Today's music industry—the "new" music industry—is a pretty exciting place for musicians. Old barriers have vanished thanks to new technology, and the playing field that was once one-sided is now more level than ever before. Of course, while change solves problems, it can also create new ones, and that certainly holds true for today's music industry. Here are three of the biggest obstacles musicians complain about today and some ways that might help them overcome.
Ask just about anyone how musicians make their money these days, and they will tell you by performing shows. In fact, ask anyone who never pays for recorded music how they support the musicians they love, and they'll likely tell you that they go to shows.
Now, that's all well and good, and it's true—live music is where it's at these days financially for musicians. However, there's one major disconnect: Playing live costs musicians a lot of money. Going down to play at your local venue for the 80th time is a piece of cake financially, but that does not make a music career. To really build an audience, an artist has to go out on the road.
In the past, musicians were able to offset the cost of touring by selling recorded music. That CD you bought would help your tour-support free musician travel to the next gig. With that avenue all but gone, here a few ways musicians can pay for touring:
- Day Jobs: This is the simplest method, but there may be barriers with your work schedule. If you have a strict schedule and limited paid time off or vacation, this may limit how often you can tour.
- Merch Sales: While this is a suitable method, remember that someone has to pay for the merch upfront and that for an up-and-coming band, selling 10 shirts is considered a good night.
- Money Earned at the Show: There tends to be some real misunderstanding about how much money up-and-coming musicians can make at their shows. They often get a cut of the door after the venue and promoter expenses, which may be very little, or nothing at all. Even if your favorite local band nets thousands at the home show, they'll be starting from scratch in new markets. Making good money at shows is a process.
It's a tough position to be in, but it's not insurmountable. Musicians are taking weekend warrior approaches to touring so they can work during the weeks and build an audience during the weekend. They are also sharing costs by heading out with other bands, looking for sponsors, and yes, even signing deals with labels to help them meet the costs.
Utilize the Internet
Everyone touts the idea of social media saving the broke musician from the marketing efforts of the major labels. Social media is a big deal for musicians, and well-managed social media accounts can launch music careers—it's been done plenty of times.
The flip side of connecting with fans via social media is the concept of becoming Internet famous, which means that you build up a solid social media following, people are talking about you, but you're not making a single penny from your music. The sad reality is that just because people are sharing your viral video does not mean they are buying tickets to your shows. Nor does having 500,000 Facebook fans mean that you'll sell 500,000 concert tickets or that having 1,200 people accept your event invite means you'll have that kind of turnout.
It's so important for musicians to remember that people cannot live by the Internet alone and that managing social media promotion is about more than trying to get a lot of followers. Musicians are battling the trap of becoming Internet famous by pursuing offline promotion and leveraging the audiences who actually attend the shows.
It's a beautiful thing that musicians can make a viable living making music without having to sign with a record label these days. However, remember that that doesn't make the work that labels do obsolete. It simply means that you can hand-select the people who do that work for you. You can pick your own team, including managers, PR, agents, and more.
There are two difficulties up-and-coming musicians are running into with this new-found freedom, however. One is that when you're unknown, it's not always easy to attract attention from the team members you want. It's just as hard as getting record label attention ever was. The second is that these people want to be paid. For PR, you have to pay for your campaign before any results come in, and you don't get a reduced rate if the campaign doesn't work. For other team members, they want a cut of your earnings—as they should.
To get around these obstacles, musicians are giving their friends a chance to build their own music business careers by taking on some of the work. The other option is to go completely DIY. Of course, that takes you away from your music, but it can be a good stop-gap if you have enough time to devote to managing your own career until you can attract bigger attention.