Let's Talk About Money!
"The thing is, there's not that much money in music, that's the way it is, but we do it for the passion"...
An artist I know was being interviewed and I was taken aback with her assertion that there was little money in the music business. I need to react. So here we go - let's break down that familiar sentence...
- There's not that much money in music. That statement is false. There is a TON of money! The issue isn't the scarcity of money - it's the fact that so little of the money flows to the creators: the songwriters, performers...
- that's the way it is This defeatist approach is painful to witness. Placing the artist as a victim only normalizes the behaviours that perpetuate the broken system.
- but we do it for the passion. Of course passion is a core driver in an artist's career. It's a core driver in many vocations - including being CEOs, building retail empires, running for election, joining a research team, etc. Working for passion alone does not make you a better person than the millionaire who loves her company and clients. Passion is not a substitute for income. They can - and must - coexist. Speaking as if passion is enough gives the music industry permission to cut you out, as they do, of the income.
So... you might think it's charming to shrug off the financial aspect of your music career. But is it really that endearing? It might generate an "ah shucks" reaction in the crowd, and even compel them to an act of charity by contributing to your tip jar. But that power dynamic - where you the artist are dependent on the will and whim of strangers - is a dangerous one that doesn't feed a sustainable career.
I think we can, and need to do better!
1. Claim your fair share of the music revenue pie!
Here are some figures to consider (this is a screenshot of a slide from one of the webinars we did last year, No Plan B):
What can you do?! Well, first off, stop accepting the gigs that make you feel shitty. When more artists start to say "no", promoters and presenters will wake up to their need to offer more. There'll always be the shows you want to do, even where the money really isn't in abundance. But if a charity can pay for the caterer and the room rental, they can pay for the music. Or find a sponsor to cover your fee. Or at the very least, offer you a tax receipt.
These occasional "free shows" aren't really the issue. The bigger issue is HOW money flows to you. Most of the money that fans spend flows through multiple hands before it gets to you: music platform, record label, then you. Or festival, then you. Or music supervisor, sync agent, publisher then you...
In the short term, look at your revenue streams and see if there are ways of creating more direct fan-to-artist avenues: fan clubs (like Patreon),direct donations, merch stores, etc.
In the long term, get involved with groups that are lobbying for change: asking government for more direct funding to artists rather than to the industries, imposing higher ratios on royalty and streaming revenues, exploring ways a guaranteed minimum revenue might be created... solutions will come when we acknowledge that there's plenty of money, and that we need to work together so that more flows to artists.
2. Be positive in your language and proactive in your choices
"Learned helplessness" is something I've observed over and over again. It actually makes me a little crazy to hear an artist adopt a "poor me" stance. I really wish every artist could see how powerful you are! I say often and I'll say it again - you're fricken amazing! You can make people laugh, cry, heal, dance... You go on stage and lay your life out so that people can improve their own. It looks and feels magical! And yet, we know how much effort and practice and sacrifice goes into the making of a song or show. So, sum up your courage and direct your creativity into solutions. We can change this... here are ideas for easy language changes you can adopt:
- When someone says "that's the way it's always been...", answer with the question: "And yet, does it make sense for it continue that way"?
- Or in talking about the industry norms, ask questions: "Is that a sustainable approach?" "Does that reflect the worth of an artist's contribution?" "Is that truly the best you can do? "What other ways could we do this?"
- Being proactive: "Here's one small change that you can do which will help steer this industry in the right direction..." and follow up with a suggestion. You might not get a "yes" the first time you suggest a change, but it might trigger a chain of thought that leads to action in time.
3. Fuel your passion with income
It's a beautiful thing to be passionate about your music and your art! This is something that drives true amateurs (an "amateur" is "a person who engages in a study, sport or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons"... the origin of the word - ama - is rooted in "love" - amare). Holding on to the passion is essential given the number of hours you dedicate to your craft. That said, if you're serious about building a career, it is also essential to consider income.
Money covers your basic needs of health and safety. Money fuels your choices. And at the end of the day, money fuels your passion. If you'd rather focus your energy on your purpose and passion, then look for a team that will handle the finances. A manager, agent or accountant can all contribute to a stable business. Until you have a team (or if you prefer the freedom of an independent career),approach money as a switch that you can turn on when it comes time to negotiate a deal or put a budget together. It doesn't have to be emotional - it's a very pragmatic thing. There are quite a few webinars on setting prices, making budgets, understanding financial tools... if there are any subjects you'd like us to revise, send me a message and we'll book a session!
We're coming out of a pandemic and it's an opportune time time to redesign your career to align with a new vision of the way this industry needs to grow. And when an interview asks you about how tough it is for artists, feel free to call it as it is:
"The thing is, there's a ton of money in music but it hasn't flowed to artists in a fair way. We need to change that. We encourage fans to look at ways they can support artists directly. All of us in the music trade need to work together so that we can keep the songs and storytelling we all love flowing..."
We can talk about this at The Hang which is in just over an hour! Hope to see you there!