Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner




« SEO for the Discerning Musician | Main | How Can You Drive Your Fans From Offline to Online? »

The Realities of Making a Living with Music in 2011

Warning: The following rant will ruffle some feathers and just might upset your comfort zone. Read with caution!

John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake, stirred up a reaction when he told NPR’s Melissa Block that he is skeptical about the future of music as a vocation.

I see music as a really great hobby for most people in five or 10 years,” he remarked.

Keep in mind this was part of a segment about Cake’s historic new album, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in January. It was historic because the album earned the coveted ranking by selling just 44,000 copies — the lowest amount for a No. 1 in the 20-year history of calculating record sales.

I’ve been seeing a lot of articles and blog posts lately about the doom and gloom of the music biz — including depressing news about the state of independent music. There have been references to the failure of direct-to-fan as a business model, and the harsh realities that aspiring musicians, managers, and promoters face.

Really? Give me a break!

Sure, I agree that things have drastically changed. The “traditional music industry” has crumbled. All the new, accessible promotion tools have created a crowded and noisy world where millions of DIY artists are clamoring for attention. Things are in flux. Nothing is predictable. There’s no sure path to success.

So tell me …

How is this so radically different from the good old days?

When exactly was there a sure path to making a good living as an artist? What year or decade did a healthy percentage of musicians prosper in the Golden Age of Music? And in what era was the pursuit of the almighty record deal an accessible and fair arrangement for all concerned?

Wake up and smell the gigabytes! Please!

The truth is … This Golden Age never existed. There’s never been a time when musical self-sufficiency was guaranteed. It’s always been the case — and always will be — that a majority of people pursue music as a part-time hobby.

Only a small percentage of artists make a living. That isn’t a consequence of the Internet or piracy or consumer apathy or limitless entertainment choices. It’s just the nature of humanity, regardless what business model is in place.

If you find yourself complaining about the current state of music, it’s probably because you feel lost not knowing what direction to go or what “rules” to follow. I get that. At least — prior to the Napster and iTunes era — many people agreed on the steps you needed to take: get a record deal and/or get radio airplay, retail placement, media exposure, tour, build a business team, etc.

Now it seems nobody knows what the sure path is. As flawed as the old system was, at least you had some kind of map, right?

Here’s another cold dose of reality … That system sucked just as much as, if not more than, the current one!

Many musicians struggled then … and they struggle now. Artists fought for attention then … and they fight for it now. Self-promoters were confused about marketing and sales then … and they are just as confused now.

And, back in “the day,” there was never a set path to a record deal either. Nearly 20 years ago I organized a lot of music education events in St. Louis with local artists who had been signed to label deals. Each had to forge their own path to get noticed and get signed. No two stories were alike.

However, the one theme that many of them shared years later was the bitterness they felt after having gone through the corporate record company process. Hmm … I guess that wasn’t the Golden Age after all.

Honestly … Do you really prefer the old system of having to impress a gatekeeper before you are deemed worthy of a music career? Do you prefer the stability of needing commercial radio airplay, retail space, and MTV video exposure to “make it”?

I think not! So …

Please stop lamenting the good ole bygone days (that never existed to begin with). Please stop complaining about the hardships of social networking and all the work required to get noticed and engage with fans. Cry me a river!

Success in music has always required talent, desire, a quest for mastery, and consistent action. That was true years ago, and it’s just as true today.

The modern-day whiners all focus on what’s missing and what’s difficult. Meanwhile, empowered indie artists such as Jason Parker, David Nevue, Rob Michael, John Taglieri, and many more see opportunities, embrace this new era and … heaven forbid … are actually making a decent living doing it.

So … are you a victimized complainer … or an empowered doer?

More on this topic coming soon … In the meantime, I welcome your comments.

-Bob Baker

P.S. This piece was inspired by this post on Hypebot and this story on NPR.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: Laura Glading
    The Realities of Making a Living with Music in 2011 - MTT - Music Think Tank

Reader Comments (54)

True it's always been hard to make it doing what we do. Today we have more information on the internet to empower ourselves to make and release music. However it all relies on the amount of people that indie artists can reach to actually be able to make it. McCrea has a good point in the fact that you're not gonna make as much money with 44,000 selling at the new lower prices of music, so we rely on people seeing the live show. But even that has declined as any musician knows. Not saying that we want to sell our souls to a record company but the indie route isn't gonna make any of us the wealthy rock stars of the old. We don't have an answer but we definitely love what we do either way.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterDeleveled

love the frankness of this article... I am an empowered doer!! :)

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterHelen Austin

I've been a gigging/recording/self releasing musician in various financially struggling projects for the last ten years and I honestly feel that the playing field is more level than it used to be. Obviously I am a lot more savy than I was then, and have no illusions about the industry any more, but I really think that the plethora of sites like twitter, soundcloud, youtube etc make it so much easier to get your point across without the need to first get the approval of the aforementioned gatekeepers. I think the success of hip hop acts Das Racist and Odd Future are good examples of this approach working - both sell out shows and have attracted some very high level attention by giving away loads of music online n generally maintaining a high web presence in a couple of years.
The phrase "pioneer spirit" seems to fit, and that's much more exciting to me as a musician and as a fan. To some up, I don't think anyone can accurately predict what's going to happen, but I bet that there will always be a music scene that people make money out of. . Twitter - @sexyweirdos

