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The Best Way To Make Money As A Musician Is Not With Music

The acclaimed NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton is a must-watch movie for anyone in the music business. Many of the struggles that artists (particularly young artists) continue to wrestle with are powerfully depicted in the film, and regardless of its late 1980s setting it remains pertinent in the era of YouTube, Spotify and the new Amazon Prime music service. The politics of working alongside a record label, the frustration of not earning a fair share for your work, and the strained relationships one can have with fellow band members all make up the drama of the film. However, there is one minor theme in the film that resonates deeply in the current music climate: the fact that the best way to make money in the music business is rarely the creation of the music itself.

There is a wonderful bit of foreshadowing early on in Straight Outta Compton, before the band members assemble as NWA, that first introduces this idea to the audience. Dr. Dre is spread across the floor, lying on top of various records, listening to the music of Roy Ayers as he wears an old-fashioned pair of headphones. Shortly after, Ice Cube is shown on a school bus writting in his journal. Both scenes introduce the fact that these members (like many musicians in contemporary music) would later become successful for things outside of the music business. Dr. Dre would, of course, found the company Beats Electronics which is famous for its brand of headphones. Ice Cube would go on to have a thriving career as a writer for the movies Friday, The Players Club and All About The Benjamins.

The scenes are meant to acknowledge how these unremarkable Los Angeles boys would grow up to have fame and success in their respective business ventures (Dre made more money than any other musician in 2014 due to his involvement in Beats). This is something that is becoming increasingly common as musicians make less and less money from their actual music in the era of streaming and downloading. Bono from U2, one of the most well-known bands in the world, made more income from his investment in social media giant Facebook than on revenue from his entire catalogue of music.

This creates a challenge for independent, smaller musicians who aren’t able to make money from the same sources as the likes of the aforementioned Bono, Pharrell or Dr. Dre. They won’t have the opportunity to market global brands, appear in adverts or invest in multi-million dollar corporations. For this reason, we are seeing more and more of these artists balance their bands with part-time careers. This, it seems, is becoming the only way to support the livelihood a musician.

Daniel Sarath is a Journalism graduate whose work has been published on Yahoo, Buzzfeed and many more. Follow him on Twitter: @danielsarath

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