Do people still pay for music anymore?

...Yes and no, it depends. I was inspired to write a bit on this topic after reading this quote by another Ojai local, Greg Penny in the current Ojai Quarterly: 

“Most people feel that they shouldn’t have to pay for music anymore. Folks don’t mind paying twenty dollars for avocado toast and a drip coffee that takes three minutes to make, but ask them to pay that same amount for an album that took a year of an artists life and they’ll bitch all the way to their next $12 can of citrus-infused IPA.” 

There’s a lot of truth in that quote from Greg. I’m often surprised when folks DO buy records nowadays because it seems like almost no one still owns a CD player and almost everyone is binging on Marie Kondo minimalism - myself included although I do still own three CD players. 

As a full time musician, I am at the helm of trying to navigate and continue to make a living as an artist and musician and I notice that while I’ve been making music and advancing a lot in my career, it hasn’t necessarily gotten any easier to make a living. 

Going back to when I first was starting out playing in the subways, I often made more busking back then than I do playing a gig at a winery or restaurant now for the same amount of time and much less work. I don’t have to spend time listing my busking gig on my tour calendars, making and putting up posters or spend money and time promoting the show. And, if a better gig comes up, I’m not going to burn a bridge by canceling a street performance. 

I have a lot of friends who are also in the business and we compare notes sometimes... I’ve heard from musicians who have been playing the bar and club scene since the 70’s who’ve said that they are paid the same rates nearly 50 years later for their work. I’m also thankful that I have friends I can call to gripe with when a venue asks for something crazy like offering me a show where I would be actually be making less than minimum wage. One of the things keeping me happy in life is that after I politely say “no thanks” to the booker I can call a friend to get off my chest what I really want to say to that venue. 

I wanted to bring up the live music scene because I think it connects with the general lack of value around musicians by our society in the states. I’ve toured different parts of the world and talked to musicians from different parts of the world and in many other places there is more respect and appreciation for the value artists offer their community. 

Often I’m asked what I do for my “real” job and there’s a general assumption that I must be another struggling, starving artists. I’m not, mostly because I work my butt of, but live and recorded music has been devalued and it seems like people are weary of paying for music at all. I’m not sure if it’s because they don’t understand the amount of training and work – and continued learning and buying of gear – that goes into playing live and recording. Or if it’s because there is still this residual mistrust by consumers that they are only going to like one song on an album or the ease of buying just the track you love – or just subscribing to a playlist you love. 

Sometimes when I mention my albums to people who have come up to my merch table they look at me completely confused or like I’m only trying to trick them into parting with their hard-earned cash. 

I think it’s a bit of everything and that it’s just easier for folks to ignore the realities of the costs of producing the music they love. Even independent music can costs in the tens of thousands of dollars to record and produce a record – before it’s even promoted to make sure it actually gets to your ears. 

The truth is, if you’re not buying that music or supporting the artist in another way that artist is probably not going to be able to continue to invest money into recording and releasing more of the music you love. It’s just not financially possible. It’s not all bad though, there are handfuls of folks who get it and fans who pledge support on Kickstarter, Patreon or directly to the artists they love to help fund albums. 

The truth is, if you’re an independent artist, it’s all in your control. You can decide what shows to take or not take based on the circumstances. You can also distribute your music to streaming sites or only make it available on paid download services or even just as a physical product. I think the key is that you need to get clear with yourself on the value you want to place on your own time and music. 

Once you’re clear about where you’re at in your career and where you want to be it gets really easy to make those decisions and not feel bad saying thanks but no thanks to shows that don’t fit in your plan. And, you probably wont be offended when you get off stage at a gig and a 12 year old explains to you they just downloaded all your music on the internet – making your day until they show you just seconds later the torrent site where they found it all for free. I’m not speaking from personal experience at all. Ha! 

In all seriousness, I have nothing against offering free music. It can be a great way to grow your fan base, I regularly produce videos for YouTube and Instragram, both of which take way more time and money then people probably realize. I also choose to giveaway a live recording every year as a thank you to my fans and a welcome gift to new ones. 

I like producing these because they have been a home for some of the many songs I write that may not ever get a shot at the cost prohibitive studio recording. When I first started doing the albums I was surprised to get donations sent to me from fans to thank me for the live album. The truth is, producing them isn’t free. I usually spend about a couple hundred bucks having someone sweeten up the live recording, not to mention my time choosing and approving tracks, designing the covers and promoting the release. 

So, some fans get that if you want more of the music you love, you have to support it. Also, we as artists need to get better and clearer about asking for the support we need. 

So here I go. If you want to spring for some avocado toast and coffee for me, or really just help me make more music for you guys check out my Patreon at www.Patreon.com/NatalieGelman. I bet there’s some other artists on there too that you love that could use your support too. 

I would love to hear from you in the comments on your thoughts on all of this. 

Until next week!
Natalie

3 comments

  • David  Sullivan

    David Sullivan San Francisco

    Amen!

    Amen!

  • Dave Schipper

    Dave Schipper

    If this is my 2nd comment, sorry the first one disappeared when it didn't post. Truly I stay away from Spotify and streaming sites because they don't pay artists. I actually don't think buying a cd for $10-15 is much at all for the number of times I play the ones I love. I think I'm paetron, because heck I can't adopt you. For the artist getting paid the same for 50 years, for one they still have a gig. It's not always easy for places to maintain a budget for music. Finally, I'm so glad you are making this career work, several of my (Internet) friends have stopped. Sadly I miss their voices. Though many voices are out there nothing replaces the first time you fall in love with one of their songs. Just like "Most of the While" sticks with me.

    If this is my 2nd comment, sorry the first one disappeared when it didn't post. Truly I stay away from Spotify and streaming sites because they don't pay artists. I actually don't think buying a cd for $10-15 is much at all for the number of times I play the ones I love. I think I'm paetron, because heck I can't adopt you. For the artist getting paid the same for 50 years, for one they still have a gig. It's not always easy for places to maintain a budget for music. Finally, I'm so glad you are making this career work, several of my (Internet) friends have stopped. Sadly I miss their voices. Though many voices are out there nothing replaces the first time you fall in love with one of their songs. Just like "Most of the While" sticks with me.

  •   Natalie Gelman

    Natalie Gelman

    Thanks so much for your comment Dave. That is such a good point about the amount of times you listen when it's an album you love. I've seen a lot of friends fall off of doing this because it doesn't seem to get easier I think and they realize they are working just as hard for the same pay. I'm always learning new things though so maybe this career is a good way to prevent cognitive decline!

    Thanks so much for your comment Dave. That is such a good point about the amount of times you listen when it's an album you love. I've seen a lot of friends fall off of doing this because it doesn't seem to get easier I think and they realize they are working just as hard for the same pay. I'm always learning new things though so maybe this career is a good way to prevent cognitive decline!

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