The problem with musicians is they don’t conceive of what they could be worth.
We let others determine our value for us ($1 on iTunes, 30¢ a play on Spotify, or our fans on Bandcamp choose what to pay, including zero).
Not that any of us are worth zero dollars and zero cents. Nor are we just worth the price of our last song or album.
Sometimes letting others determine our worth has good results, an example being the goodhearted dedicated fans on Bandcamp enthusiastically choosing to pay double or triple the asking price for a song or album. If you ask yourself why they do that, you’re getting a bit closer. I don’t think they see it as a ‘donation,’ either.
But it’s hard to depend on the spirit of donation alone. You want to make a living with music, right?
So what are we supposed to do?
Well, lets figure out the real value of what you do, first.
Music is a Huge Motivator + Attention Grabber + Message Spreader
You as a musician are essentially breathing out inspiration, maybe even bottling lightning on really good days.
Fortunately, this has given you the time to develop, and the struggle has likely made you more humble about your own work.
So humble that you’re willing to toss it out for free.
If you were rich, then sure, maybe you could just give it away.
But if you’re not, then you’re like me, begrudging your 9to5 job, which only keeps you eating and breathing so that you can bottle that lightning in the late hours at night– so you can create your real work.
And maybe your friends don’t cling to music like you do. Maybe they don’t bestow on you the inspiration or feedback you need, maybe, because it’s not a dream for them to live off of it.
You need a way to nourish your work with feedback, advice, inspiration -a lens to let you see the value in your work, the perspective to know what works and what doesn’t.
Most of all, if you’re like me, you hate this idea of being doomed to a life where music is your permanent ‘hobby’.
And you won’t give up, probably, but it’s time to realize that you can’t be such a mystery. That mysterious image still kind of works but that’s not the best way anymore. The past is dead.
It may sound shitty, but the old adage of putting in 10,000 hours (like Malcolm Gladwell once said) wont do much anymore, if you don’t tell people who you are.
And the thing is, it’s not just about being good. There’s plenty of good. There’s fifty different flavors of good, in fact.
It’s about what is good in terms of those people that like you and your work.
If you’re going to do music no matter what, rich or poor, then why not make it a living from it?
I’m not talking about selling songs for a buck, because that’s not sustainable. And labels aren’t sustainable. And fame isn’t sustainable.
I’m all about sustainability. Instead of limiting yourself to the fantasy of fleeting fame, how about a realistic salary?
Here are the concrete parts to this manifesto:
1. Set a real goal ($3k a month, or whatever you think is a livable wage)
2. Start putting your personality out there and engage with all kinds of people
3. Figure out what you have to offer of value (other than mp3s)
4. Find a community of people in the same boat to support you
What can you live off of? Aim for that.
I’m not saying don’t give out stuff for free. Just make sure you get back something in return, a seed that you can plant and grow.
I’ll try to help you get there. I’m in this too. I’m tired of waiting for labels to come find me, and I’m definitely not gonna scream “Pick me! Pick me!” in their ear. I want people to want me.
Who wants you?
Your fans. Go find them. Get them in bed with you. Gather enough of them to form a community. Could these people be paying your salary?
If you work it right, they will.
Because the value you have is more than you think. It’s just hard for you to see.
Can’t I do this with Bandcamp?
I hope so, if you’re getting enough people buying yr stuff every day.
If a normal person needs at least $100 a day to live, pay rent, pay for a car or whatever, are you able to do that with Bandcamp? If so, please keep doing what you’re doing. Let me know what you know!
What so many established music systems fool us into believing in is the haze of fame. They all say ‘GET MORE FANS’ and their idea is more more more. Fame is a phantom and it’s fleeting. I’m saying just with your existing fan base, you can get something started.
You can make making music your job. You don’t need anybody deciding what you get paid.
The problem with Bandcamp & Soundcloud and even standalone websites is that people have to remember to come back there. When you come out with something new, they may never find out unless they come back.
And you can’t send a friend a web page. Sending a link to a page automatically reduces the chances of them listening.
But you can make friends on the internet. You can make friends with your fans.
If they tell you to contact them because they like your music, there’s your introduction. Now you just need to build a relationship with them on that initial impression.