I don’t need to tell you how complicated the labyrinth of the music industry is these days. Are albums dead yet? What’s a playlist? Where are my parents?
If you’re extremely introverted like me, you’ve most likely heard the vague promise of musicians and producers being able to lead successful careers from their bedrooms, without having to tour, play shows, or even leave the house to record. And if you’re like me, you’re probably pretty excited about that. Is it true?
Well, like everything, that kinda depends…
The changing ways modern musicians are working and earning money
From YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram monetization to the complex jungle of music streaming algorithms, the ways modern musicians now make a living are unrecognizable from how they earned money a decade ago. The transition from earning an income through selling albums, physical merch, and touring to the myriad of opportunities we have now to make money has happened so rapidly that we’re just beginning to comprehend what it all means for musicians.
There’s an undeniable newfound freedom here for musicians when it comes to how they work to sustain their careers. An artist can now potentially reach even larger audiences through bedroom-recorded YouTube videos, contributing to sync licenses, and even making money selling beats to singers and rappers on their own.
Bands who once may have struggled to find success in releasing an album every few years now fare much better in today’s single-driven, playlist-centric music culture. And similarly, while recording music used to be a high-stakes process because it was so inaccessible and expensive, affordable home recording technology has given rise to a burgeoning class of musicians who reach audiences by writing, producing, and releasing music from their home studios.
This is all undoubtedly good news for musicians who want to sustain their careers from home — but don’t lock yourself in your bedroom studio just yet.
Why touring is still the biggest moneymaker for musicians
A Business Insider article that recently made the rounds on the internet shows not only how insanely difficult the current music industry is for musicians to navigate and financially fare within, but also that your best chance at earning an income is through touring:
Recording artists received just 12% of the $43 billion that the music industry generated in 2017, according to a Citigroup report. Consumer spending on music generated an all-time high of more than $20 billion last year, but music businesses, including labels and publishers, took almost $10 billion, while artists received just $5.1 billion, the “bulk” of which came from touring.
There’s clearly a lot of money in the music industry, but there’s also a ton more musicians clawing at the same bits of money, and most musicians just aren’t seeing much of it at all. The money musicians do manage to make is earned mostly through touring.
What does it all mean? The biggest and most obvious takeaway is that the music industry has got a massive income inequality problem on its hands.
Musicians — the lifeblood and creative force of the music industry, of course — earned a mere 12% of industry’s total profits last year. The new music industry is certainly giving musicians a lot in terms of creative freedom and tools to reach new audiences in new ways, but for a hefty price. This stems from the unavoidable fact that listeners en masse have ditched music buying for streaming.
The second takeaway from that article is that despite music’s rapid shifts towards artist independence and self-reliance, touring remains one of the last reliable ways for musicians to earn money. This — sorry, fellow introverts — is not likely to change anytime soon. It makes sense in a sort of metaphorical way, too: musicians need an audience, and touring is the most literal expression of creating work for a paying crowd.
So, can you lead a successful musical career from home? It all comes down to what your definition of success is. There are thousands of independent songwriters and bedroom producers around the world leading relevant and meaningful musical careers without having to play shows. But when it comes to earning a living and engaging with your fan community on a meaningful level, the average musician will have to do things the old-fashioned way.
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