The Music ‘Business’:
The Dirty ‘M’ Word.
As I look ahead to my (and many other people’s) future, it can be exciting to imagine. Ambitions and high-minded plans inspire the mind, compel the imagination; yet there can be one major stumbling block: money.
WHEN you get to my stage in life, something odd begins to happen…
When I say ‘stage’, I don’t mean age- more a period of restlessness. The rest of this year is going to see (I hope) a lot of transition and fulfilment. The singer/songwriter area of my brain is spinning lyrics, compositions and designs- it is quite exciting. Once an entire album’s worth of material starts to cement itself- and the seeds are sown- it is only natural to think ahead. Before you know it, you (and I have) find yourself imagining the album cover; each song in its entirety- each and every component in full. One of the greatest things about music (from the perspective of an artist) is that it is easy to record and publish music. In terms of technology and accessibility, you no longer need to go into a studio, spend hundreds of pounds and labour hard to get your music recorded. Many ‘D.I.Y. artists’ or bedroom acts can sit in the comfort of their own homes; bring their music to life- and stream it straight to the general public. Most new acts start off by recording the odd song; perhaps an E.P. will (eventually) arrive: the embryonic steps are fairly modest. In time L.P.s and larger projects are realised, but I have witnessed many fresh acts lay down their tracks; put their intentions out there and feed them to the public. For most of us listening, there is no consideration given to the mechanics behind making the music- what is costs to make it happen. Even those whom make their music outside of a studio, the cost associated with doing so can be quite galling. It is only natural, yet when I look at studio rates, my eyes can water. Unless you are lucky enough to have a friend whom runs a studio (and thus get ‘mates rates’) or find an economical way of producing music, the final bill can be pretty high. An entire day in the studio (usually 8 hours minimum) can cost anywhere up to £400. Some studios I have seen charge almost double that, and that is just the recording costs itself- before any mastering has been completed. It may sound like an old (well thirty-something) man having a bit of a rant: far from it. Of course studios are businesses and have to charge for their services; it just seems that a lot of musicians are reverting to the confines of their own home, because the cost of professionally recording music is so high. I have friends whom run their own studios, and their costs are modest and affordable, yet they seem to be in a general minority. I am in the process of completing the writing of an album; one of which I have been working on for years now- something I am immensely proud of. When I tabulate all the various expenses and logistical considerations, the bar bill runs into thousands: five figures actually. You may say that if you want to spend less, than record fewer tracks; be less ambitious or convoluted, perhaps. In that sense, there is a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. Before I investigate the costs of making it in music in general, I shall use myself as a case study.
I will get more into the inequities and vicissitudes of music ambition, yet from my own perspective, I have found the costs are mounting. As it stands (and as I sit) my bank accounts have a few hundred quid in them. I am looking at getting part-time roles at the moment, and writing as much as possible. Having applied to various music sites and publications (with regards to getting jobs here) most- to start with- are going to be unpaid. When I can afford to get my own place and move on in the world, I imagine that I will not have a lot of money left over. Even when I had a full-time role, I found myself with not a lot to show at the end of the month (once rent etc. had been deducted). I guess this is the same with everyone; of course there will be variables and differences. I have a basic 8-track recorded, yet find that the sound quality is pretty poor- not adequate for what I want to do. There are softwares and programmes available to record vocals and music, yet I find that they are pretty basic for what I need. The solution is going to be going into the studio and recording music that way. General rehearsing and band hunting will have a money value attached, although it will not be overly high. If I were to just record one of my most ‘unambitious’ tracks, it will take a full day in the studio- as well as additional mastering and production costs. I would imagine that we would be talking about £600 or so (at the minimum) and that seems quite daunting. You may sit there and think that this is perfectly reasonable: and it is. The issue is, that after all the ‘day-to-day’ costs are expended and you look at what you have left, there is not a huge amount to play with. One song may be an achievable goal (in terms of money), but if you are looking into recording an E.P. or L.P., then you are looking at a somewhat stiffing total. It is imperative and handy having recording software and facilities whereby you can record basic numbers at home. I know many whom started out this way, and they have gained attention and fans from it. Invariably, all music- at some stage- is going to enter the studio, and it makes me wonder: is it putting people off (recording music)? Aside from music-making itself, I am looking at two other ventures: a music bar/cafe as well as a (small) record label). The first business idea stemmed from a real need; a gap in the marketplace, and as much as anything, a neat concept. In London (and various cities) there are plenty of great music venues, bars and locations- we all have our favourites. From what I have seen, there is nothing on offer that provides a bar, cafe and music venue- all in one. I have written a full blog post about this before, but the idea is to have a London-based, two-floor location. Essentially, it would have a lower floor where there is a bar; seating areas and a couple of stages. Patrons would be able to order food (off an extensive menu); order alcohol (cocktails included) and hot drinks, and sit and listen to music. There would digital jukeboxes offering endless amounts of tracks; and put simply, it would be a music venue-cum-cafe. The stages would allow for local and mainstream acts to perform (in the evening), and it would be a (hopeful) major venue. Upstairs, there would be an interactive platform; where walls fo screens and units would be set up. A music website- Pyschoacoustics- would be accessible, and allow anyone to create and make music; listen to any song they want- as well dozens of