In it for the money?

May 1st, 2018

There’s a bit of an odd idea that musicians have always been worshiped and capable of making fortunes …. well not quite.

Wind the clock back before rock’n’roll corrupted youth in the 1950’s and popular music started to throw up stars, and you’ll find few big names with big fortunes. It wasn’t that long ago that talented musicians were no more than servants hired for an evening to entertain the wealthy’s party guests. Socially they were somewhere between chamber maids and butlers, but closer to chamber maids. To declare aspirations to be a paid virtuoso was not exactly a career move and in the the higher echelons of society it would have been positively disgraceful. 

The rock or pop star as we know them has been just a transitory blip in what has been centuries of disdain for the worth of both music and musicians. From the minstrels of medieval courts to vaudeville and then the incredible talent of silent film pianists, musicians have always been poor and undervalued. Then for a short time it changed. For those born in the 60’s most of their adult lives have been punctuated by the ‘music industry’. This phenomenon created the idea of ‘making it’ and that if neither fame nor fortune were achieved then a musician was deemed a failure. So much money was made, so much ascribed to the cult of celebrity. However, the industry was large enough and diverse enough to support far more musicians than today.

The development of the record and affordable players enabled music to be sold to the masses. Radio marketed the records. Live was special, after all there was no YouTube. But the technology of records both created and simultaneously began the end of the ‘golden era’ of music. First you paid to hear music live, then you paid to hear it at home, then technology progressed until you could hear anything anytime for free and even watch it for free. On the creative side there was a filtering system so only bands of worth recorded because it was expensive. Technology changed that. Punk started the real demise of the music industry and the internet finished it off.

At first the internet was very exciting for the early adopters. I was part of a panel in the UK in the early 2000’s that advised musicians on how to promote their music online & make money. This was before YouTube and Facebook – it was the days of MySpace. Bands had real opportunity but wind forward to 2018 and Facebook, the biggest Social network online, has sucked up audiences and destroyed the ability to reach out to fans. They force you to spend money to reach people then charge you money to send posts to the very people who want to hear from you. This is the stuff of postage and envelopes not the freedom of the internet. We are back to the pre-internet days in terms of marketing. Now, more than ever, you need money and lots of it to reach people on or offline. 

Yes, now we can all record our own music, though its not as easy to do as some would have you believe. We can upload to endless websites and there is sits lost in a sea of brilliance and, well … the not so good.

New Zealand has one of the highest ratio of radio stations per population and yet many still play tired old playlists with little support for local independent artists. The biggest exception is National Radio who are brilliant at introducing unknown artists yet how many music buying fans make up their audience? It’s public radio at its best but lost on those who wouldn’t be seen dead listening to it.

In the end music is of huge spiritual value but little financial value. Today young people simply do not expect to pay for it, and so artists can not expect to make a living from it. It’s gone back to the days prior to the 1950s. You could say ‘pop ate itself and crapped itself out’.

So are we in it for the money? No, absolutely not. And more fool anyone entering what’s left of the music business to make money. We do however want an audience. We know there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy our music but reaching them is proving impossible without big marketing budgets – and that was never what Punk was about. But onwards we go, hand-in-hand with some awesome folks around us as equally passionate about their art as us. And that’s what it comes down to … ART.

OLDER