Jonny Wills explains why a musician's lot is not as easy as it seems and how a much-needed service can help those on the uncertain path in an insecure profession
In response to the arts being cut Churchill was purported to have said : 'Then what are we fighting for?' Sadly it's fake history and not what he said. The truth is: providing culture or succour for the soul through music has never been a priority for UK government or society, making it difficult for those trying to perform or make it. Perhaps the artist Winston's real quote: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts," is more apt for musicians to take solace from.
The true cost
Musicians don't get paid a lot – when they do – at local level especially, they are often expected to support their own expenses. This will include the hundreds of hours of rehearsal, practice, promotion, artwork, organisation and internet shenanigans. Not to mention instrument costs and maintenance, travel, equipment hire and rehearsal space fees. Added to this, when artists record they are often doing several unpaid jobs: producer, arranger, writer, performer, engineer, hustler, mastering technician, mixer... just at look U2's new album and you will see 10 producers plus a band and auxiliary staff to make an album – and they're multi-millionaires.
You may think musicians are trying to make it and only have themselves to blame for the delusion of wealthy reward, or that it's just an early phase for those paying their dues. The thing is many know that music is its own reward while many are waking up to the power of internet support and live circuits. Most definitely have to give up full-time work to do the stuff required to get anywhere. Others are more interested in being known as artistes and don't seek fame and fortune on a mass scale.
Some realise the percentages are against making vast fortunes, simply because the tiny number of those at the top even experience financial pitfalls: The Beatles ended up in court in the early 70s; Prince changed his name to to own his masters and receive remuneration due for mechanical royalty; and George Michael was famously defeated by Sony. And there are countless rip off stories and contract woes to relate from the so-called cutthroat 'music-industry'.
It's a situation compounded by formats turning accessibility into that of water and people expecting digital material free, which has resulted in the downturn of tuneful song – since the late 90s, after the money-controlled proliferation of package boybands and the X-Factory of automatons who are famous for Christmas, then disappear. Ever wondered why no one can answer those millennial pop questions in the pub or on the radio? Because that stuff is not for music fans. Wasn't hearing Bowie, Prince and even George Michael's music replayed everywhere after their respective passing exactly like the sun coming out?
Has the live circuit not been better and are not record sales on the rise? Both are changing, perhaps becoming more specialized or niche. But everyone, not just kids, are hungry for something more than Rotify playlists where artists recuperate $0.006 - $0.0084 of a penny per stream of a song. Input that to convert it into sterling in Google and it doesn't even bother to calculate anything. Do it, see for yourself, it comes up... nothing.
Help for musicians
Okay, passion rant over. But you can see why it's enough to drive anyone who loves music or has a calling to make it, mad. Perhaps you realise why sensitive souls get caught between seeking adoration and rehab or trapped working for a label all the time when finances are skewed towards the lenders and security is scarce. You probably know all this and have read to the end because you already know this stuff expecting an answer.
Well, the good news is there is now a support line for musicians (click link for detailed article). Set up by Music Minds Matter, if you or someone you know needs help or emotional support they can call 0808 802 8008 free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Advice can also be got from emailing MMM@helpmusicians.org.uk (NB. 48-hour turnaround).
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