30 years ago it was perfectly possible to make a living as a pretty good band. Even small bands on small little labels could count on selling 5000 units of a record. The label would make about £5 per unit sold. That’s £25,000 worth of income. You can offer to finance an album with that kind of money. You can pay staff. You can hire pluggers and pr.
A low level artist on big label would sell tens of thousands of records to make a decent living. Mid level guys selling hundreds of thousands created wealth. Big league hitters got rich selling millions.
Managers would earn 20% of their artist’s advance. If you did a record deal for £100k and a publishing deal for the same, you’d make £40k in commission. You didn’t even have to find success with your artist to be able to make a living as a manager.
This was all made possible by scarcity. In the absence of YouTube and Spotify there wasn’t a lot of music available to people. They had to buy what was available, which was what labels, retailers and the media decided to offer. Hell, some people even bought my records because of this system. It was great, I tell you!
In 1987, studios were expensive and you were somebody if you just had a demo. You had to tour forever just to find out if anyone liked your band. You had to have a record deal to release music into public space, to get it heard.
Today’s world, with all the access to market and technical wizardry at our fingertips, literally, is much better. In theory, you could make a record on an iPhone on Friday, upload it to YouTube and have a million people discover it by Monday. And you’d never have to get off your butt.
Granted, it’s hard to do, because in 2017 nobody cares about a pretty good artist with a pretty good record. There is zero value in being pretty good.
Pretty good artists chase exposure and publicity, because they think it’s scarce. And everyone wants what’s scarce, right?
Scarcity is still around. Some things like uniqueness and signature sound are still scarce. Wouldn’t it be smarter to chase that kind of scarcity?
Rather than look for exposure and publicity, look for opportunity to become amazingly awesome.
It means you have to get out of your comfort zone and EXPECT there to be blood on the tracks.
A free gig in a Dalston loft, organised by a well known promoter of such events provided an alternative world view. On the make shift stage constructed in the living area a cavalcade of various unplugged or semi-plugged singers and artists sang their decent enough songs to an audience that whooped appreciatively whenever someone did something a bit loud on stage. At that point they looked up from their smart phones and gave the artist their vocal show of appreciation. It was all really lovey dovey and super supportive. But unchallenging and complacent.
I agree wholeheartedly with what someone on the night said in between the performers, that the purpose of these nights is to bring music back into musical communities. It’s important to build these communities.
I also think it’s important for music to be great, for it to challenge and excite more than whatever the fuck was so interesting on those smart phones. It’s not the audience’s fault if the artist commands so little attention.
Artists on that circuit often complain the loudest about how crooked the business is and how everyone likes shit music because an uncaring business shoves it down their throats. Read this article about how music is doing great business on Spotify. Then explain to me how it’s possible for labels to make that much money forcing people to listen to what they don’t like.
At what point did phones get smart and people stupid?