Many musicians are looking to be famous, and make their livelihood through their royalties. It’s no mystery. We all hear it everyday. “I’m tired of working for free”, or “I’m playing at this gig for self-promotion!”, they say. It gets old, real fast. And if you’re the musician, you want an income within the next year or so. You’re not a procrastinator, and it’s no accident that you’re not making the money you solely deserve. In fact, it’s worse than what you think.
The problem with the music industry is that the new channels are not making you more money than the old. Sadly, they’re actually giving you less. Much less. The big labels may not give you the chance to make it big with them so easily, but, at least, with them, you get paid well. Enough to buy a mansion. But who gets those contracts anymore, right?
And so you turn to self-publishing sites, like SoundCloud, and hope for the better. You may not be able to buy a mansion, but that Starbucks coffee does look nice. Add some milk, froth it, maybe some caramel or hazelnut in the mix, and maybe an extra shot of espresso to top it off? Make it a venti, and your day is solid! But each year, that venti loses it’s luster. There’s no more caramel or hazelnut in the mix. The extra shot feels more expensive than the last. And finally, you ask if the froth is an extra charge, or is your wallet really feeling that thin? You’re not crazy, and let me tell you why.
Each year, companies re-evaluate their finances, and when there’s a chance to grow, they have to decide whether its you or them that’s going to eat the cost. Usually, it’s because there’s a new client they can advertise for, and a lot of the liberties you once enjoyed, like unfiltered and uncensored songs, are put on a tier system to abide by the strict contracts given to them. And, if you want to continue as a business, what do you do? Abide, of course! Abide, until you turn into YouTube. And, then, suddenly, the musicians are back to where they started. No one listens to your music, and you have to stick to your cliques.
You turn your back on the industry. You make your own path, and you create your own fanbase. At least these people care! You print a few t-shirts, and setup your own gigs, and work ten times harder. Your friends come to your show, your family come to your show, and your mom loves you…ideally, speaking. But then, you get tired, you spent everything to make it as legitimate as possible, and for some reason, you can’t seem to get past these same twelve people that keep returning for all your shows. You see new faces, they walk away. You play at parties, people don’t buy your music. What are you doing wrong?
Alas, we live in a world of applicable art. In the USA, at least. Try Europe or any of the UK territories – old or new, and you’ll find yourself in a different scenario, altogether. But here in the US, we want something sentimental, something a general populace can live in, excused and permitted in a certain way, a small society where there is etiquette for your work: a niche.
You may have to swallow your pride and play a song about Minecraft or an Anime themed intro, or other, but you’ll get that audience. You’ll get fresh faces, and you’ll be popular. You just won’t be…you.
Now, it’s not uncommon to have people follow your career, and seek you out, thanks to your style, playing their favorite songs in your soundtrack. You’re not making that much cash now, but, at least, you’re not an impressionist. Producers may even give you a contract deal, if they like your fans. Fingers crossed.
This is the line musicians are scared to cross. Because here, there’s a small difference in being the R&B band singing Country songs, and the band that looks, sounds, and pretends to be the Jackson Five. It’s humiliating for some that want to be heard, but it pays the bills so well.
You’ll play at ballrooms, and concert halls, maybe, if you’re lucky. And some actually love being the purist, that they’ll tour at museums and fancy restaurants for the pay: playing Jingle Bells and Eidel Weiss. But rarely will you ever see these amazing artists play their own songs – however refined or raw their work is.
The New Label
Either the band gets tired of not making enough money, and becomes the label company, or a new label seeks them out. Usually, if the musicians are tenacious enough, they’ll make it their business to be the prior, and live vicariously through the more popular musicians under their wing, and continue doing their own work on their own time. This is a tough route, fret with fees and taxes of all kinds, unimaginable competition, and politics you cannot begin to understand! But the profits. Oh, the profit it brings!
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but rather, how you wish to proceed. Business Law changes every two years, new companies come every year, and new rules and opportunities present themselves nearly every day. As a musician, your decision is to either stay the same, or adapt. And the rest is endurance.