The music industry is built on free labor. I mean every industry is to some degree, but I don’t really want to get into an argument about Keynesian economics right now. All that matters is that you need to appreciate that this entire thing is built on volunteer work and to feel or believe otherwise is really just setting yourself up for disappointment. Nobody is trying to give out money, and as a matter of fact nobody was ever giving out money in this industry in the first place, no matter what anyone tells you. The music industry is going to require you to work for free for years before you see any measure of success. You can’t just expect things to work out, your profile needs to grow and you need to look at yourself and fully respect the fact that everyone you see with major roles in this world worked for free for years in order to get to where they are at right now. The worst part is that for most people it never actually gets beyond that – it never really gets better – before we continue, I’m sorry.
I know I’ve written articles like this before, but I can’t tell you how frustrated I get with people asking for a quick buck after doing music type things for only a year or two. I mean – I know that that sounds like a lot of time to some of you and that you can start making money in other industries a lot sooner than that – but guess what? This isn’t other industries. This is music, where everything is a nightmare and finding your way forward can be a total disaster. There’s a ton of people trying to find their way in after all. So the music industry is a titanic struggle, a march forward into a world where we are all apparently doomed. People seem to think that they can expect a paycheck, but the fact of the matter is that I still do a ton of stuff for free and most of your favorite artists probably aren’t making any money at what they are doing. It’s not your fault and it’s nothing that could can control – it’ just a world of hurt, especially when you try to do things with any sort of underground legitimacy.
I just want to point out to emphasize wasn’t ‘better back in the day’ either. There were still countless fanzines that paid nothing and that could barely afford to keep in print (And it was crappy black and white, non glossy stuff too). I know a lot of those get romanticized nowadays, but things from our collective mispent youth always get romanticized. The people writing for all those punk zines that are getting reprinted as coffee table books for yuppies who want to stay cool aren’t getting paid and they weren’t being paid back in the day. They were doing it because they loved it and understood that there was something of value in the music industry. Very few of them would ever end up in the pages of even a minor mag like Creem. We’re talking about independent music. Sure the bar for entry is lower, but so is the payscale. I mean – the main difference between then and now is that it is a lot easier to get your work out there.
One might think that having so many bands music industry professionals suffocates the market and dilutes the money. As it happens – it’s quite the opposite effect. It means that more money is consolidated in fewer individuals. There are so few people who have reliably proven that they are trustworthy that those people end up getting all of the power because most of us simply can’t afford to put our money into anyone else. It’s people who have worked at this for years and proved they deserve it. This is part of why it’s so hard for people to break into the industry. They aren’t one of those trusted individuals. They haven’t shown that they are legitimate and haven’t say down and accepted with earnest innocence the sublime suffering that this industry is going to drown you in time and time again. They have yet to appreciate how grim the future is if they want to make their money doing this.
So how do you prove your legitimacy? Well simply doing stuff for free. Doing stuff for free and being good at it. Doing stuff for free, being good at it and being nice while you do it. None of these things are hard, you just need to prove that you are an active member of the scene and do that for years and years. I know that sounds ridiculous, but do you want this? No matter how great you are, there are always people who are better than you people who have done more and people who are more knowledgeable. You’re competing with those people and the knowledge that a lot of those people aren’t making any money. A lot of it comes down to business acumen and being someone that people want to be around. I know that sounds easy, but you’d be surprised how few people actually understand what it’s all about. It’s a living nightmare and one that you will constantly have to contest with.
So please, stop bitching about how you’re not getting paid. It’s impossible to get paid and if you’re dumb enough to bitch about a lack of money then you’re probably dumb enough not to realize that this whole thing can be futile. Dumb enough to think that one day you will somehow luck into a six figure job doing this bullshit. You’re not going to. The whole thing hurts, the whole thing is sacrifice and dedication and finding yourself. If you can’t accept that the music industry is brutal and that it takes more than a few dozen articles and ‘passion’ to get far then you are fucked. Passion never got anyone anywhere – it’s acting on that passion and showing that you can help us to create a better tomorrow.
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