“The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000.”
If a musician (or artist) is not compensated fairly for their work, they will eventually choose another line of work. And in short order there will be no more artists. STOP STEALING MUSIC.
Okay, the internet story of the day, at least in my music/radio world, is without a doubt David Lowery’s “open letter” to Emily White. White is the new intern at All Songs Considered, the music home of NPR and their program All Things Considered, and is one of the music directors at WVAU, the online, student run radio station at American University in Washington DC.
What most have missed, though, is that White’s blog was in response to Bob Boilen’s a few days earlier in which he proclaimed “I just deleted all my music.” His short blog was about how he is now “trusting” the cloud to store all of his music and how he freed up 200 giggabytes of hard drive space on his laptop. Boilen is the host of All Songs Considered.
How that inspired White to write her first contribution as All Songs Considered’s new summer intern is kind of a mystery. Boilen never actually says that he’s “deleted” all of the LPs and CDs that he owns, or that he hasn’t purchased most of those songs now in the cloud, just that he’s going to count on Apple’s iTunes Match service to house his digital collection. For her to proclaim “I never owned any music to begin with” is indicitive of the younger generations and how they perceive the value of music (or art, in general). While it’s not surprising that an almost 21 year old has no concept of “owning” music since she’s “never supported physical music as a consumer,” what is somewhat shocking is that she – as a music director of a college radio station and an intern at a national music program – doesn’t see anything wrong with that. (Okay, she actually does see that there’s something wrong with it. She just doesn’t seem to want to do anything to correct it. Well, unless it were super-convenient to.)
A self-proclaimed “avid music listener” whose world is “music-centric” White seems to think that, like most of the younger “labels are bad”/”I need stuff now” generation, that artists make their money on the road and with merchandise. And, yes, that is true for a small percentage of bands. For the vast majority of touring musicians, touring is a money-LOSING proposition. They do it to get the word out about their albums. They live from night to night, often not knowing where they’re going to sleep that night. Buying a t-shirt or a CD at the show helps… helps fill the gas tank to get to the next town. A band wouldn’t be able to survive on the “merch table sales” alone. Sales from all of the people who didn’t make the show are what can make the difference. Sales from those people at home might be the deciding factor to a band considering whether or not to give up and go back to a full time day job. (Oh, who am I kidding? They already have a full time day job. They used their 2 weeks vacation to go on that tour.)
What David Lowery‘s open letter did was to address many of the facts that White and most people not in the music industry might not realize. I read the whole piece this morning before I even realized that it was written by David Lowery of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. This is not some industry “wanna-be” or unknown bedroom songwriter lamenting the attitudes of the “gimme gimme” generation. This is a guy who has been a touring musician and recording artist since 1983. This is a guy who knows what being on a major label is like. This is a guy who knows what being on an independent label is like. This is a guy who knows what being on no label is like. This is a guy that knows what it’s like to have a “hit” and a guy that knows what it’s like to be unknown. And, I didn’t know this until this morning, this is a guy who is a lecturer in the University of Georgia’s music business program.
Several years ago I got into an electronic argument with someone who considered themselves a songwriter and hoped to one day be a living, working musician. She believed that “all music should be free” and the money to be made was in touring and other avenues – not sales. I tried to explain to her that only the top tier of touring bands actually make enough money to live on and that basically all independent bands lose money on tour. I tried to explain to her that sure, you could offer your entire recorded output online for free, but you’d never stop working the day job if you did. And if that was okay with her, then so be it. I hoped that after one tour she’d discover that it is not the way to make money and that she should be compensated fairly for her work – because that’s what it is, work. I have no idea what happened to her, but I suspect that she changed her tune about giving it all away for free.
PS – Note to Emily White: Should you stay in radio (or working at NPR) you should have no problem accumulating more free music – legally – than you could ever hope to listen to in your lifetime. I can attest to that. And yet I still buy more music (CD, LP and digital) than a sane person should.