Copper in Pocket:
Monetising a Music Career
ONE of the most troubling things about music is how fraught…
it can be with regards making money. I have spoken to bands, managers and assorted musical players and there is a consensus: it is so difficult monetising their passion. Many get into music for the right reasons – because they want to create something wonderful and share it with people – but there is, of course, going to be a component of commerce. One does not get into any industry without desiring an equitable slice of the pie. How easy, therefore – or HARD, should that be?! – actually making money from a career in music?! That is quite a broad question as different artists are in different positions: there is no set valuation and revenue figure. I was interested reading an article published by Billboard a couple of years back. It provided a comprehensive breakdown of the salaries certain artists made – from sessions musicians through to big stars at Vegas residencies. The figures can be quite eye-watering when it comes to the chasms. The article looks at, largely, the bigger acts: those that can command huge audiences and in a position to write commercial jingles. It is the polemics of the pay-scale that really get to me. I suppose established mainstream artists get to where they are because they have acquired fans; played the game and worked hard. They have the record labels behind them and are in a position when they can get commercials/huge gigs and really clean up. Another article (by thejournal.ie) – asked how bands, in this day and age (2016), make money. The writer of the piece shared their experience:
“For me, having played in bands for over a decade, that figure was €9,000.
You won’t know my name from anywhere but TheJournal.ie and you won’t have heard any of the songs I’ve made, so losing that amount of money isn’t a huge deal.
I mean, it is a huge deal. Nine grand is a good chunk of a house deposit or a car (or 90 cars if you buy my first car again).
But as a payment towards a hobby for over a decade, it’s not that bad.
While home recordings and the internet make getting your music made and heard easier in theory, the reality remains that making music remains pretty unprofitable for the vast, vast majority of people”.
It went on to say how various nations funded musicians - E.I.R.E. being the first up:
“FMC has helped basically every Irish band you can think of at some point in the last few years – Kodaline, Lisa Hannigan, James Vincent McMorrow, Delorentos, The Coronas, Jape, Declan O’Rourke, Fionn Regan.
While Arts Council funding to make an album or go on tour is difficult to come by, the body does run CultureFox and is actively encouraging bands and musicians to see themselves as part of the arts community across Ireland.
Angela Dorgan who runs FMC told TheJournal.ie that they pay a larger percentage out to bands than they get from the Arts Council.
“We run Hard Working Class Heroes as a showcase. So it’s not a professional festival in that way, but the cost of flying bookers, agents and label reps is all covered as well as the backline costs”.
In Canada, it is written, things are different:
“We have some great organisations like Factor and OAC (Ontario Arts Council) and Canadian Arts Council that all fund musicians projects,” says Beth Moore, a Niagara Falls based singer-songwriter whose most recent album Five Out Of Ten was released last year.
There are varying levels depending on what level you are at professionally. I personally won the OAC popular music grant for $6,000 and the Factor (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings) juried sound for $13,000.
She says that many don’t apply for grants because the system can be obtuse and you “have to work for it”.
That is quite a quick and broad sweep of an article that digs deep and does raise an interesting side: many artists are in it for the love. That is the reason one should do anything in music but I do wonder whether there is an inherent stress attached. That sheer passion and drive is a great motivator and isolation. The big, famous bands get paid more than you can believe when they play festivals like Glastonbury. The fees differ between the acts but one can imagine Ed Sheeran, Foo Fighters and Radiohead were paid immense sums – actually, that is not quite the case. There is that compensation of love of the craft that means a ‘smaller’ fee is actually not that bad. Those headliners didn’t exactly beg for petrol money but there is that assumption they get six-figure sums and are helicoptered in. That is not the truth at all: modern music is not as lucrative as we would imagine. I see a lot of chart acts – their videos getting millions of views; their face on every magazine – and they seem to earn their fortune through looks, a sense of ‘celebrity’ and shallowness. Those authentic and harder-working artists earn a lot less than they should and that creates trickle-down anxiety. I am seeing a lot of bands/artists fearful that, if they make it to the top, the rewards are not quite as lucrative as they should be. One might think money is not everything – if you are in a great position you can pay to thousands; getting any money, so you can survive, is surely enough?! – but the reality for underground artists can be strained.
