The Cost of Money

Whitby Busker - by  Dave-FWhat is puzzling is how those who decide to pursue music as a full-time endeavor will be able to support themselves in any way that would allow them to have a roof over their heads that won’t be corrugated and to eat things that don’t contain dodgy ingredients from China. Certainly, there is a bell-shaped curve as regard the amount of money that can be made as a musician. This ranges from those who are generating busker-like incomes to, say, the Rolling Stones. There is, perforce, the bigger middle.

But now the economies have changed and are changing.

With Radiohead and the Charlatans announcing that they’re going to an alternative income-sourcing model for their latest releases by putting them online for download (the former asking for a pittance at a minimum; the latter going out there with whatever the downloader deems fit), does this portend a situation wherein there will be sustainable full-time musicians or will this become the purview of, say, hobbyists?


The assumption is that by taking the middle man out, with the middle man representing everything from the record company to distributors, the musician will not have all of the cream skimmed off the top. To be sure, the record companies are interested in the generation of wealth for the record companies, with the musicians being not much more than a means to that end. The extent to which musicians have been fleeced is now well documented. But there is the question of what rises to the top, because that necessitates a medium through which there can be a flow. Whether that’s actually going to be formed is in question.

There seems to be the idea that by (a) giving away—or nearly so—music, one will (b) make money primarily through performances and associated merchandise. The equation seems to be one where the sum will be more money for the musician, or at least less exploitation. But has it ever been known that concert promoters are interested in anyone other than. . . concert promoters? What this really seems to mean is that if the grasping hand of one party is eliminated, the grasping hand of another is in some ways strengthened.

The touring life doesn’t come free, nor is it easy. While there may seem to be a bit of excitement going from city to city, country to country, anyone who has done much of it will tell you that it is generally unpleasant, exhausting and boring. In fact, most jobs that fall under the category “drudgery” are more appealing in some ways. But this seems to be the means by which performers are choosing to ply their trade.

I suspect that in the not-so-long run some of them are going to be wondering where they might find someone whose job title includes the line “A&R.”

Photo (“Whitby Busker”) by Dave-F. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

5 thoughts on “The Cost of Money”

  1. It’s almost like we’ve come full-circle to the point that musicians will be paid to actually play music – like in the days before recordings existed at all.

    Of course, there will probably always be a handful of mega-stars promoted by major media companies, but it will be interesting to see to what extent independent or regional/local artists gain more prominence, at least within certain communities, as fewer artists are beholden to outdated (and exclusive) business models.

  2. We’re at the dawn of a new era for indies. There are new distribution models and new communication models perfect for low cost independent artists. Everything will be about promoting the show, where most artists have always made their money. The “show” may be a liver performance in a reall life venue, or a webcast, or one of those dopey Second Life “venues” or wherever people gather (literally or virtually) to communicate. That’s all music is anyways: communication.

  3. The problem with all this is that it’s assuming that if you eliminate income from record sales, nothing new will fill that gap. It’s hard to imagine there won’t be new ways to monetize/value recorded music.

    What has happened is that digital distribution has eliminated the scarcity of the product. This goes back to Thomas Jefferson who noted that once goods are not scarce, they are effectively free. Therefore, a new market must be created/defined.

    Here’s a big explanation of the economics that makes a lot of sense. Simple version:

    1. Redefine the market based on the benefits

    2. Break the benefits down into scarce and infinite components. Infinite components: the music itself. Scarce components: access to the musicians, concert tickets, merchandise, creation of new songs, CDs, private concerts, backstage passes, time, anyone’s attention, etc. etc. etc.

    3. Set the infinite components free, syndicate them, make them easy to get — all to increase the value of the scarce components

    4. Charge for the scarce components that are tied to infinite components

    Let’s get on with it already!

  4. I don’t see how the Jeffersonian approach morphed through digital technology is fundamentally any different than the now-dying setup. The question remains as to how the logistics or backroom ops are going to be performed without that cutting into the presumed profits of the musicians. Hmm. . .the word “syndicate” is used. Sort of brings one organization that allegedly had had something to do with running things back in the ’20s to mind. . . .

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