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Here’s a thread from Ask Metafilter discussing the gap between perceived success as a musician and actual financial success. It’s mostly anecdotes about famous or semi-famous musicians that have day jobs. It’s strange to me that this fact is still a mind blower.

Sometimes I wonder if artists being more up front about their earnings would impact file sharing. Something I’ve noticed is that many people exaggerate what they think musicians earn, which makes it easier to dismiss buying their albums after they download them. What’s $15 to an artist who’s riding around in a limosine, right? What if you knew he took the bus? To work? Where he gets paid less than you?

Major label culture does a lot to encourage the belief that once you’re on the radio or on MTV you’re rich and a complete success. It can be good for business, sell albums and attract more fans. And the artists happily go along with it for the same reasons and because it makes them feel good — nobody wants to be a failure. But it can also trigger a backlash where fans (especially Internet fans) don’t want to support you because they’ve been convinced that you don’t need their support.

It makes me think about alternative/industrial bands that I dissed when I was a teenager because I thought they “sold out” when it’s pretty clear in retrospect that they were probably just barely scraping by.

I’m guessing that as the label and star system flattens and spreads out (which is already happening gradually) the disparity between fame and big bank accounts will become more obvious.

Posted on - February 4, 2005 [at] 8:48 am by Brad
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16 Comments on this post

Ryan on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 4, 2005 at 11:09 am

The Internet, putting the starving back in starving artist.

victor on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 4, 2005 at 12:50 pm

Musicians signed to a label do not get any money for album sales.

JB on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 5, 2005 at 11:59 am

well, that’s just not true, victor.

CP on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 5, 2005 at 7:38 pm

I guess that Courtney Love article (salon I think it was, too lazy to google right now) was an eye-opener for many people – at least it was for me.

It’s a strange world where artists have effectively become the golden geese for the major labels. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be rich and famous, but more likely you’ll be broke or barely able to get by.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that right now we’re just at the beginning of a long road at the end of which the ‘content industry’ will have lost its monopoly on what people read, watch and listen to. I’m not saying the majors will dissapear but the niche for micropublishing, i.e. making and marketing your own media content will become much bigger than we can probably imagine at this point.

victor on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 5, 2005 at 9:14 pm

Sorry I was in a hurry when I wrote that. Let me be more explicit:

The Courtney Love piece is indeed informative. It was the closest thing to reality I’ve ever seen said in public that reflects my 12 years experience working for major labels. (I left out the word ‘major’ from my statement.)

And for more than 90% of artists, their career is completely over the day they sign a major label deal. Ask any major label for their artist roster (you won’t get it) the majority of the names will be dropped within five years, and living a very, very hard life, having had their contracts terminated while still massively in debt to the company, and unable to force the label to continue pressing CDs of their back catalog so they can at least make *some* income from the music they create and paid for.

They are paying for limo from future royalties. And most are in denial about their actual financial condition because, as Love points out, every single person around them is taking a real-time cut from the artist’s end of sales. Everybody but the artist.

The tiny percentage that breakthrough (having piled up even more debt for promotion and publicity of their career out of their own pocket) have taken to alternative sources of income (clothing lines, perfume, etc.) because even the money at the top is not reflective of sales.

Downloading copyrighted major label hurts somebody (local record stores for sure) but not the artist. It’s a great promotional tool for them to get their music heard in places they would otherwise have to *pay* to get heard.

marcus on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 6, 2005 at 12:59 am

Really interesting stuff from that victor cat. Leads me to wonder: what the hell is wrong with major label musicians? Why are they doing these things if it doesn’t make them any money and in fact lands them very deeply in debt? Why not just tour and do CDs their own way and wait for attractive deals from places that want to distribute their stuff?

JB on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 6, 2005 at 11:29 am

marcus, because it costs MONEY to tour and do CDs their own way. it costs lots of money. that’s what labels provide, up front. then you have to pay it back. i’m not going to say the majors won’t try to take advantage of you every way they possibly can, but the basic premise is more like a bank loan– one that you don’t even have to pay back if your album fails to make the money back. why do so many major label acts fail? because 90% of everything is complete crap.

watch your own back, don’t sign your life away, choose your battles, and you’ll be all right. if you get a major label deal, think of it like a job– like my job. i get money to live on, a little goes into a 401k, i can afford health insurance for a year, and maybe a couple thousand goes into savings. if you come out of a major label deal a year label having eaten for a year, slept under a roof for a year, saved a little (if you didn’t fritter it away on limos, you idiot), and had health insurance for a year, then how did you come out any the worse for wear than a regular joe? my employer certainly plans to make a lot more revenue from my work than they pay me, otherwise, why would they pay me?

everything’s taken to extremes. there is a problem, but the solution is in educating artists as to what they really need to do in order to make it, major label or not. it’s not a free ticket to fame and glory. it’s a free ticket to even more hard work, eternal vigilance over your legal rights, and the possibility of future employment doing what you love– making music.

victor on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 6, 2005 at 3:24 pm

Hmmmm. What label was it that allows you to keep your masters? What label was it again that provides health insurance? Or a living for that matter? There is no salary on a label deal.

It’s a what? A loan? Then after the loan is ‘paid back’ I get my masters back, right? Since I paid for the recording session, right? Not even the NFL fucks over their talent in that way.

90% of music artists are dropped because they are not promoted. This is institutionalized at the label. The label will not promote artists that do not spend their own money on promotion first and break themselves. I don’t know of a single case where a major label actually broke a new artist using the label’s resources. Do you?

