals and a few pub dates. You only take your instruments (or sticks and cymbals), and rely on the kindness of your fellow performers for amps and drums. The promoters open up their homes to you, providing a place to sleep, some food and the opportunity to make new friends, share a story and a laugh. It’s a level or two above backpacking and busking, but a far cry from having separate rooms at the Haymarket Hotel with a private car and driver, and dinner at Le Gavroche.
This particular band configuration happens to run the age gamut from late teen to mid-forties. They each have day jobs to pay the bills. When you’re twenty-five and still hold hope and dreams of fame close to your heart, it’s not so hard to do this. If you’re older with a family, a mortgage, car loans, insurance premiums, utility bills, kid stuff and what have you…I imagine it’s tougher.
I believe all of us who play music…be it in the quiet of our home or onstage somewhere…have a desire for one day being acknowledged some way or another. For some, it’s enough having your home produced video on You Tube getting 115 views, for others it’s a coveted major label recording contract and a shot on Letterman. Maybe for you it’s a song performed in church or a coffee house with a dozen people sitting around. It’s the smile, the nodding of the heads in time with the music, the scattered applause or the “hey man…that was good” that keeps you doing what you do.
One of my favorite answers to the question of what keeps a musician going, comes from Paul (I think…maybe it was Nicole) from the band Mars Arizona. He, she or they wrote:
“Someone asked us if we make money doing this… the answer is no… we make art, friends, emotions, adventures, songs, ideas, changes, noise, we make ourselves happy, and hopefully a few other folks happy along the way. Those are the things that we make. Who needs money?!”
So…who makes money in music? As I pondered the question over the weekend, I thought about No Depression, and specifically about Kyla Fairchild. If you listened to her interview that was posted here last week, you may have heard her mention that she hasn’t taken a paycheck in the past couple of years since this site went live. The magazine couldn’t survive with the record labels cutting down on advertising, and the subscription base didn’t offset the money going out for writers and materials. She pays the bills and keeps this community alive for us. But no payday yet.
So…who makes money in music? Trans World Entertainment is the retailer who bought out all the other chains who previously failed: Sam Goody/Musicland, Camelot, Specs, National Record Mart, Wherehouse and a few more we’ve forgotten. For the first three months of this year they have reported losses of $11.3 million…the same period last year they lost $13.7 million. Maybe that’s progress, but I doubt it. So it ain’t the retailers.
So…who makes money in music? I don’t think it’s the music conglomerates. From last April, here was the story with EMI Music: “Struggling music group EMI faces being taken over by its bankers after failing to clinch a deal to sell the North American distribution rights for its artists to Universal Music Group or Sony Music.” They somehow survived for the time being but as you might imagine, if your rivals don’t want the Beatles and Pink Floyd catalogs, it’s probably because they ain’t making much money either.
So…who makes money in music? If you’ve seen the news about this past summer’s tours and festivals, you’ll see that consumers are just not going. Tickets are being sold off at half of face value, and the whole structure of licensing and fees is being challenged. Not only are the promoters in pain, but even the scalpers and brokers are singin’ the blues these days.
So…who makes money in music? Well…to be honest…lots of people do. There are hundreds of executives from all the major labels and their various distribution and publishing companies. There’s producers and quite a few artists. (Elton John and others will play at your wedding for about $50,000 per night. His calendar is full.) I’m sure CEO Bob Higgins from the aforementioned money-bleeding Trans World Entertainment isn’t losing sleep or cutting coupons. The folks over at American Idol are doing well. The Apple and Amazon execs are always smiling. Live Nation, AEG….mergers make people money. So, you know…there’s plenty of money out there to be made somehow. Just not for most of you…ugh…make that us.
Let me get back specifically trying to answer the question posed by the bass player’s wife. She’s not that interested in the corporate music exec bringing home the stock options when she asks “who makes money in music?”. What she really wants to know is can a musician make money in music.
I have the answer.
I put it into the Google search bar and there were quite a few responses to be found. My favorite, and probably the most honest, was the one below posted anonymously on a message board:
“Well… I’ve been a professional musician for over 50 years… I have a home in Missouri (the old family home, left to me when my father died) that is near to Branson so it’s convenient for me to keep it for when I play there… I have a small house on Corpus Christi Bay that I use when I’m playing in Texas and the Gulf Coast and I live on my boat in Antigua for 7 months every year.
By most standards, I am a wealthy musician.. and I got it the honest way.. my father was a successful industrialist and I was his only child and when he died… he left me everything…
And that is how most professional musicians get rich… Otherwise, it’s a hand to mouth existence.”
So now you know.