An Excellent New Read: "A Brief History Of Why Artists Are No Longer Making A Living..."

Posted March 14th, 2019 by Ian Tamblyn. "A Brief History Of Why Artists Are No Longer Making A Living Making Music".

Let me guess: corporate greed and malfeasance that's been perfected over several decades.
I for sure wouldn't say that it's been perfected, just that all that continues to be a moving target, just like the desire to create.
I also think the quality of music has diminished starting with mtv. Emphasis was placed in looks and theatrics and sexualityinstead of quality music. The Beatles lps were looked forward to and all the songs were devoured because they meant something wetr quality and continuously evolved.
There aren't many bands today who could just stand and play and hold your attention like they did.
Sad to say Springsteen may have been the last of the breed

One of the author’s points was that MTV reclassified music videos as "advertising" for the music industry and the artists and in fact were "pay-to-play" for the artists - money that had to be counted against royalties.


Absolutely! MTV, as it were, was the perfect next generation vehicle to launch the next generation advertising.  Happy Listening!

Not sure MTV was he boogey man. Several excellent bands, in my opinion, thrived during those years. REM, Dire Straits, U2.

I'm also not sure I agree with the premise that artists can't make a living. I don't think anything has changed substantially in that regard in centuries. It takes tons of talent but it also takes being in the right place at the right time with the right people to do anything with that talent. Some make it some don't.

I've been following a glam/pop band from England for about a year. They've been at it in their current configuration for about 5 or 6 years.  They've been on late night TV, they've opened for big bands in big arenas. And still, most people have never heard of them. And yet, as far as I can tell they are making money and a fair amount of it. Even in the age of streaming, ear buds and three second attention spans they are making it. And according to them it isn't just the writing and playing and talent. That's all there but they will tell you its about hard work and perseverance. I saw them last October and I'll see them again in May. And all you have to do is look at their tour schedule and you'll see a big part of their formula for success. Work, work, work, work. I don't know how they do it.

I think another critical aspect about them is that they get along with each others, they don't seem overtly into drugs and despite the swagger of the lead singer they don't seem to take themselves too seriously.

That's how they're making it.

and Elvis didn't place an emphasis on looks and theatrics and sexuality instead of quality music?  Did he not rip off black people's music for the most part and monetize their craft at a level they could never have dreamed of?

I think we are being a bit too simplistic here.  It's never been easy separating form from function.  Things are no different today than they ever have been. You think it's ever been easy making money from music????
Very few musicians create and survive because of the industry, they do so in spite of it. 
Some of the great "record men" like Mo Ostin, Ahmet Ertegun and Chris Blackwell, to name three, were able to run a business that fostered some great music.
Today, I'm sure there are others who people can identify as producers or small label owners that are cultivating and helping to commercialize music. 
But the market is so fragmented, music is not even a commodity most people are wiling to pay for, and the make up-- on the road, touring, is a hard way to live.
Songwriters tend to do better, particularly if they can compose for film or other niche business to business markets.
I don't lament the death of music as an art form, but the days of record labels handing out 1/2 million dollar advances on spec to no name artists are long gone.
Every once in a while, there's a surprise. And in my experience, that was as true when the business was humming along swimmingly- the business of 
music isn't really about music. That's just a coincidence of talent and the right things happening. If someone knew how to predict taste, they'd be swinging. And I think that was always so. 
I do like a lot of eras from the 20th century, though. 
I hate to interject into the furious debate here, but has anyone here bothered to actually Read the freakin' article???
I got about halfway through it.
Ha Ha Ha!! Maybe I’m wrong to post this bad if it is. Maybe the influence of MTV was worse on society than I’d given it credit for, Lol.
Or maybe it just didn't ring true...... 
Ok...a legit response, I guess...but, wow!
The author is a Canadian musician of 45 years in the craft. I thought his perspective to be at the same time both objective and relevant to today. Not many journalists or industry insiders have been able to present the topic with such a clear-eyed and clear-headed approach as this fellow has, IMO, and I imagine we may not get another such glimpse into it for some time.
I read it.I have a better understanding now of how rapidly the industry is  changing and the struggle just to keep up and stay on top of things.It's changing day by day as opposed to era by era.
Yes! Good to hear from someone who read it...not that everything posted up to now was unwanted, but I was hoping to discuss mostly about what the article either said or might have implied...or might have failed to imply, FTM. Thanks.
n80 keep reading - the last half is really interesting!
I'll go back if I have time.

