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My critical research question has evolved over the course of the semester from the specific focus on making music as a musician to eventually focusing on how to survive in the music industry to make touring a viable career, and how this works in the current music industry itself. In the beginning of the semester, I have been focusing on success stories and what it takes to survive in the industry to focusing on how to be careful in the industry, because the music industry can have some shady dealings especially with some greed-oriented major record label executives. Before I explored this research in detail throughout the semester, I came with the misconception that musically hard-working bands are often gone unrecognized because bands that were image-oriented, such as many pop bands, get more recognition. My views on this has changed because in the music industry, besides being musically educated, you need to hard-working in the business and marketing aspects of the music industry. Music, marketing, and business are core elements of the music industry because touring musicians need to play quality written music, touring musicians need to find ways to target their demographics successfully, and touring musicians need to learn how to sell merchandise, and also deal and negotiate with the contracts of records companies or labels (unless they plan to be completely self-sufficient by going completely DIY).
I feel that it takes these skills of a decent level expertise in music, marketing, and business dealings to survive in the music industry. Many touring musicians learn these skills by experience and by the advise of fellow bands that have prior experience in the industry. These skills can prevent musicians from being exploited by greedy people in the music industry who are looking to exploit musicians. While some musicians may use income from a side job as a catalyst to help raise money to start their tours, if bands have the skills to save on expenses and market themselves to an audience, bands have to potentially to be more than self-sufficient and make good profits at the same time. In the music industry, musicians mainly deal with promoters, venue owners, fans, distribution companies, record label companies, sponsorships, and more. It is the job of the musician to approach people in the music business with caution, by reading contracts carefully. The ability of staying prudent and cautious with various forms of music management decisions by the tour musicians will help their career profit comfortably, while playing the music they enjoy to create and play.
From conducting my research on touring musicians in the music industry, I have learned that it is not impossible for newcomers to gain recognition and profit for their music fast. Profit is a matter left towards the decision that musicians chooses to do with their musical career. While on the interview part on my research, I found out that CD sales are still a viable form of music income. In this day and age, I thought that people do not buy CDs much anymore. However, with my interview with Zachary from the group “Elysia”, I found out that CD sales, both physical and digital, are still in demand by fans. In the interview, was especially surprised how much physical sales of CDs are helping the touring musicians, while knowing that there are many people who tend to file share or “pirate” music.
In November, I went to see a concert in San Francisco at the Regency Ballroom as part of a participatory activity. The bands that played were The Devil Wears Prada, The Ghost Inside, Texas In July, and Volumes. I conversed with some of the members and tour crew that were present at the venue.
The headlining band, The Devil Wears Prada, is a highly successful band that is on an independent record label, Rise Records, achieving their highest Billboard Top 200 entry of #10 on their album, Dead Throne. At the venue, I talked to the Jeremy, the guitarist of The Devil Wears Prada about what it took to get to this stop of the tour. From venue to venue, the band is given a “guarantee”, which is a set amount of money paid to the bands to ensure that the musicians have enough gas to go to the next stop on their tour. Jeremy also had to resolve an issue with the venue over promotions done by a street team member at their show. At the show I went to, a street team member of Rise Records attempted to distribute free stickers for the band at their show, in exchange for exclusive fan prizes. Street team members are commonly at shows to boost marketing to potential new fans of the musicians they promote.
From what I have observed, I feel that touring life for a musician can be hectic, but can at the same time be profitable. Musicians can either choose to agree or to agree to disagree when it comes to profits. Musicians strive to have the money to go to their next shows. I feel that the most crucial aspect of a touring band is the marketing aspect to new people. Marketing to a new audience can be hit-or-miss, because touring depends on what day shows occur frequently. Musicians try to aim to have shows on the weekend or Saturday, because those days in the week attract most people and bring the most profit because people who go to shows are less likely to have work or school on the weekends.
How Profitable Can a Touring Musician’s Career Be?
A musician depends on the touring process to distribute, showcase, and perform their music to an audience. For a musician to be successful, there are many factors that contribute to their success. Some of these factors include merchandise sales, ticket sales, royalties, guarantees, budgeting, and more. Many musicians in the industry believe that touring as a musician will make the musician lose money more than gain. Contrary to the reputation that touring is a rough and difficult career, it is possible to make a lucrative career out of performing as touring musician if planned correctly in respect to planning, expenses, and sales.