other features. In addition, there would be a modest-sized recording studio on the floor as well, allowing musicians as well as first-timers to record music- at an affordable fee. It all sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky, I grant you, but it is not me wanting to become Richard Branson here- just fulfil a genuine desire amongst many. Thom Yorke (in Paranoid Android) said that “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly“; well in my case, it makes me look tired. I have been formulating a business plan and ideas for the venue, yet it seems an almost impossible realisation. Setting aside issues such as finding a venue and getting a loan etc. the amount of start-up capital needed is immense. It is going to be the same with any business, but it seems that an idea is not enough: banks and lenders require you to have enough of your own money before they lend. I can guarantee that the business enterprise will be profitable and successful, but the initial stumbling blocks are hard to get over. The other ‘crazy idea’ I had, was to establish a record label. This is born, not out of a need for profit, but to provide a home for some great musicians. I know quite a few different acts and artists whom are unsigned; negated and passed over by labels because their sounds are not what they are looking for- seemingly wandering the road seeking out shelter. It is quite sad, as the artists in question are all hugely talented and impressive. My ickle label- tentatively to be called Famous Atheists Records- would be London-based, yet be free from genre restrictions. The idea would be to provide a parapet for all sorts of artists; from northern Pop and Rock acts, through to U.S.-based Electro.- and all in-between. As far as desire goes, this idea probably takes up more of my imagination than music-making itself. I know of so many acts all worthy of being signed, yet subjugated and rejected because their sound is too unique; ill-fitted to a record label’s rigid mould- it is heartbreaking. BBC 6 Music put out an article online (link below) stating how easy it is to start your own label. Like a business, you just need to have your plan, costs and cash forecast set out; do your market research and get in touch with contacts- simples, right? Well, in the case of some failed record labels, perhaps not. If you are smart enough to do your research, then you can make a go of it, just you always need some cash of your own (like with a business) before going to a bank. As much as anything, setting up a record label relies on getting funds and donations from other businesses and contacts- which can be a headache in itself. It is not just me (as a megalomaniac-music mogul-in waiting) whom has this issue: many of my contemporaries and pals have this conundrum…
Recently, I have reviewed quite a lot of different acts. From Scottish wonders through to English Pop princesses, there has been a great deal to digest. With every new act, there is always a lot of graft and sweat that has gone into their music. When I (recently) reviewed Universal Thee’s Back to Earth album, I know how much effort went into make it. The band members all worked harder than ever; toiling and spending hours on ensuring the finishing product was as good as possible. The money that went into making that L.P. was as a result of endless shifts, overtime and tiring work. Knowing how good the band are- and were before the album- it seems strange that the guys had to work so hard to raise the funds. I am sure that the five-piece did not mind; and that they would do it all over agin, but this struck me: shouldn’t it be easier than this? Other acts, from Issimo, through to Jen Armstrong; to Chess Elena Ramona and Crystal Seagulls, have broken their backs in jobs- to raise the necessary cash. I guess if there is a degree of struggle and overcoming adversity, then the end result can be that much more satisifying- as though you have genuinely earned the right to make music. The life of the unsigned artist is a fraught and unpredictable one, that to my eyes, does not seem to be so hard. When you have a label backing you, and you have management; issues such as finance are (although not non-existent) not a huge problem. It is axiomatic that labels should be seeking the best talent; that incentive to work and produce incredible music arrives when as few burdens as possible are present; money and raising finance is one of the biggest burdens- ergo, dissipating the problem makes sense. I do wonder if the reason bands and new acts favour putting out an E.P. (as opposed to a full album) is not that they want to distill their essence and do not have enough ready material- but because it is not feasible to release an L.P. Digitialisation of the music industry and the augmentation of music-sharing has made it easier (than ever) to get your music heard by as many people as possible; yet I fear that may be an issue: would charging a nominal fee to hear your music help? The music-buying public (not too long ago), has no choice but to buy everything they heard; I just wonder whether sites such as SoundCloud and YouTube act as a double-edged sword? From a personal perspective, I have heard a great amount of music on these sites (often to review) and have always felt regretful that I was unable to buy the sound- or to pay a token sum to hear it. If, say, each person whom listened to a track paid 50p, then you could raise hundreds (or thousands) of pounds- without putting anyone out-of-pocket. Perhaps this raises ethical issues, with many feeling it unfair that they have to pay for something- that they could otherwise have gotten for free. It is always a dangerous quagmire when discussing charging for music. There will be those whom say that music should be free to listen to; that this is the only way the less advantageous can afford it. Those- like me- in the opposing camp, feel that if the music is worth listening to, then it is worthy paying for. I always love hearing great new music in its full glory, but am always left wondering what the human and financial cost of making it (was). From my perspective, I am filled with trepidations and questions. We are in a year (and era) where there is a huge amount of new music out there; where the market is as crowded and bustling as ever- it seems logical that some form of financial backing should be available. Obviously, the musician will have to help to subsidise and support themselves (to a degree), yet some palliative care should be available for all. I have been investigating a few sites that offer some financial absolution; sources that can offer assistance. Whilst there is some merit and utility to these sites, there is still a lot to do (in terms of raising money).
