The Great Unfinished Music Ltd experiment
Over the years I have spent a small fortune buying instruments and equipment which I consider to be the tools of my trade. This week I took the possibly overly optimistic step of officially starting up a limited company and I plan on selling my gear to the company and offsetting the cost of this against future income. My initial fear was that I would be personally taxed on my income as a musician and that didn't seem fair given that I wouldn't have technically made any money once my outlay has been taken into account. I have began to question this decision though as I don't normally get paid for my gigs, no-one buys my songs or CDs on Bandcamp or my this website and streaming services don't like to share money with songwriters. I may have just created the need to do an annual tax return for no reason.
I mention this only because the financial struggles of a modern musician are not widely discussed, with most artists choosing to project the illusion of success while masking the fact that they are in many cases locked in a loss making enterprise. So why is there no money in music anymore?
The music industry in a lot of ways has always been split into the following categories:
Artists signed to record labels- Record labels sign bands on an 'Advance', this is essentially a loan agreement and artists are tied to the record company not only until the loan is repaid but also by any other covenants in the contract. Record companies historically promised wider distribution and promotion in exchange in exchange for multi album releases in many cases but rarely deliver. This meant that smaller bands and artists ended up owning large sums of money and were tied to record labels who did nothing to help further their success.
As people moved more and more to a preference for digital music, record companies lost a huge market share so became very narrow in what they supported. The big companies chose to focus on TV show linked releases like the X Factor, and the successful artists from those programs generally got their support for between one song and if they were lucky one album.
The big bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Metallica etc still sell physical albums and make sufficient money for record companies to support, but many of the medium sized and small bands are now releasing albums independently.
In Summary- Record companies killed small bands in the past by loading them with debt and not supporting them, present no value to medium sized bands who have built an audience, and are now mainly the home of large established or instant pop acts. Any independent artist dreaming of a record deal nowadays really doesn't understand the industry.
Established artists working at making a living- There is and maybe always has been a core of talented and dedicated artists who will probably not see the riches on mainstream success (whatever that means nowadays), but have built and continue to build a strong loyal following.
To these guys, borrowing money from a record company and them being tied to a contract is not normally an attractive proposition, and many of them have experience being screwed, dropped or under supported by record companies in their career. Artists that come to mind in this space are Ginger Wildheart, Tony Wright, the Eureka Machines etc.
For a while the 'Pledge' kickstarter movement seemed to be the answer, with many artists getting huge financial support for releases, but support for this type of project seems to be waning a bit. If you have a fan base already, Pledge can give them a great way of getting involved in a records release, but if you don't it's probably not the way to go. Many up and coming artists have failed to hit their fundraising targets and the money pledged in those instances is returned to the pledgers making the the whole exercise frustrating all round. Established artists in some cases also have Patreon pages in which fans can pledge them money every month, but I don't think anyone is keeping the lights on with that revenue.
In most cases established acts have to work hard at their living by touring, selling their own merchandise and keeping in contact with the fan base via blogs and social media. Tours can be unpredictable as in many cases fans can see medium sized working bands multiple times every year, so missing a couple because you can't get a pass from your other half seems acceptable.
These guys are in general living hand to mouth and can't take any income for granted. If the acts with a loyal support are finding it hard, what chance do those without have?
Of course there are hardworking full time wedding and covers bands, but to those guys it's usually more a job than an artistic endeavor. Hopefully that doesn't offend anyone I know in that circuit.
Small and part time artists- I would love to say I am at least in the established category but we all know that isn't true. There are though lots of bands and 'professional' musicians who still have to work full time at a day job. I'm regularly told not to quit my day job, but in fairness it's usually my wife saying it. It is very difficult in this situation for modern non established artist. Most gig's are not paid, no-one really wants CDs anymore, T-Shirts and merchandise are not really an economical investment at this stage, and streaming platform are exploitative to the point of theft.
There are loads of great tools out there to create, release and manage your musical output including easy to use recording equipment and software, cheap distribution services like Distrokid, web design tools like Wix, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which you can access directly and market. We are in a golden age for independent artists theoretically, if there was only the ability to earn from it and be rewarded for your creative efforts.
I have had music on Spotify for example since Jan 2018 and have only made $3.61
Now granted, I'm not an incredibly popular artist and that income is somewhat a reflection of that, but this has spurred me to try a little experiment. I have started playing my own music through Spotify through the night with my phone on silent. My album Malcontent is 30 minutes long, if I sleep for 7 hours per night that means those 12 songs will be played 14 times every night while I sleep. That would equate to 5208 songs played per month. I really don't know how Spotify distribute income, so this exercise will help me answer this and I will let you know how it pans out. If it at least covers my subscription fee for Spotify it would be worth it I suppose, but I certainly wont be quitting my day job.
So what is the message in this blog beyond my ability to ramble stream of consciousness nonsense? I probably didn't need to start a company for my music income.