Planning is essential into having a successful tour in the career of a touring musician. Independent touring musician Ari Herstand, explains in his blog “How To Tour Without Losing Money” that the planning process involves booking shows prudently. Ari states that every show needs to be booked for either one of two reasons. Two reasons for booking a show are to help fund a tour and to help expose the artist to a newer audience. Ari states that profits from touring can be funded by merchandise sales and venue guarantees. By playing shows, fans are able to buy merchandise, and venue promoters are able to pay the touring musicians a guaranteed amount of money. Ari also states that profits can be increased if bands decide to book a house show at a fan that sponsors their house as a venue for the band. However in the article, “It Seems Bands Don’t Make Money Off Touring Either”, musician Shane Blay, vocalist of band Oh, Sleeper agrees that bands make money off merchandise and venue guarantees. However, Shane argues for the opposite viewpoint as Ari. Shane thinks that despite gaining money from merchandise and venue guarantees, Shane believes that musicians lose money more than they gain. In Shane’s experience, Shane argues that many nice venues have merchandise rates in which the venue takes around a quarter of the money accumulated from merchandise sales. Shane assumes that all venues have merchandise rates, however, Ari suggests that playing house venues can bypass a venue’s merchandise rates because house venues do not charge merchandise rates on tour. The most profitable places for a band to tour has to offer the band a considerable guarantee amount and a low merchandise cut rate.
Expenses must be taken into consideration for the tour. There are many factors that have to be considered for expenses. Gasoline, lodging, and food are some of the factors that are taken into account for a touring musician’s expenses. In his article. Shane argues that managers and booking agents take money out of the touring musicians’ profits. However, he only assumes that bands are using managers and booking agents. There are many bands that also self-manage and self-book their own tours, effectively circumventing the need for a booking agent or manager. This will help the touring musicians save money on their tour. Ari argues that gasoline must be conserved for the tour because it is one of the more expensive factors. Assuming gasoline must be saved, musicians should always travel the most direct and quickest route to the destination of the venue. Hotels should be avoided for lodging as they are expensive. Touring musicians are recommended to utilize rest areas to avoid hotel costs. Groceries should be bought in bulk to save money for the tour, as individual meals tend to be much more expensive.
Sales help the touring band profit from their tour. The main income generator from the tours are the sales of merchandise. The bands must take into account the amount of money it costs to print their shirts as well as the amount of money it costs to charge to buy their shirts. Aside from clothing merchandise sales, there are several other ways to make profits from your music while in the music industry. As part of marketing for to draw people for your tour, musicians can submit and license their music for movie and TV licensing. Steve Knopper, a writer for Rolling Stone believes that there are more alternative ways to make substantial profits for touring as opposed to standard CD sales from a label. Steve Knopper discusses how licensing can help touring musicians:
“Low CD sales have prevented artists from making as much money off publishing royalties as they used to – but licensing fees from movies, commercials and TV shows from The O.C. to Breaking Bad have picked up some of the slack. One top music-business source estimates that Green Day made hundreds of thousands of dollars by licensing “99 Revolutions,” from their upcoming album !Tre!, for the end-credits of the recent Will Ferrell-Zach Galifianakis political farce The Campaign” (Knopper).
Licensing music to a television show or a movie can help a musician gain exposure through the viewers who are watching the film. These viewers can in turn become fans of the band that provided the song of the soundtrack and decide to look for their music, merchandise, and even go to the musicians’ concerts as well. Knopper reports, “Potential payday: $250,000-$600,000. About half usually goes to the performer, with the other half going to whoever owns the song’s publishing rights”. Television and movies are a great source for exposure, because many shows on television networks can potentially get millions of viewers. Movies that are in theaters can generally get to hundreds of thousands to millions of viewers. Alternative forms of sales can serve as a marketing purpose which can lead to merchandise and ticket sales, which tend to be a more direct form of profit for touring musicians.
Touring can be profitable if the musicians take care of planning, expenses and the sales well. Too many musicians accept touring as a loss in their profits in exchange for exposure to fans. Careful budgeting, prudent planning, and the ability to maximize sales are instrumental to the touring success of a band. As long as a band can be watchful of their expenses, touring can be profitable for a band. Musicians must know how to cut back on their expenses because they will be spending days and weeks constantly traveling until the tour comes to an end.
Blay, Shane. “It’s Just Business.” It Seems Bands Don’t Make Money Off Touring Either. Metal Injection, 23 Jul 2010. Web. 25 Sep 2013. <http://www.metalinjection.net/its-just- business/bands-money-touring>.