But, asking someone to read an article that the author of the article himself admits is "long" is one thing. Expecting us to read the whole thing even when the premise and initial supporting opinion seems flawed is another thing. All okay.

Yet, I don't think there should be an expectation that the conversation is necessarily invalid if we disagree with the cited article or even some of its premises.

If he sews it up all neatly in the second half of the article then my bad. But his bad too. Getting to the point is as important as making one.
Just finished the second half. And not to be obstinate for the sake of being obstinate it did not change my opinion. He sets specific time periods as being good or great, he posits that analog is superior to digital, etc without supporting those claims. He also suggests that things are somehow bad now. I disagree. Some things are bad. But some things are great. In general I see lots of new and talented artists out there making music I like, touring and making a good living at it. 
You can have your views whatever they may be, I'm not here to take any of that away from you or anyone else. I was just looking for the opinions from people who had read it just so I might still be able to reign in the thread if it got too far afield...I mean, what's the point of opening a thread on an article if nobody who posts actually read it??, is all. 

But, your contributions here are all valid. Thanks for your input.
I do see these days that more and more bands are having to rely on touring in order to make their money. There just aren't all that many bands at any given time touring in the US though. Most groups, including American bands, seem to be perpetually touring Europe and Asia. Evidently those fans support them much more better than we do here. I'm not entirely sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe good for the bands, bad for us. Or maybe we fans here share the blame for not showing up or paying enough?? I dunno. But, I think it is increasingly resulting in being more and more difficult to find their more recent music...on disc, anyway...and that this trend may continue to grow...not because formats are going obsolete, but because mainstream artists who are not top tier are being squeezed out...or would be, if it were not for touring and merchandise.
I think as someone on the outside looking in my opinion isn't really valid.My son is a professional musician(currently serving in the military)gigging whenever and wherever possible nights and weekends.I have friends in the business and from what I know of their lives it's rather difficult to practice their craft and make a living at it.
They develop a network of as many people in the 'biz' as possible and pick up small gigs here and there - radio commercials,subing in bands when someone needs a night off,studio work,giving private lessons,doing free gigs which gets them more exposure,etc.I have no idea how important websites and Facebook pages are where a fan can download music.Will they pay for it or only want it if it's free?
@ivan_nosnibor : What you are describing seems to me the same as it has been for the last 40 years. Bands were given money up front, but they had to earn it back and they were forced to tour in order to do that. So I don't see the touring grind as anything new. It comes with the territory. And for smaller bands the touring is where the money is.

In the British band I mentioned above they had the opposite experience. They could not generate interest at home or on the continent. So they came to the US. Toured like crazy and built up a fan base. They are based in L.A. now. Their success here has allowed them to return to Europe recently with great success.

As far as being able to see lots of bands on tour, well, this is a new thing for me. Used to go to concerts when I was young but nothing in the last 20 years or so. Now I'm going again and there is no shortage of bands to see live. Virtually all of the bands I want to see who aren't major pop names come to venues in my area with some regularity.

Maybe the exceptions prove the rule as laid out in the article. But as a fan I don't see it. I see lots of new and exciting acts making great music, touring where I can easily see them and making a good living at it too. 
If your son is a musician, then your opinion might be more valid than mine since you have a window into it that I don't. No one in my family is a practicing musician. 

"Will they pay for it or only want it if it's free?"

