Six reasons why “if you want to get paid for music you should play it live” is an idiotic argument.
Some bad-ass dude replied to Damon Krukowski’s breakdown of how much money he makes from streaming services with a sneer and a windy response that basically boiled down to "duh, quit yer bitching and make your money on the road, old man." Which… are we really still having these arguments, especially against people who are OK with putting up their old records on Bandcamp but who just want to make a point about how the music business has shifted even further away from artists’ interests, even on the indie level? I guess so, which I guess means it’s list time. Here are six reasons why “just go on tour” is a bullshit response.
1. Touring costs money. Not sure why this fact doesn’t come up more. But being on the road doesn’t involve plucking bills from Cash Trees lining the highway—you have to pay for transportation (including gas, about which more in a second) and food and lodging, not to mention whatever calamities (medical issues, broken strings, etc) might crop up on the road. There’s also the opportunity cost of losing work in order to go on the road for a week/month/year. Should only people who can afford to do that be able to make music? Do we really want a world of Kula Shakers?
2. Money from fans isn’t infinite. This week I was up north for Nova Scotia Music Week, an industry conference/showcase that is the province’s equivalent of South By Southwest. Thanks to its remote location, it (and by “it” I mostly mean Halifax) doesn’t get a lot of acts from the US—maybe two or three a month. I was talking about this with a guy who promotes a festival up there and he said that even with the relative paucity of “major” acts coming through, getting people excited for a second go-round by any out-of-town band was tough—fewer advance ticket sales, etc. How would that not be the case in any market where bands come through multiple times a year? Fans’ money doesn’t grow on trees, either.
3. Playing a show is not necessarily a license to print money. This is a corollary to the above point, but given the sneeriness of this post, I feel like I should ask: You do know that not every show sells out, right? Even for shows by bands that are good and beloved?
4. Sometimes getting to those markets that aren’t saturated with your live show and are thus likely to pay for tickets once the demand has been met in markets you’ve already visited, is way too costly. A drive to Halifax (Nova Scotia’s major market) from the Maine/New Brunswick border takes about six hours each way. There are maybe two cities en route to Halifax that could also be tour stops—and realistically I should probably be plotting the distance from Portland to Halifax, since Portland is probably the biggest market. (That’s a 10-hour trip, plus time for the border crossing.) Would the draw from playing live in that city be worth the cost of getting there?
5. Playing live only really “works” as a revenue model (let alone a constant one) for certain types of acts. Hello, rockism? Hello, privileging youth? Hello, how are we still having this conversation in 2012? (You don’t have to tell me. I know how.)
6. Shit happens. How does a touring band “take it on the road” when they can’t gas up their van, or if the price of gas goes way up, or if they get caught in a region-wide fuel shortage? Or when they can’t leave a city they’re in because of, say, a hurricane that also shuts down all methods of leaving that city?
I am so tired of Internet people who scream TOURING WILL SOLVE EVERYTHING, especially when it is yelled at people who are simply trying to make a point using math, and not being self-serving or “poor me.” Why are we letting geek-defined Darwinism (and the destructive hypercapitalism that comes with it) take over every goddamn aspect of culture? Why can’t the system be criticized for not working for people who create culture, even though it “works” for shareholders and executives? Why is it only appropriate to celebrate those at the top of the heap, or those who have pandered successfully to the “thought leaders” (I’m putting that in quotes because I basically mean the Reddit-beloved likes of Jonathan Coulton and Am*nd* P*lm*r here), when tech people and executives are deified? Why can’t musicians who make records that people enjoy speak out about how the revenue model for that enjoyment has changed, and how it might affect not just the way they make music in the future but the way others will?
"Just go out on tour" makes me so angry. And in a lot of ways it is akin to the “start your own” defenses put up by the Uncool people over the weekend when they were asked about diversity. Both statements are full of unexamined privilege from top to bottom, and having them parroted over and over again by people in power sets up a future where a lot of people can’t see how starting their own thing is even possible, given their station in life.
(Bonus point: The idea in the original post that trying to make money off recorded music is akin to being “a typesetter, a blacksmith [or] a fax machine repairman” is also dumb, since the stats quoted by Krukowski in the piece show that there is in fact still a market for recorded music (and I mean people still fax, too, but whatever). And boo hoo to Spotify not making a profit—why didn’t it build in the fact that music has value to its accounting? What would it and other sites of its ilk be without the music flowing through its systems? I seriously doubt an all-Creative Commons version of any of these services would attract as many users—yes, even with Am*nd* P*lm*r’s hoary, overblown presence.)