At a little over 3,000 words, The Modern Musician is not a long read. However, it is informative and engaging. It helps both musicians and the public understand the challenges associated with purusing a music career.
A common stance among casual observers is that since recorded music is no longer producing the cash flow it once did, musicians should be pursuing live performance more aggressively than ever before. However, without a proper plan, artists could just as easily crash and burn in the live music realm. In fact, because it generally costs money to go on tour in the first place, some independents could wind up in debt sooner than turn a profit.
Consider the following:
- Many live venues are not paying musicians fairly anymore. In fact, some venues don't pay at all.
- Musicians have to sell merch to help make their tour profitable. However, fewer people are buying CDs and physical product, so that leaves a gaping hole where there was once profit to be had.
- Agents will not show interest in bands unless they already have a large following and a proven track record. A band starting from scratch would have to book their own tour on their own time, dime and expertise (or lack thereof).
- Some acts are touring with a streamlined lineup because sharing profit with more people means smaller earnings per person. Touring solo and duo acts still have a chance at making money.
On the upside, there are more ways to make money in the music industry than ever before. Even so, regardless of the medium, a band still has to build a large following if they want to do more than get nickel and dimed.
It's no surprise that making money is a bigger concern for musicians than ever before. It's not impossible to create an income, but there is a huge glut that aspiring musicians have to cut through. There was never a time when success was easy, but now it's harder than ever before.
Independent bands are essentially left to their own devices when it comes to marketing. Hiring a marketing expert could prove costly, and word-of-mouth will only get them so far unless they have a package worth selling.
Bands also have to educate themselves in new forms of marketing, especially online. Those who don't want to turn into full-time internet marketers will have to go about it a little differently than established entrepreneurs. Targeting keywords and niches has become increasingly difficult, as that space has been dominated by online businesses.
Still, social media and online marketing are necessary. Bands have to figure out how to cut through the noise and get noticed. They have to make their story a compelling one, and they have to remain persistent even when results don't seem forthcoming.
The main issue with distribution is how some musicians perceive its role in their career. Some feel that distribution should encompass the sales and marketing of their music, when in reality that is beyond the scope and purpose of distribution. Marketing and promotion is still up to the musician, unless they have hired personnel or team members working on their behalf.
There may have been a time when getting your album in brick-and-mortar stores led to additional sales. Though music stores still exist today, by and large physical distribution is antiquated and too costly to be worthwhile, unless you're a superstar (that's where additional sales and marketing might come in to play).
Digital distribution is an attractive option for independent musicians, because it is cost-effective and hassle-free. For those who want to have more control over the price of their music might look in to platforms like Bandcamp. For others, distribution services like CD Baby and TuneCore are still working well.
The music industry continues to change. Technology continues to evolve. These are not hopeless times for musicians. In fact, some, like Jack Conte from Pomplamoose, would assert that there has never been a better time to be an independent musician.
However, the challenges are definitely there. More and more people are trying their hand at music, and because they are building on the established works of forefathers, mediocre performances and production are becoming a thing of the past. There will always be sub-par musicians, but often it is because they are still in the process of developing.
Talents, smarts, and hard work are the meeting place of breakthrough. You don't have to be the most talented. You don't have to be the smartest. You don't even have to work 20 hours a day (it's more important to work smart than it is to work hard). However, when these three elements come together in a cocktail and blend together as a meaningful whole, there will be some wins on the other side of it.