I don't know. I mean there's no way (for me) to know what the public reaction will be to paying for a band, that I'm not familiar with, anyway. Just might depend on how much demand there is for their other way to know, I think. If the band can set up such a page with minimal investment, or even by themselves - if that's even possible yet - then maybe there's a chance someone might pay something for a download...?? It's not all that clear to me at that level, sorry for my not being much help on that.
If your experience is that touring is sustainably vigorous then I’m inclined to take that as a reassuring sign, I think. But what I was talking about was not just that more bands are touring (which is true), but that, where 40 yrs ago they would’ve had the benefit of merchandise and album sales as well, many bands may now only have touring and possibly some merchandise...that the profits margins from new discs have all but evaporated these days...making them more vulnerable than they might have been had they been operating back then.

First and foremost, this forum should stick to all things concerning turntable set up, or similar subject, because people here have no idea of what's going on outside of their on little "ballywick" meaning the big world outside of audio.

Has anyone noticed that almost all of the major cities in this country that were thriving metropolises not long ago are now urban slums. Those were places where musicians began their careers by playing the bars, nightclubs, and lounges that hired musicians; that's where musicians who are now household names began.

I'll name some that I saw in small clubs that no longer exist: Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, plus Albert King began in small clubs in St. Louis. I saw Aretha in Detroit at a night club; hundreds of those types of clubs no longer exist. How is a musician suppose to even start to becoming a paid performer?

So many things begin with the great big picture, "the economy" that affect the little tiny picture; small clubs that entertain people which no longer exist; that's where it starts.

The answer to the question posed, goes far beyond the musicians.

But that landscape you describe keeps right on changing. EDM is booming now, in the living parts of the big cities, anyway. And as far you can see in reference to the names of performers you mention, when those people of that generation die out, do you see that there are others waiting in the wings to replace replace them in the same style of music?...or something substantially different. I mean, I can see what you’re saying I think, but however it may start, you still must end up with "the musician". I’m not trying to limit the discussion on what influences the creation of an artist here, I’m just trying to uncover the pathways they may be taking (or may even be prevented from taking), now, or in the foreseeable future, within the industry in order for them to make a Living at it.
I think that's one of the points of the article.Everything is changing so drastically in a short time how can a musician keep up and make a living?The ones I know are constantly hustling to work here and there.There are still small clubs in the cities to play at but those seem to come and go too.Years ago when I lived in a large city the local bands would seemed to be on rotation through various clubs throughout the city,state,and even neighboring states.Then the occasional gig opening for a big name,sometimes touring with them for a period.Steadier work back then.
You mean you feel like you see fewer ’bigger name’ artists (in your locale) these days for the smaller bands to indirectly benefit from?
Oh, I see that I missed that you moved away from the city since then.
I think I have a fair idea notwithstanding @orpheus10 ’s comments. I worked as an outside lawyer and did a considerable amount of work in the music industry-- mainly music publishing but a fair amount of work for the labels, major and minor-- as a copyright lawyer. I was based in NYC but dealt with matters pretty much all over the world.
I also spent a fair amount of time with musicians, producers, venue owners and others involved in the business. And cared about music and sound. Some of the people in the industry are music lovers- some are just business people. That’s always been true, at least as long as I’ve been around, and my understanding of the history before my time is that it wasn’t much different. Even the big name artists often didn’t earn. And the band members- well, a regular gig was a good thing. Appearing on a record didn’t mean much in terms of money as a sideman (or woman). The credential was good, and hopefully led to more work.
My take is that we have this "rosy" view of the past: it has never been easy for musicians trying to work full-time based on their art. That, of course, was the key- to be able to make enough money from songwriting or performing to be able to devote full time to the art without having to work a "straight" job to put food on the table and cover the rent, kid’s needs, etc.
I don’t think it has ever been easy. The days of the majors as a funding source and incubator for aspiring musicians to develop their craft are largely gone to the extent that even existed. Some labels, like Warner Bros here in the States, had some pretty amazing in-house producers who were able to foster and help develop talent. As mentioned, Chris Blackwell was another person who had an ear for music, not just counting the beans and in some profound ways, shaped the sounds of rock, progressive rock, reggae (he helped put Bob Marley on the map) and other sounds, e.g. Fairport Convention, though a lot of credit is due to the artists as well as Joe Boyd. Guy Stevens, who worked for Island and produced some great records, went on to break The Clash, which was pretty successful at the time.
Independent producers today are a driving force but getting hooked up with the right people isn’t easy. I’m now based in Austin, which is a vibrant live music town, but there is very little in the way of "infrastructure" compared to Nashville, which has long had publishing and an established studio/session player scene. A friend was on four tracks on Paul McCartney’s latest album- he makes a living, but even with that level of talent, he needs the gigs, record sales are a fraction of what they once were, streaming royalties are no pot of gold and gigging-- it may be ok when you are 20, but if you are 60 years old?
It’s always been a tough business. The people that "hit" are sometimes spectacularly talented, but there are a hundred others, just as talented, who are unknowns. I think this is as it always was.
The best we can do as consumers and music lovers is to support the local venues, buy recordings, go to shows (some are quite expensive now) and find other ways to help. There are any number of non-profits that offer everything from legal advice to health care and aging assistance; there are start ups which act as incubators; you can fund artists through kickstarter type projects or buy their work on band camp.
There’s lots of talent out there. People complained about being force-fed crappy music when the majors ruled. Well, nobody is force feeding anything these days- radio promotion is a thing of the past and apart from a few big name artists, most releases are not accompanied by huge marketing campaigns.
Sorry if this sounds preachy, but it’s real easy to say new music sucks and there’s no good path to reach audiences anymore. I think there is a lot of great current music and you can get it easier and cheaper than ever before (legitimately). If you want to do more, that’s up to you--