Herstand, Ari. “How To Tour Without Losing Money.”How To Tour Without Losing Money. Reverbnation, 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 25 Sep. 2013. <http://blog.reverbnation.com/2013/02/11/how-to-tour-without-losing-money/>.
Knopper, Steve. “Nine Ways Musicians Actually Make Money Today.” RollingStone. 28 Aug 2012. Web. 5 Dec. 2013<http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/9-ways-musicians-actually-make-money-today-20120828/movie-and-tv-licensing-20120828>.
Third Opinion Piece:
RIAA Accounting: Why Even Major Label Musicians Rarely Make Money From Album Sales
Mike Masnick, writer and editor in Techdirt states that musicians on major labels can lose a big amount of money on music sales. The reason why musicians make less money on major labels is not the fault of the musician, it is the direct result of the record label taking a big part of the musicians earnings. Masnick cites a report from The Root, saying that for every thousand dollars worth of album sales, major record label musicians only get twenty-three dollars and forty cents on average. Furthermore, while record labels take over half of the money that musicians make, the distributors of the albums take roughly a quarter of the money that musicians make. Only above one-eighth of the money actually goes to the band, and even less if there are managers, lawyers, or producers involved. Finally the remaining money of the one-eighth of the original sales is divided up equally among the members of the band.
Masnick compares major record label deals to scams. He states that popular bands such as 30 Seconds To Mars have “never made a dime” from album sales, yet they sold 2 million records and gained platinum status on the RIAA. Major labels such as Warner Music have been known for obscuring accountancy for royalties owed to bands, because they have redeemed bands “unrecoupable”. Record label companies tries to take money out of album sales to account for the money spent on the album. The record label also tries to buy the copyrights to the music itself too, putting the musicians at even more at a disadvantage.
Mike Masnick makes valid points on his arguments, but there are some fallacies in his opinions. In one statement, Masnick tries to appeal to ridicule stating, “Of course, it’s actually even more ridiculous than this report makes it out to be. Going back ten years ago, Courtney Love famously laid out the details of recording economics, where the label can make $11 million… and the actual artists make absolutely nothing” (Masnick). Although Masnick is discussing the truth on what happens to musicians on major record labels, he makes exaggerations such as using words as “absolutely nothing”. An accurate phrase to describe the amount that Masnick should have used is very little, than the phrase absolutely nothing, because the musicians still were able to make an amount from the sales. Masnick also makes a comparison of the record label deals to scams,
“So, back to our original example of the average musician only earning $23.40 for every $1,000 sold. That money has to go back towards “recouping” the advance, even though the label is still straight up cashing 63% of every sale, which does not go towards making up the advance. The math here gets ridiculous pretty quickly when you start to think about it. These record label deals are basically out and out scams” (Masnick).
While the record label deals are downright disadvantageous, and to an extent deceitful to musicians, record label deals may not be the legitimate definition of a scam. A record label deal, no matter how disadvantageous it is, may not be a scam. Record label companies make contracts that musicians need to read carefully. It is the job of the musicians to know what they are getting into when they sign a contract with a major record label company.
I agree with Masnick, because the major record label tends to exploit the musicians out of the money they earn. Record label companies can be malicious to the career of musicians, but they may not be legitimately a scam. Contracts were meant for musicians to read, and musicians have the ability to negotiate their contracts if they read carefully. Independent record labels are far more less likely to take advantage of the profits of the musicians. This article gives a reason for musicians to consider DIY methods of band management, or signing to independent record labels.
Masnick, Mike. “RIAA Accounting: Why Even Major Label Musicians Rarely Make Money From Album Sales.” Techdirt. 13 Jul 2010: 1. Print. <http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100712/23482610186.shtml>.
This cartoon depicts 2 different friends, the person wearing a napster shirt and an anonymous friend. The friend wearing the Napster shirt tells his friend, “Free pass! Let’s go.” The two friends walk past two angry people. The first person is a giant, obese, old man wearing a nametag that says, “Hello My Name Is: EMI Universal Warner Sony”. The second man they walk past is a musician holding a guitar, saying “Hey! Where’s the 23 cents I normally get paid for a CD?”
