The universe doesn’t owe you a living. That’s the sad truth for every artist — be that musician, writer, or otherwise.
I’m broke and bordering on bankruptcy. I count myself very much on the list of artists that can’t afford to make their art but try hard to do so anyway.
I know that most people don’t give a shit about me or my art. You do what you can. And if you’re lucky you get by with a little help from your fans.
I try to make my living as a writer. But I willingly give away my work for free to anyone who can’t afford it and I’m glad to do so.
Making music is admittedly a lot more expensive than writing. More so than a lot of other art forms. Except for, say, theatre, painting, sculpture, film-making, and all the other expensive art forms out there.
But let’s assume that it is the most expensive art form, just for the sake of argument, and that it is only possible for musicians to make music through the financial support of their fans.
There’s still this false equivalence when it comes to discussions about people buying albums versus streaming or piracy. Obscurity is the enemy for most artists, not streaming or piracy.
If someone copies your music for a friend, or listens to it for free on Spotify, that isn’t really a lost sale. There isn’t a direct one-for-one correlation. It’s more like free advertising. You didn’t lose a sale — you gained a fan.
Maybe they’ll go see you live. Maybe they won’t. But they’re not the reason that musicians can’t afford to make their next record. It’s the middle men that get rich off the back of your work. Artists deserve a bigger cut and should fight for it. But, for example, when Metallica sued their fans they seriously lost the plot.
Streaming will never be a viable option to support a musician as opposed to recording, selling albums, and touring. But it’s a great way to get relatively unknown artists in front of more people. The trade off is against obscurity, not against imagined or projected lost sales.
I say this as someone who lives and breathes music. The worth of your fans shouldn’t be reduced to a dollar amount.
When I was younger I spent all the money that I could buying records and not much else. How much of that money ended up in the hands of the artists? Very little. The lion’s share of profits went to the record labels and so on. To everyone else but the artist.
These days I spend money to see bands live instead because I know that they get a bigger cut. But I cannot afford to do both. I also support certain artists directly when I can — the ones whose work means the most to me. For example, I gave Kristin Hersh money towards ‘the guitar that love built’ when she needed to buy a new guitar.
I’ve bought more than my fair share of music and supported more than my fair share of artists. But right now I’m broke. That doesn’t entitle me to anything, of course, but I vehemently disagree with the capitalist argument that you have to ‘support with your dollars’ any art that you want to see in the world. I literally and figuratively don’t buy it.