What is to be done, I hear you (not) ask? Because music sees so many new acts enter the fold (by the day), then it seems that the issue of money may be an unanswerable quandary. In tandem with the general economy, the more people you have in a country, the more you have to stretch budgets. Unless you have a hugely well-paid job (or wealthy parents) then most of us have to live by the same, modest standards of living. The ambitious are often treated with impunity, and laughed at; spurring them on to silence the sharp-tongued detractors. As I stated early on, it is wholly possible to record music wherever you may be- and whatever your budget is. For those whom require the services of a studio or producer, then the whole business can become quite expensive. I know of many new musicians whom either have to work their feet to the bone (to afford to make music) or hesitate making it all- due to the realities of realising your dreams. For those making an E.P., L.P. or what have you, there are sources such as Kickstater (a site that is a crowd-funding platform). You can get loans and grants if you have a great business plan, but often you need quite a bit of your own capital. Designing a music website requires a lot of money; setting up a record label does- the list goes on. When you disseminate your earnings to various requirements (rent, food, life etc.) then you find that the coffers are quite bare. Ambition, talent and exposure will get the best and brightest what they desire, but you have to be able to walk before you can run. I guess me moaning about this fact will not solve the issue, yet it occurs to me that there may be some solutions. Crowd-sourcing website are a great way to earn money for your projects, and it seems to be a way forward. A lot of artists have found satisfaction through these channels, and we need more websites like this to be established. As much as anything, it seems that a fundamental (yet irritating) component is stopping a lot of new artists in their tracks. It makes me wonder whether something needs to be done; as music is one of the greatest art forms in the world, we should be encouraging it hugely. Unlike acting, music relies on a huge amount of self-funding, and to my mind, there is not enough being done to support musicians- making it more cost-effective to take the first steps. I am hoping to- amongst other plans- get a record label set up and make it a bit easier for some great musicians to make music (cost effectively). It is always a bugger when real life gets in the way of things, and a bigger one when money dictates things. It would be good to hear other people’s thoughts; hear from musicians whom face the hostilities of music-making/money, and get some feedback. As far as I can tell, a lot of acts are being put off of recording music, because they simply can’t afford it. I genuinely believe that there is a sagacious and realistic way to rectify the issue at hand. I feel that it is going to be unlikey that studios will reduce their rates; that banks will become a bit more trusting- the answer lies online. There are so many music websites and huge companies that work independently of social media sources such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+- it makes me wonder whether the bonds need to be formed. Music will never get to the stage where you will be able to record and distribute everything for free, so it seems that there needs to more support from the big names. Of course, once the musician is established and set-up they will be making money, thus able to afford to record as much as they desire- it is the sapling steps that trip up many. If big record labels or names such as Google, Virgin and Microsoft were to offer the initial funds need (on a quid pro quo basis) and then get their money back (without interest), then it not only makes it easier to get music into the studio- but draws together publicity outlets for said musicians. I am not sure, but I know that something needs to be done. I am impressed that so many new musicians keep plugging and recording- and find the money to make their music. I hope- in not too long a time- to be able to join them; accrue the necessary dosh, in order to get recording- it seems a (painfully) long way off. For the meantime, enjoy the sun (whilst thinking about it at least), and of course…
EAT Easter eggs!
Funding for musicians:
Great sites for music sharing:
Starting your own record label:
Advice for new musicians:
Misc.: some of the best music sites in the world: