The premise of this post is to provide an answer to these simple questions…
How do I earn a living in the arts sector?
How do I promote my career?
Probably best to cut the preamble and face the complexity inherent in answering life pursuits.
In order to earn a living in the music industry, one must either sell their soul/creative freedom/life to a record label – usually one of the majors, but also possibly to an independent label, ironically enough. I used to be under the apparently false impression that ALL indie labels would allow artistic merit to blossom and fully support their artists, but it comes as no surprise to find that creative accounting is the only encouraged art-form.
“My favorite retarded trick is he would make the numeral and literal amounts of the check different, so our bank couldn’t cash it,” says Albini. “It was like dealing with a small child who’s trying to hide cookies under his pillow. I’m sure it did earn him a small aggregate profit, being so duplicitous about everything. But it seems like so much work to be that devious about small amounts of money.”
Steve Albini, Magnet, 2006. On notorious indie imprint (and one of Sonic Youth’s first labels) Homestead Records, run by Wharton Business School grad Barry Tenenbaum.
Of course, major labels have earned their reputation for a reason as well…
“This is how screwed up the music business is in the early twenty-first century: Last summer, after completing their fourth and best studio album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, alternative-country idols Wilco delivered the record to their label, Reprise. The company reacted as if the music was caked in anthrax, throwing the album back at Wilco and arranging for them to leave the label — immediately. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot now arrives in stores, intact, on Nonesuch. Like Reprise, Nonesuch is a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner. Essentially, the mother firm paid for the album twice. I would love to see one of the suits explain that to the shareholders.”
(RS 895 – May 9, 2002)
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sold over 500,000 copies sold in the U.S. and topped the Pazz and Jop critics’ poll for 2002.
So the old adage is true – hard work and confidence in ability ie. playing shows and practice – is probably the only way to ensure a sustainable living in the music industry. Numerous artists have released a first album that sold reasonably well, gained commercial attention and either appeared on commercials in order to retain interest from the unwitting public or played every show they could, partying and then when it came to writing good music again, the magic was gone.
Some examples include (and might I add, I never liked these artists to begin with):
As for promoting a career in a unique and interesting way AND making money? Look no further than Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, who gave the fans to choice to pay what they like or pay more money for more product. Of course, few other bands around today could do this and make profit, case in point…
“After producing Saul Williams’ The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust and offering it to fans online, Reznor yesterday laid out the numbers from his experiment. Saying that it’s easy for artists to know “what NOT to do these days, but less obvious to know what’s right,” Reznor found that 18.3 percent of users who grabbed the album paid $5 for it; the rest paid nothing.”
This essentially sums up the dilemma for musicians in today’s musical and financial climate – however, as mentioned before, hard work still pays off. Bands play shows for a reason (and they can actually make money from them too) because that’s how artists have to exist today. No longer can an artist rely on a product, lest they start their own label and put in a great amount of effort, or sign to an honest independent.
Labels who succeeded:
SST (started by Black Flag)
Dischord (Minor Threat)
So, in answer to the questions, all that’s needed is dedication and years of work.
With all that said, here’s My Band.