I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing a substantial number of artists for the Music for Head and Heart platform. Everyone has their own story about how they create music, their inspirations and their writing process. They all uniformly confirm that earning a living from music alone is a tough call. Its one thing playing music for a few extra quid at the weekend, but making a living from music so music is your primary income and you become a “music professional” in the true sense is a very different matter.

There is a trend of venues opting for open mic evenings rather than paying for actual bands, which means less opportunities to earn a living. One artist commented that they would typically earn a predicable income from selling CDs, but now many people don’t even have CD players. Platforms like Spotify may be great for “exposure” but essentially recorded music is mostly free these days. HMV is the last physical store on the high street and almost closed down, which would mean all purchases would mostly have to be online. As a big fan of physical products I’m mindful that there are just a few great stores left, Tower Records in Japan and Dublin, Amoeba in California and Waterloo Records in Austin Texas.

Back in the UK pre brexit its increasingly getting tougher for many artists to find a paying audience and even tougher to find a an appreciative listening audience. Music for The Head and Heart will showcase four artists each quarter for a very affordable ticket price. Essentially I am underwriting the costs of such events to generate momentum for growing the platform. I have long pondered on creating a new platform which mixes the essential ingredients of live performances and an online presence. I truly lament the downturn in live music opportunities where bands find it increasingly hard to find paying gigs and promoters seek out open mics which mean paying less money or endless covers bands. I know many live this stuff but for me its my idea of hell.

Diverse income streams and streaming

Many artists appreciate the need to have diverse income streams and incorporate teaching, playing live and selling products. That said only this week another niche UK musician announced that it was no longer viable for him to be a professional musician, ie earning his main income from music alone. He is going to get a 40 hour paid job, so he can pay the bills. Previously he has played festivals, given music lessons and sold products, but all of these even in a good year don’t really pay the bills.

An article in Rolling Stone last year observed

By recent research estimates, U.S. musicians only take home one-tenth of national industry revenues. One reason for such a meager percentage is that streaming services — while reinvigorating the music industry at large — aren’t lucrative for artists unless they’re chart-topping names like Drake or Cardi B. According to one Spotify company filing, average per-stream payouts from the company are between $0.006 and $0.0084; numbers from Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer and other streaming services are comparable. That creates a winner-takes-all situation in which big artists nab millions and small ones can’t earn a living wage. It’s nothing new — one could argue that such were the dynamics in almost every era of music past — but the numbers are more dramatic than before

The Myth of The Golden Era?

Michael Ross from Guitar Moderne made some really interesting comments on this question of making a living from music in his interview for Music for The Head and Heart (soon to be released)

“You can make a living, there are people making livings playing music. It’s not easy, it never was easy, but the outlets are there. I mean, but as we discussed, part of it is going back to the early days of recording when nobody made money from records, but they were an advertisement for your live shows. So, if you can do a great live show, and you can bring people into that live show, and you’re willing to tour around, and you’re young enough or old enough but have the constitution to keep doing it and love to do it, you do it and you make money.
There were people back in the day who weren’t that famous, like the Meat Puppets, one of my all time favourite band names, if not all time favourite bands. They were all buying houses in Texas when they were playing around, you know, because they were living, first of all, in Texas, where it wasn’t expensive, and they were making money and, you know, travelling in a van and, you know, not, apparently, putting all the money up their noses or doing many of the other things musicians do, and they did find there are plenty of regional musicians like that who, you know, have regional gigs.”

Is getting signed the answer?

Some new artists imagine that getting signed to a label will be the solution to making a living from music, without perhaps realising that like any company “the record company” understandably wants a god return on their investment! I know of one terrific USA duo that released a number of albums with the record company were disappointed that there was not a year on year increase in sales, so they were dropped to the amazement and disappointment of fans. They then went their separate ways as they couldn’t make it financially viable.

Another industry professional when asked about this gave the following advice

I would recommend focusing more on creating amazing music that gets passed around and makes waves. Create a sizable fan base and buzz. Do some releases on smaller labels first. The majors usually come after an artist has a real track record and “story”. It’s great to want a record deal, but know which label you want to be on and why. Major labels can create huge results for some artist, but they are also capable of stalling careers

Getting a manager

Some imagine that getting management will solve all such problems, not perhaps realising that any professional manager will like a record company need to do a risk v reward analysis. I spoke to a very experienced music manager recently who was approached by an artist for management and he politely declined commenting that she didn’t have enough released material and social media presence to make it viable. Another manager who had a similar request from a female artist commented that at age 39, it was too late in the day.

The following 3 minute clip is worth watching to demystify the idea that a music manager will ride to the rescue of a creative artist and wave a magic wand to make sure the business aspect is sorted. Of course in the right situations a manager is a perfect fit, BUT the artist needs to have a body of work and be investable. Managing an artist means an investment of time and money.

Conclusion

Like any business the ability to make money depends on many different factors. Anyone can make some money, but earning enough to support yourself financially means a lot of work. The idea of creating a life of abundant wealth and residing in LA is with respect a bit optimistic to say the least… For most artists its about playing the long game and appreciating that its not about just talent, its about business strategy and a lot of luck. I fund projects for my love of music and would hate to depend on music for y financial well being, but that’s just a personal view!

Show me the money – making a living from music?

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