by MATT BACON >
I have been thinking a lot lately about the issue of money and music.
It is a thought provoking and very weird balance that we all need to figure out and one that I think becomes increasingly tricky the more we try and understand it. What it comes down to is that we don’t respect artists who come from wealthy families because we think everything was laid out for them. Simultaneously, in most Western countries we don’t have a support infrastructure for poor people to be able to come up and have the resources that they need to eventually have a career in music. On top of all of that, oftentimes the people who do have the funds to do a fair amount of touring and put in the hard work needed to really make it seem to think that they can pay their way past everything, refuse to tour in ‘sub par’ vehicles and get cranky when they are told payouts are low and they will probably have to sleep on someones floor. So how do we balance resources with entitlement with even being able to get a break in the industry in the first place? It’s a tricky thing.
Let’s be clear, first and foremost, independent music implies a certain amount of wealthy any way you cut it.
That is to say, if you could grow up and have expensive instruments for you to play, gear to use and had access to a vehicle so that you could go out and attend shows you already had it better than most people. Obviously a lot of people save money to be able to do this and things are getting easier and cheaper than ever before, but there is still a financial barrier of entry to the world of independent music. Think about all of the people who don’t even get to participate because they don’t have that kind of support system to help them out as they try and grow in this industry? It’s one of those fucked up quirks of capitalism that we often don’t even think about but which lays right in front of us. When you toss in the costs of being in a band, that is to say PR, advertising and the rest of it you start to realize there’s a real problem here.
Of course there are ways forward in the industry even if you don’t have that funding early on.
Singular talents will usually come out of the woodworks somehow, even if they are just singing and playing on a battered guitar. By the same token, people who really want it are going to find a way. Be it in bumming rides to shows, figuring out ways to cut costs and taking on additional jobs there are often ways to make things work in the music industry, it just takes even more ingenuity. It sucks though, and even then it requires a certain degree of education that once more implies at least some money. This is of course why we view artists who came from nothing as so much greater than their peers. They had to overcome all of these struggles and then deal with the subsequent struggles that come from how fucked up the music industry is in general. Of course I think these environments breed tenacity, hell, that’s where pretty much all of the great punk music from the last forty years comes from!
Now there’s the flip side of the coin.
You can’t imagine how much bellyaching I’ve had to deal with entitled and wealthy artists who think that because they can afford my fee then they should get everything handed to them on a silver platter. These are the artists who don’t want to get in the fucking van and schlep it out, who insist on three meals a day and who don’t understand that sometimes you have to play a punk house in Wichita because it’s the only place your drummer could book on the route and if you didn’t play this show you’d have to drive 30 hours straight. These are the people who don’t understand that no matter how big you are there are certain hoops everyone has to jump through, and unless someone you are related to has a direct connection to the folks at Atlantic you’re pretty much screwed until you tour for a decade and start to really figure out where the market is for whatever type of music you make.
When it comes down to it, just as you need to have a certain degree of wealth to even enter into the music industry most of the time you also need to realize that you can’t buy success. Yes money can help because it can get you radio spots, advertising, managers and all of the rest of it, but you aren’t going to end up with the true success you want unless your songs are good and there is a real market niche for what you are trying to do. It’s happened countless times that bands have fallen apart because they though they could buy their way to the top, just as countless bands have quit the industry because they were hemorrhaging money every which way. It seems to me that no matter where you come form financially there is still a degree of tenacity that you need to have if you want to get anywhere and a willingness to give it all up in the name of rock and roll unless you want to to wind up facing the same struggles time after time.
As much as I don’t want to be a dick, there’s a certain degree of having to suck it up that’s going to need to be done anytime you try to proceed within the record industry. It’s like the tenacity I mentioned before, it sucks for everyone and unless you have truly astronomical amounts of money then things are going to suck for a really fucking long time and probably will never get better. Even if you do have an astronomical amount of money, you can’t force people to come out to shows and you can’t force people to buy your merch. You still have to look at the needs of the populace and consider the long term impact that they will have on your band and what you can do in order to adapt to that, it’s the name of the game.