I learned a long time ago that you play music because it’s what you love to do, not because you think it’s going to make you rich. I also write songs to satisfy a yearning in my soul, not to generate royalties that will cover the rent.
Those of us who have day jobs that pay the bills are fortunate. Other musicians, however, who have devoted their lives to their art aren’t so financially secure. I feel for them.
I’m not talking about the once-famous stars who blew their millions on expensive cars, drug addictions and/or bad investments.
The performers who lug their heavy amps from town to town, state to state and bar to festival in their beat-up vans are the ones who have my empathy. These starving artists have a tough time scrapping up enough money to buy gas and groceries, let alone the luxuries and indulgences of the hit makers.
Yes, the Internet has been a boon to independent musicians who can distribute their tunes around the world at the touch of a button. But the digital sales platform for individual songs doesn’t promote a lucrative bottom line.
Streaming services pay music creators a fraction of cent for each sale. I’m talking a about a small fraction. For a recent stream sale I earned $0.0009. That’s nine one-hundredths of a cent. At that rate I’d have to make more than 1,100 streaming sales to make a dollar.
You may suggest that the solution is for me to write better songs, hits that will generate hundreds and thousands of downloads. Fair enough. But the sad fact is that even a Grammy-nominated artist who had 14,227 public performances received a quarterly royalty payment of a whopping $4.20. Break out the caviar and champagne.
It’s actually not that big a deal for me. I like that people can, and do, access my original songs. And I appreciate the worldwide exposure I get from the web. Any loose change I make is gravy.
But others who depend on music revenue to earn a living are losing out big time.
We need to be patrons of the arts so that the music that provides a soundtrack to our lives does not disappear.
Here are some things that can be done to help support your favorite independent musicians:
- Show up to their live shows so that club owners and festival organizers can recognize the value that live music provides. They in turn will hopefully provide those musicians with more paid gigs.
- Tip musicians, whether they are playing on the street or at a show. Many bands play for, and survive on, gratuities alone.
- Buy their stuff. Musicians often make more on the CDs, t-shirts and other merchandise than they would if those items are sold online or in stores.
- Download and stream from services that pay higher fees to the musicians and songwriters.