These ‘arbeit macht frei’ myths just don’t map to reality at majors for the last 40 years.

And marcos, the options you mentioned are very, very new. That’s all. It’s been 100 years one way and 2 years the new way. It’s a scary thing to relearn what you’ve been drilled since childhood to believe.

marcus on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 6, 2005 at 4:41 pm

yeah. I mean I look at cases like how The Beatles got proper fucked, just proper fucked, no two ways about it. Paul and Ringo aren’t hurting now, but they aren’t what they could’ve been if Epstein was a more solid business mind, and record labels weren’t douches. I look forward to the day when music’s free but CD and concert tickets go to line the musicians’ pockets. maybe we’ll be there sooner and not later.

JB on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 7, 2005 at 11:59 am

if your contract is bad, DON’T SIGN IT. if you sign a contract where you don’t own your masters, whose fault is it?

if you need health insurance, pay for it out of your advance. what’s that advance for if not all your expenses while recording and touring? that’s the deal. you get access to the label’s resources and they front you the money to pay for it. they expect to make their money back, and you get to eat and work while that happens, and then eventually everybody starts to *make* money. if you don’t want to use their system, don’t.

again, i’m not ever going to claim that nobody’s ever been taken advantage of, but i do have a problem with the constant crying “victim” from people who went into the deal with unrealistic expectations.

and i wonder what Team Love does for their dayjobs. man, people think the solution to this stuff is so obvious, but it’s just not.

and stealing music on the internet is still stealing money from somebody’s baby. if they work at Capitol records in the mailroom, you’re still ripping them off. i’m not saying don’t do it, but calling yourself virtuous while being a music glutton is just wrong. “I’m doing the right thing by stealing this U2 album!” no, you’re just stealing that U2 album. you’re enjoying the work without remunerating the artist in any way. and don’t give me that one-off “but i sent them a dollar” bullcrap. you did not. admit it, just to yourself, and be on your merry thieving way.

victor on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
February 7, 2005 at 6:47 pm

I’m not going to spam brad’s site anymore. You can read my response here. Comments welcome. Thanks.

Cloudmar on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
August 31, 2006 at 12:03 pm

Musicians have families and bills don’t steal! Running a band takes money as well. As a manager, promotor and tour company owner I know this too well. I have reviewed label contracts that were insulting. You haven’t even mentioned Pay for Play where a band plays to be on a National Tour. I hate that part of the business. I advise new bands on the business of the music industry. There is money to be made but it takes more than just talent. Digital distribution is the future but even here the payback to the musicians are getting smaller.
Rock ON!
Roaring Dragon Entertainment

Calvin on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
June 30, 2007 at 4:05 pm

Don’t talk about major labels, even indie bands are suffering the fate of poverty. I think the most major problem is competition. Even if your stuff is great, it takes more in making a name than music talent. There are super lots of issues in getting an act together lest the issues of making your music to the commercial standard. A high cost is involved and music entertainment biz can be severely complex. Sometimes lots of money can be earned, but most times preparation takes too much time that sucks up financial means. The only one great thing every musician earns is great life experience. The clever ones do earn quite a bit though. The whole music industry is a form of capitalism. It seems to me that the poor are really poor, the rich are really rich. But maybe i’m wrong about the rich ones, since i’ve never in that ‘shoe’. Still, sometimes, i do get good offers of finances that way surpass that of normal wage earners.

Niki on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
July 19, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Good points,
but then,..the next important question becomes: what OTHER “professions” these musicians need to do (or find out), if they’re really 100% passionate & are willing to pour ALL their life into Music?
Sometimes I do wonder if musicians in their ‘day job’ doing geologists, anthropologists, pre-meds, and web developers (ie: “what you DO, not what you are”) does really ENJOY/love your non-music jobs/careers? or it’s just a thing that every musician need to *force* him/herself into doing?
but how ‘ironic’ that would become,..don’t u think?

I know that we’re probably going back to that “village musician” type, but then I often wonder what else are the things/jobs that these village musicians could DO, other than music?
and not least important question is also: HOW to be able to find out for the OTHER ‘money-making’ passion, other than the 100% Love of Music & being a musician?

If you or any musician here can share any insights on this one, I would be really glad & appreciate it so much. As I’m now 28 yrs old, and also still struggling in this Music .versus. Reality (money) dilemma/issue,..while my mind is constantly 100% filled with Music (compositions ideas, music parts arrangement ideas, etc) & really *nothing* else!

thank you!

Steve on Musicians are Poor (and Dirty)
December 9, 2010 at 7:59 pm

hey, Niki… i am a musician who is in it 100% for the music… i barely scrap by each month, but i can’t see myself working a “normal” job, i mean i could be a car detailer or a shop hand or something, but a desk job would kill me faster than anything… i tried to work for my mom, she worked as a retirement benefits manager at a major american corporation, and, it was HELL!!!!!! it was like i was on drugs… my head would spin, i couldn’t keep track of anything other than the work… and i didn’t enjoy a single minute… of course i wasn’t paid, it was just to help out… i mean shes my mom, shes pretty much done everything for me, so i jumped at the chance to give back, i guess the moral of the story is… do what you love, and to hell with the consequences… and also for the people who work desk jobs, god bless you all, it is serious bullshit that you work like bees and don’t get props… and for the factory workers, same thing, we are all in this together, thanks

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