As written by Danny Michel and published in Vancouver Weekly.
A peek behind the curtain: The expiration date on music
I’ve been a full-time musician for 25 years. It’s been nothing but hard work, but I love hard work. My songs bought my home, my studio, paid the bills and more. Through it all the conversations backstage with other musicians have always been about music, family, guitars, friends, art, etc. But in 2018 that conversation changed. Everywhere I go, musicians are quietly talking about one thing: how to survive. And I’ve never worried about it myself UNTIL 2018. What I can tell you is my album sales have held steady for the last decade until dropping by 95% this year due to music streaming services.
Note my earnings for “Purgatory Cove”: this song has been in the TOP 20 charts (CBC Radio 2 & 3) for 10 weeks, climbed to #3. In 2018 that equals $44.99 in sales.
I know I’m not alone. As a result, bands/musicians are downsizing, recording at home, cutting corners where ever they can. Studios are losing business. Session musicians, techs, administration, grant writers are all losing work. And with every band in the world back on the road, venues are clogged, and ticket prices have tripled. For me, it means being away from home and taking on more work than I ever have.
A recent post by Unison Benevolent Fund showed “In a study of the music industry labour market, 24% of musical professionals indicated they were considering leaving the music industry”.
From the conversations I’m having, I believe that statistic is much much higher. Over the last few months, I’ve spoken to many brilliant life-long musicians (some you know) who are quietly beginning their exit strategy. I fear musicians are reluctant to admit any of this because so much of this industry is perception; the illusion that an artist’s career is soaring when really, it might not be. Having to be the constant used-car salesman, manager, admin person AND travelling artist (while in survival/panic mode) isn’t healthy. Yet, you can’t afford to hire anyone.
Social media makes it all worse and as a fellow musician pointed out, streaming services shame artists with the pressures of how many “likes,” “streams” and “followers” they have.
No one needs to feel sorry for me. This is what I do. And I’m not scolding anyone or suggesting people stop using these services. I don’t know what the answer is. But I hope musicians speak up about what’s really happening. Music fans deserve to know how this all works and why the artists they love may soon be gone.
This new model of “free music” simply can’t last much longer.