When I flew back from AlienCon in Dallas last year, I saw three musicians in the airport, complete with huge musical instrument cases, heading to my hometown. I thought, "Them there are my people," and decided to sit behind them hoping to connect or overhear something interesting.
I didn't mean to outright eavesdrop. I rarely, if ever, do that. I just thought, if I have a choice of where to sit, I'll sit with my people. It was two guys and one girl and they were about my age.
Quickly after sitting down, I heard the girl say she had 260 million listens to her music last year. My ears perked up - that's a lot of listens. Then, one guy mentioned something about Nashville and Congress. My ears perked again. I was racking my brain to figure out who these people were.
I heard something about a famous talk show she had recently been on, and that was my tip. I looked up country female singers recently on that talk show and I found her. She has five Number 1 Hits.
One of the other guys has worked on projects that sold 60 million albums.
They were talking about how they thought, when they were younger, that they'd be farther ahead in their careers. They were discouraged and frustrated with music industry politics. They talked about how the streaming of music has left them and other songwriters with minuscule profits. For her 260 million listens, she benefited less than $25,000 in one year!
I was just getting into music, and hearing them talk definitely made me stutter step, or at least think, "That's terrible. I want to do this differently."
As I started looking into music distribution, I learned the industry itself has fallen from about $21 billion in 2000 to a little over $6 billion in 2020. Factor in a little inflation, and any business person would tell you, you've got a problem.
My producer said the game that most of his musicians are playing is that they try to get famous so they can leverage that into something else, knowing they will not make a living on off their music. Sad, right?
Somebody's making money, it just isn't the artists, the creators. The streaming companies are making big bucks. Spotify is publicly traded and today has a value of $33,480,000,000. Streaming now accounts for 80% of the revenue generated in
the music industry. But the artist who accounted for 260,000,000 listens on platforms like Spotify got paid less than $25,000. Something seems off.
Rest assured, iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify are getting their's, but musicians and songwriters are not. This is allowed by decisions in Congress regarding copyright law. As I completed my albums, I talked to the mastering tech, and he said most label contracts he hears about leave artists owing the record labels money these days. What?!
It used to be that the goal was to "get signed." Now, that can be a liability.
One of the saddest things I heard those three great musicians and songwriters say is, "The robbery happening in the music industry today, means people will not choose to enter it, which means that America will be robbed of those people who tell its stories through music."
I was proud to be a songwriter when I heard that. Indeed, those are my people.
I don't want any of these stories to be my story. So, I got to work thinking about how my story, my music, and my fans could live a different story.
Here were the premises to how I wanted to do music:
For these reasons, I created a different relationship with my fans and a different musical experience.
I want to produce music specifically for my fans; I don't care about the rest. I want to know my fans. I want to know their names and ways we can communicate - text, social media, video, email, whatever.
I want to write songs, for my fans. I recently wrote a song for a Marine friend on Memorial Day who lost friends in Afghanistan on deployment.
For these reasons, I've decided to produce music "For the Art of It." I put it in quotations marks, because I said that to a friend of mine last week. Maybe someone else has said it, but I hadn't heard it before.
The music industry has decided to cannibalize itself, and that's okay. There's not much money in music these days for 100,000s of artist, including songwriters who have written 5 Number 1 Hits.
One of the artists in that trio of musicians in the Dallas airport (the one who has been a part of projects selling 60 million albums) and I exchanged some emails, and one of the things he told me was, "The thing I need to keep reminding myself is that money or success was never why any of us start making music. So the song/recording is the goal - I’d love for it to win awards or be heard by millions of people, but the art itself will always be the best reward. Nothing wrong with trying to make a job out of it, but eventually every job is a job...I guarantee that your love of music (both the music that you make and the music that you listen to) is more pure than mine, having done this now for a couple of decades."
So, to hell with making money from music. I do it, because I'm happier doing it. I hope my music makes you happier too. Let's have some fun.