This is a cartoon about touring musicians and their music sales. The person wearing the Napster shirt bringing his friend to the free pass, depicts the act of file sharing. File sharing makes the major record label company executives angry because the label doesn’t profit at much. The big four record labels at the time, EMI, Universal, Warner, Sony exploit the bands and musicians on their label by only giving less than 25 cents to the artist for every CD they sell for over 15 dollars. Major labels attempt to create a pseudo-monopoly on the music industry by giving publicity to the biggest artists but taking away almost all of the artists’ profits at the same time. The meaning behind this cartoon is that bands do not get paid through album sales now as much as they did before the digital era. With the advent of streaming and illegal downloading software such as Napster, music has become easier and more accessible for small to nonexistent fees. Major label corporations and some artists have become adamantly opposed to illegal downloading because they feel like the label will not profit as much. Some artists feel like they need to rely on getting the small portion of album sales from the major label. On the contrary, some artists have supported fans to obtain their music because they feel that merchandise and ticket sales increase as a result of the increased accessibility to listening to the artists’ music. Assuming that most fans download their music online, merchandise and ticket sales have been the main factor in the success of touring musicians, due to the successful exponential spread of music by file sharing.
I feel that Napster made a contribution to the spread of modern music. Independent touring musicians would not be where they are today, if it was not for the advent of Napster. Other mediums such as Kazaa, Limewire, and the well-know ThePirateBay have contributed to making musical access even more broad to people. If people like the music they hear from the artist, they are likely to buy the content of the artist. In recent times, mediums such as vinyl, has seen a major resurgence among sales since the start of the 2010 decade. The sales of CD’s are still ongoing because many fans of music would like to have a physical copy of some form, if they like the music they heard from downloading. and prominences. These networks of access to music have made it easier for independent artists to spread their music rapidly without the need to rely on a major record label for mass promotion.
How Not To Destroy Your Career In Music is a non-fiction book written by author Bruce Haring, a independent DIY musician who has had years of experience as a musician in the current music industry. In his book, Haring argues that many musicians succumb to the common pitfalls of mistakes that occur in the music industry. Many of these mistakes can be easily prevented by being prudent in respects to marketing your music, touring and booking in different areas, making the choice to be funded by a label or to be independent of a label, planning your expenses, and management. Despite the fact that the current music industry from the 1980s and onwards are manipulated by six colossal record label giants, many musicians have been able to achieve success by making choices for themselves rather than having a major label take the majority of the musicians’ money in exchange for doing promotion, distribution, management, and general funding for the musicians.
Haring notes that musicians must be wary in dealing with major labels because he believes that many major labels take advantage of the artists due to the intricately worded legal contracts major labels offer many inexperienced artists. Major labels exploit the artist of the sales of their product in exchange for services such as mass promotion, recording, and tour funding. Depending on a musician’s sales, many times this can potentially bankrupt a musician, or leave the musician without gaining substantial profit. However, various genres of music in the 1980’s have given rise to the practice independent labels and also DIY musicians themselves. Alternative rock, punk, hardcore, metal, and other underground specific genre categorizations have found ways to target their audience when mainstream music listeners would not listen to them. The rise of the internet and social media has helped these underground genres achieve recognition by prudent promotion today, and has helped connect underground bands to a devoted fanbase. Haring argues that promotion, merchandise and ticket sales, image, selective marketing, touring, sponsorships, music media exposure, and shrewd decision making are all factors that affect the relative success of a musician in the music industry.
How Not To Destroy Your Career In Music by Bruce Haring is coherent for many parts but contains some logical fallacies and assumptions that can affect points that Haring argues for in his book. In one example, Haring makes a fallacy of false cause. In this example, Haring states,
“I think the reason that there have been more pop stars on the charts that came from art school than came from music school is that sometimes if you’re too focused on the music itself, you forget that the pop world has always surrounded the image, identifying with a role model up there on stage who happens to be singing” (Haring 121).
This quote is an example of false cause because it suggests musicians that graduate from music school forget that pop is image-oriented. In this argument, Haring assumes that technically trained musicians that have gone through music schooling either forget about their appeal to image if they attempt to write pop music, or trained musicians care about their technical writing of the music that they do not appeal to consumers of pop music at all and lack the typical pop star image. In another example, Haring also makes a fallacy in where he either misrepresents or exaggerates a statistic. Haring states, “That leaves the independent world, filling up the market void of the other 95 percent of the business” (Haring 37). This fallacy occurs in Haring’s writing like because Haring is a DIY musician, he may make statistical exaggerations to state his opposition against major label practices. Both the uses of these fallacies can affect his argument because it may cause the reader to see through his exaggerations and assumptions at times. Although many of what Haring says in his book is factual, Haring’s opinions and exaggerations on certain aspects of the music industry may make him seem like he is ranting out of his emotions as a result of his own experience with the music industry in certain parts of the book.