Actually, the author DOES support that analog is superior to digital- and that digital had to recreate itself through added warmth, etc.

I think his most salient point is now that the record label hierarchy has crumbled and that the under-30 generation feels no need to pay for music, that the idea of an artist being able to be a full-time professional has itself become an outdated schema. If that artist still adheres to physical media and traditional distribution.

Here's an interesting take on what artists get paid for each play on the streaming services.
The most popular streaming service for Gen Z is Youtube, and to them the idea of buying a cd is just as archaic but not as hipster as vinyl. Like beer, music is now rented, not bought, and yet playlists are more esoteric for this generation than anything the Baby Boomers or Gen X had in their mixtapes.
Thank you whart and simao!This is all good to know.
Thank you both @whart and @simao Great posts and mostly either jibe with the article or what I may have already absorbed, but both your posts add greatly to the topic here and I'm grateful for your respective glimpses into your experiences. Thank you, it's good for me to hear these sorts of things from people with different backgrounds than mine. I have some heart for the current generation of musicians, but sometimes I wonder what the future holds as the roots of people who think music should be free continue to grow deeper.
@orpheus10 :  "First and foremost, this forum should stick to all things concerning turntable set up, or similar subject, because people here have no idea of what's going on outside of their on little "ballywick" meaning the big world outside of audio."

I hope that was meant in humor. First, there are plenty of folks here who know the music industry intimately. Second, you have no idea what other people's experiences have been.

"Has anyone noticed that almost all of the major cities in this country that were thriving metropolises not long ago are now urban slums." 

Not true. That is a regional problem. Cities throughout the southeast are growing at unprecedented (and sometimes alarming) rates and the local music scenes just keep getting better and better both in terms of creativity and success but also fan access.
@simao : " Actually, the author DOES support that analog is superior to digital- and that digital had to recreate itself through added warmth, etc."

That does not establish superiority. It establishes flexibility to meet tastes and marketability, which is its own form of superiority. I also don't buy the premise. I was there in the thick of the CD 'revolution'. While we often heard and read about the coldness and sterility of digital sound, all of the typical consumers around me loved it. I can't speak for serious audiophiles in general of that era (I was a minor audiophile at the time) but I had an uncle who reviewed music for major classical labels. I still remember his large listening room the whole rear wall of which was vinyl behind his Mac/Klipsch gear. I went back to his house a few years later and the whole wall was CDs.

: " Actually, the author DOES support that analog is superior to digital- and that digital had to recreate itself through added warmth, etc."

>>>>If digital had to create itself through added warmth, etc. where is the warmth? If you had said playback equipment and tweaks improved digital to where it revealed the warmth, etc. that was there all along, then I would agree. The inventors of digital were smart but they were no Einsteins.

n80, that was not meant in humor.