What about streaming services like Deezer and Spotify, then? I shall bring in some text I used when writing my piece about Spotify:
“For example, Spotify says that its average payout for a stream to labels and publishers is between $0.006 and $0.0084 but Information Is Beautiful suggests that the average payment to an artist from the label portion of that is $0.001128 – this being what a signed artist receives after the label's share.
Finally, the per-play figures for streaming service can be misleading, as they depend on how many (or few) users the service has. Beats may pay more per-stream than Spotify, but that's because it has relatively few users.
Artists will be making a lot more money in aggregate from Spotify, and if Beats' user numbers grow, its per-stream payouts will come down. So this graphic isn't proof that one service is better for artists than another, in that sense”.
Those meagre digits are merely a guide but it shows how little one can make from streaming services. It might seem like a million plays on Spotify means big money but it is not going to be possible to pay an artist that kind of money – making that sort of success really pay off. These sites rely, to a large extent, on subscription fees and, if people do not sign up, where is the money coming from?! There is advertising revenue but that only extends a certain way. I was talking to a music manager a couple of weeks back who explained how his band have garnered impressive popularity on Spotify. In real-world terms, they are not earning money that reflects just how well they are doing. They might get a small sum here and there but, in reality, it is rather poor. They perform small venues and get quite a few gigs in but it can be hard getting consistent gigs. There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to profit and artists. Every venue pays differently and various streaming sites have different payment structures. Music is a business and, it gets me thinking, whether a lot of artists are being denied their fair cut? I have spoken about passion and the desire to make music regardless – that is a huge thing to hold onto and the reason so many artists endure and campaign.
The thing is: music costs money to make. That is the real reason I wanted to write this piece. A lot of artists are happy performing gigs and earning money from those shows. It is never a huge amount but they can keep themselves in the black and construct a name. The problem comes when having to pay for recordings and studio time. A lot of artists have to self-promote and pay for their own campaigns. Getting posters made and recording videos; hiring producers and making sure your music gets into as many hands as possible. If you want to take a D.I.Y. approach – and many artists do – then you can record a song/E.P. fairly inexpensively. The thing is, how much money will an artist make when it is released?! I read an article from DIY Musician that detailed the costs (big bands) have to consider when making an album:
“Hard costs are considered the fixed, actual, real, no-frills-added costs to make a record. The bare minimum it would take, before you include extras that are not absolutely crucial to the process.Technically, there are no hard costs in recording an album. Self-produced songs created in basements everywhere cost nothing to make. Unless you’re figuring in equipment, instruments, and computers that you would jam on anyway, the absolute minimum cost to produce a record is $0. Realistically, you may need to rent a real studio to make your record. Studio rental time to lay down tracks and mix them into songs can get done in 1-2 weeks, if the songs are written, rehearsed and ready to go. You can get the prep work of writing and rehearsing done in your home or band practice space, for no extra cost. This is the extent of the actual “Hard” costs of making a record.
Here is where expenses for producing a record go through the roof. Soft costs include things like Excessive Producer Fees, Screwing Around Costs and Band Pampering Expenses. One can easily see how these “costs,” once considered fixed and non-negotiable expenses for making a record, can be pretty much eliminated. Here we break down the sub-sets of Soft costs.
Excessive Producer Fees
When records were selling like gangbusters, the studio producer could set his fees based on how many units the album would likely sell, using past record sales as the barometer. So basically you anticipate a pile of money, and base your fees on what you think your fair share of that pile is. When the pile of money is a mountain, the producer can feel justified in charging 6-figure fees plus backend points for services, and everyone is still happy when the record is a hit. But when that pile shrinks to an anthill, those fees need to be reassessed according to the anticipated sales. Nothing in the process of producing the record has changed – band members, producers, and engineers still worked just as hard getting the record made. The money has simply disappeared, and so should the producer’s fee for producing the record.
