What 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.”