Sunday, February 7, 2021

Paradigm Shift

The music industry has been changing for years, but I think that the pandemic is bringing it to a breaking point. Like so many of our public institutions, it seems that it has reached a point where it no longer works and must be fundametally rebuilt in a way that makes sense in the present environment. (I'm looking at you, Electoral College.)

If an artist cannot afford to make art, then the art can never be. That's a pretty straighforward equation -- and it is exceedingly difficult for a musician to make a living today. Most of us require other sources of income in order to survive. This is a basic fact of life for a vast majority of artists in any medium. It's also why so many drummers sell weed on the side. In years past, at least there were live shows, which doubled as opportunities to sell merchandise, because that was the about only place where musicians made anything. Record companies, of course, have been screwing over bands for decades.  

As long as I'm on the topic of getting screwed by corporations, while I recognize that digital streaming services are great in terms of making music accessible to a wider and more diverse audience, they don't pay shit. The actual numbers vary per service and even within the same company, and they never tell you why exactly, but on average, it usually takes about six of my songs to be streamed before I make a penny. Every now and then, I get these micro-invoices that tell me how much I got paid for a song on YouTube or Apple Music or whatever, and a lot of times, they show up as $0.00. Only when I click on it can I see that they were just rounding off. The actual figure is more like $0.0018. Thanks Apple! 

As of this writing, my songs have streamed over 24,000 times on Spotify alone, which might sound impressive... until you actually do the math. When you consider how many hours of work I have into all of this, it doesn't exactly even out. The thing is, from what I understand, the notion of being paid fractions of a cent for our creative work is true no matter who you are. Artists whose songs have streamed millions of times are getting paid roughly the same amount, just in much higher volumes. Enough streams and it starts to add up. Nonetheless, when it comes down to it, these artists are getting screwed over just as much as I am. 

Meanwhile, if I want to listen to my own music on one of these services, I have sit through a commercial every few songs. I'm guessing the advertisers paid more than 1/6 of a cent for that spot. If that sounded cynical, it's because it was meant to.  

The system as it currently exists is unsustainable, which leads me to think that something will have to change if human beings shall continue to want music in their lives. Since I don't see that changing anytime soon, then it seems that something else is going to have to give. I hope that it is the musicians and the consumers of music who decide what this industry looks like when the dust finally settles. 

If you want to support a musician or a band you like, buy their stuff -- directly from them, if at all possible. Their drummer could probably also sell you some weed, too, if you're interested, but that's a whole other thing.  

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