Screwing Around Costs
In the days when a record was king, bands like the Stones would actually write their material in the studio. Bands would literally come into the studio with nothing and tinker around with their instruments as the $800/day meter ran on studio time. This was common practice up until 15 or so years ago. Of course, these costs can be eliminated if the band is prepared to record their music before hitting the studio. The music industry can no longer afford to spend thousands a week “finding inspiration” in an expensive recording studio. Bands should be able to do this anywhere else, for no extra cost.
Band Pampering Expenses
There are plenty of totally unnecessary expenses that have nothing to do with actual recording that get lumped in with producing a record, namely partying and excess living expenses. The advance given to a band from the record label, which is meant to allow the band the freedom of concentrating solely on making the record, is expected to spent on each band member’s living expenses while recording the record. But some bands take “living expenses” to the extreme. Korn spent several million dollars just renting houses while recording the album Untouchables. That’s insane, totally unnecessary, and a complete waste of today’s limited resources in producing music.
By most recent, practical, and prudent estimates, you should probably budget $10,000 and 2 weeks’ time to your record your album. Anything over 10K and you’re getting into Soft costs that aren’t necessary to producing your record and won’t add anything to the quality of the music”.
That might be a bit of an American/mainstream-act breakdown but it shows how much an L.P. can cost to create! If you want a professional sound: you have to shell out huge amounts. Newer artists can afford to do things without thrills and big engineers but it is a piece that shows how staggering studios can cost. Sure; if you want a quality product then you are going to pay that much, right?! Once the album is out there then it is only a matter of waiting for the profits to roll in?! C.D. sales are, as we know, declining and people are spending less of their money on physical formats. Gigs are still big but, as we see in this country, small venues are closing. Because of less disposable income – rent prices and cost-of-living getting steeper – the average punter is more reluctant to go to their local venues. These spots serve alcohol and people are drinking less. Transport prices are increasing and, all combined, this is seeing so many shut their doors – unable to keep up with rent and overheads.
It is sad seeing the live music scene shrink but is there an easy solution? So many artists rely on these venues to get their music out there and earn some cash. A single gig might bring them a two-figure sum but, if they string enough together, it can add up. If there are fewer opportunities, then they need to rely on C.D./album sales to fill the gap. That, as is known, is not going to be possible. Throw in the figures streaming pay and it appears all options are exhausted. Passion and love are great but it does not, I am afraid, pay bills and fund a lifestyle. I worry music is less of a reality and more of a struggle. That financial burden creates anxiety which leads to depression: that can have a devastating effect on a person and, in a lot of cases, end a music career. This may seem like figures and random facts thrown together but, from what I have shown, there are two things evident. There is a huge difference between mainstream stars and new acts – although the top artists do not earn as much as you’d think – traditional sources of revenue (C.D.s, gigs and merchandise) are not as dependable as they were. Many artists can shift merchandise at their gigs but, if there are fewer attending – how much does that add to the coffers?
I shall end by talking about the music manager friend who, when talking about his group, hired a P.R. company to promote the latest single. Every campaign can cost anywhere up to a grand: that included the P.R. firm sending the song out to bloggers and journalists; touting for reviews and getting it out there. Many times, these campaigns are simple press releases sent out – those reviews and journalists copy-and-paste the press release and that is it. When you look at the balance sheet – and how much money is made – it is often in the red. The idea of hiring a P.R. company is getting an artist more gigs, sales and revenue. This is not always happening and it can seriously dent confidence. I worry music is far less profitable and attractive than it once was. Maybe the sheer number of artists on the scene means it is going to be hard to earn cash. I feel there are other reasons why this is happening. Venues closing are having an effect; the shift from hardware success to streaming dominance means music is more readily available – people are less willing to pay for it, mind. The love of music is a powerful thing and often compensates for the lack of financial rewards. I am not talking about huge profit: merely making enough money to live and record. I am anxious about the state of music and whether artists are able to survive and prosper. It is a complicated argument but one we…
ALL need to think about.
ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash (except Spotify image).