First, there are plenty of folks here who know the music industry intimately. Second, you have no idea what other people's experiences have been.

The music industry, and everything else falls under the economy.

What does anyone's experience have to do with the economy?

There are towns smaller than the cities which are far worse off.
Actually that's pretty much the way I see it, too. But it didn't seem to matter much to me that the author supported unions more than I might have, or that he might have preferred analog to digital or whatever. I just was looking at what his views were as a participant in the industry grind for as long as he was and what he was saying he thought might be currently relevant.
^^^ what geoff was saying, that is

Thanks for the arrogant history lesson that nobody wanted or asked for.

You're quite welcome Ivan.
Offhand, the only city in that video that played a significant role in the pop music scene was Detroit. Motown moved to the West Coast by 1972 and in its wake were a lot of seasoned players left without work. One of them, Wendell Harrison, formed Tribe Records, which tapped into a vein of so-called "spiritual jazz"- a mix of post bop/modal jazz that mixed soul and funk. Wendell is alive and well, and that scene is still thriving. The Grande Ballroom, a major venue for hard rock, closed in the early ’70s.
Other cities, like Pittsburgh, had a notable local jazz scene, but that was true of many US cities. Jazz started a decline by the ’70s as a form of popular music. Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cleveland had great symphonies, but I don’t attribute the decline in classical music to the economy, then or now. The audience has aged out and sadly, there is little interest among younger generations. Almost all of those cities, and many more, had local rock bands that typically moved to NY or LA at the time to get a break. That’s changed, since the industry changed. Blame it on Pro Tools.
Youngstown was famous for studio wrestling. I don’t know why that isn’t popular any more.

@n80 - I mean, my great aunt and uncle were the founders of Angel Records, and the latter was the Chair of the Met. They spearheaded classical recording, classical fidelity, and identification of and signing of classical artists. This was, of course, in that "golden age" the author mentioned - the 40's-60's, when there WAS no other rival for consumer audio: no Xbox; no Youtube; no cable or satellite; no Netflix.
@orpheus10 : Let me clarify. You said the following.

"First and foremost, this forum should stick to all things concerning turntable set up, or similar subject, because people here have no idea of what's going on outside of their on little "ballywick" meaning the big world outside of audio."

I said that is unsupportable since there are people here who do have experience in the music industry AND that you have no idea what other member's experiences are. Economic or otherwise.

You also said:

""Has anyone noticed that almost all of the major cities in this country that were thriving metropolises not long ago are now urban slums."  

To support it you link to a video about 10 cities. Ten. That's not all of the major cities. It isn't even "almost all" of the major cities. And for each one of those ten that are in decline I can show you two that are thriving. My point was that you generalized a problem to include "almost all" of the major cities and it is simply incorrect. I never said there was no urban decay, but it is not a problem everywhere.

@simao : I get it. We have a tendency to look back at other times and possibly glorify them more than we should. I'm bad about that myself. And I would assert that as in all things, certain time periods are often truly better in some respect or another. And I do, in general, see western culture and society in a state of decline in many respects.

But I don't see success in music as any different from success in professional sports, literature, movie and TV, motor racing, etc. The fact is that extraordinarily few of the people who try it are going to make it big and very very few are going to make a good living at it. That is the nature of talent for hire.

I've read the stories of many many bands that got big, all the way back to the 60's. It has never been easy or fair. The best talent doesn't always get the gig. And I think that suggesting that it was somehow easier back then than now is a bridge too far.

But, as orpheus suggests, I'm not in the business and have no experience with the economy (rolls eyes) what do I know?

Just what I see.
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Go see The Struts. $20. One of the best shows I've seen. Going to see them twice in May. A real rock show.

However, looked into Gary Clark, Jr and Leon Bridges as well. Around $100 and neither one of them are household names. I'd pay that, but not more.
Then again, how many of these artists dictate their prices vs. having a set fee and the venue dictating the prices to recoup that fee plus expenses?