I recommend that musicians who looking to making a career in playing music should read this book. As a musician himself, Haring makes great points on what to do and what to avoid in the music industry. His experience and knowledge can be useful to pass on to the next generation of musicians who are interested in living comfortably by touring. This book can also be informative to other people who are also in the music industry, including record labels, managers, booking agents, promoters, music distributors, marketing teams, and more. These people who are also involved in the music industry need to be informed of proper business practices and ethics because they work with the musicians themselves. Shady business practices in the music industry can cause the perpetrator to get a bad reputation in the small network of the industry, that other musicians can potentially refuse to work with the person, effectively leaving the person out of business. This book is important to educating musicians and the various people involved in dealing with musicians.
This book has helped me understand my research topic because it debunks many of the myths about how the music industry works. Although it is true that many major labels can take advantage of musicians by wording their contracts intricately, musicians can achieve success while even avoiding major label support. Not all artists on major label companies make decent profits. Similarly, not all artists that are on independent lack funding. This book has also shown me how much success is up to the choices musicians make when entering the world of the music industry. Musicians have the choice to choose or avoid labels, hire a management team or self-manage, hire a marketing team or self-promote, and the right to choose how to appeal to the demographics of their audience. Success in the music industry is ultimately in the control of the artist to make their own judgments and decisions on how they would like to conduct business in the music industry.
Haring, Bruce. How To Not Destroy Your Career In Music. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle, 2005. 1- 166. Print.
I recently had the chance to interview Zachary, from a group called “Elysia” about life as touring a touring musicians, and profitability . I interview him about his experience of being a touring artist in the music industry. Zachary started the band in 2003 as a freshman in high school and is the vocalist and constant member of his band. Elysia is a pioneering Deathcore band from Sacramento, California that did independent DIY approaches to touring and album promotion for most of their career, as well as one record on a small independent record label, Ferret Records, as well as distribution on Rise Records. These record labels specialize and are known in the underground scene on helping hardcore, deathcore, metalcore, and other heavy musical genres gain exposure within the underground heavy music scene. The few questions I ask Zachary are “How are you able to mass support from fans, through promotion and making?”, “How are you able to save on expenses and make profits while on tour”, “As a musician, do you prefer DIY support, small independent record label or major record labels”, “What factors do you have to take into account in touring”, and “When conducting business with other people in the music industry, were business people nice to you, or were some business practices shady?”. Zachary states that he has gathered support for his band with the use of MySpace social marketing to members of his local scene. While on tour, Zachary has been able to save on expense by choosing to sleep in a van or at a fan’s house to avoid lodging costs. Zachary prefers both DIY methods of touring, as well with a small record label. He doesn’t prefer major record labels because he feels that they exploit the artist. During touring, Zachary has to watch their expenses and play at places where they know they can draw a crowd. Zachary has dealt with record label staff and executives in the career to find that most independent labels care for the success and finances of the artists, which other labels look out for themselves and exploit the artist. Zachary says there is room to profit as a touring musician if musicians are careful and prudent enough to do their own work and not let people that could potentially exploit the band to do the work for them.
Zachary cites his opinions and dealings with the music industry with the amount of years he has spent on the road with his time in Elysia. The questions I ask him are based on his experience as a touring musicians. He reinforces his opinion on the industry using his examples in touring as a source for his judgement. This interview shows ways that it is possible to make a success in the music industry. Zachary states that promotion and marketing is a key to success in the music industry. While major record labels can provide major promotion for the musicians, musicians under major record labels can get bound to a contract that will reap the earnings of the artists themselves. He feels that DIY or independent record label is the method of choice for a touring musician in the industry. Zachary has noted that the rise of social media network made it much easier to virally spread his music, which culminated in the success for his band in the underground deathcore scene of the mid-2000s. He cites many of his claims based on his experience, as well as experiences of fellow touring bands that have gained considerable attention for their genre of music.
I agree with Zachary. Major label has turned music into a business outlined with greed and exploitation of the musical artist since the 1980s. Touring musicians need to combat these methods by not signing to major labels and finding alternative ways of doing the work, or even doing all the work themselves. Major labels have managers and workers that try to get the best profits for the company, not the band. Independent labels, and DIY methods have helped artist gain the promotion and exposure they need to success, while helping them live comfortably.