I think you make a great point. There have always been a small percentage of musicians that can make a living off their art and nothing has changed in that regard. Piracy, consumer apathy, and limitless choices, as you mentioned, are just where the industry is going. Like any other business, you adapt and get creative or fail, thats it! The question we should be asking ourselves is "how can we work with the current contraints and still move the industry forward?" That responsibility falls on everyone and only a small percentage will continue to make a living, as they always have.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterLaura C.


This has to be one of the best posts on music marketing I've read in some time. The common misconception is that social media is somehow going to explode your music sales, and this myth is only perpetuated by the continuous hype of this fallacy. Unfortunately, what I have found is that artists often simply don't want to hear the reality that social media is great for RQ but is not the panacea for sales they would like to believe.

Keep on ranting!

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterJames G.

What you didn't discuss was the importance of the 'brass ring' concept in energizing each succeeding generation of creators to work there asses off to attain greatness.

The reality has always been that 90% of those who seriously pursue careers in music fail or stall at earning mediocre livings or less.

Once the realization sets in that mediocre livings or less is all you can hope to achieve, the question becomes how many truly gifted people will be more likely to heed the rationally sensible advice: "Get a real job."

There is no 'real' money in digital distribution - especially if you are a DIYer and paying your own bills ... There will be no long term careers in the future ... I hate to sound so grim, but the reality is the only reason for getting on the merry-go-round today is because you enjoy going around in circles ...

Oh, and god love you if you're doing for the love of music ... get back to me when you have a wife, kids and responsibilities.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

Here is my honest opinion : I agree with Cake 100%.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterBob

Well done someone actually putting the reality of the music industry in perspective, and yes talent is all that is required.If you are that good you will get noticed.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

Thank you so much for this blog. I was having a bummer of a day, and it encouraged and inspired me. Thanks!

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterSara Moilanen

I think that musicians need to swallow the reality that people aren't as excited to purchase an album and plop it on their mp3 player, as much as they were about buying a cd and unwrapping it.

people are excited about buying something from an app store though, and they love cool videos, so how do we combine these things and start to move forward?

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Tunes

Great Article! I feel the exact same way. We are in an age of music when something big is going to happen soon that changes everything. Also, the little guy has just as much, if not more, of a chance at success as the big companies. Push forward and create your own success!

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterTommy Dubs

I like the start of this article, but it's very light on facts and statistics and heavy on speculation and emotion.

Some real info would be helpful.

March 15 | Unregistered Commenterdonaldgeorge

You are bang on Bob! It's laughable that these "whiners" think the old way was a good way...It was horrible. I was signed to a deal in 2007 and it almost ruined music for me...luckily the old machine was crumbling and I managed to escape my contract due to a shit storm at Sony/Epic.

Anyway, I've never been more stoked to be a musician. I work hard on my music, work smart online, tour, and play music on the streets of downtown Vancouver and guess what I get to keep every cent of my album sales, merch, and ticket sales!

To all the doomsday-ers out there stop Whining and start #WINNING

great article Bob

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterBodhi Jones

If you need to pay your own rent, and have health insurance, and put decent food on the table every day... other words, if you are a mature adult who supports himself and maybe a family...

Then you must consider whether it's worth playing today's music business lottery, given the tiny chance that your talent and hard work will pay off. And if that will be a lifelong career as well.

Either under the old system, or the new system where people pay almost nothing for's still only a tiny percentage of hard workers that get a lucky break and are noticed, much less sustain a career for years in the spotlight.

Think about it.

March 15 | Registered CommenterGlenn Galen

Cake can piss off. They're lucky as hell that their novelty band had a career of any note under any system, be it old or new. Some arrogance, complaining about the natural evolution of things! It's a miracle they even got a break at all, they should count their blessings. Perhaps they're just scared because I (and probably most of you) can name 20 local, unsigned acts better than they are?

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterHJD

This post seems to be well thought out but it truly is glib. The old system did in fact work. Was it flawed, indeed, in many ways, but it made stars, careers and history. The key point you seem to use in your argument is that people are frightened or somehow whining about the changes. Yet, you pose no viable solution in your infinite opinion about where the whole new system is going as well. Have you ever been in a band? Have you sacrificed for the greater good of your art and been told to shut up because being a musician is an unjustifiable way to make a living?
The fact of the matter is that the old 'system' has been in ruins for quite some time and yet all that has happened is a lot of people are playing in the rubble. There's been absolutely no rebuilding. The current model has turned bands into jingle writers, hungry for the only bite they can get in a climate of deep superficiality. The playing field is not only leveled, it is diluted. Not everyone should be in a band, and yet we are forced to accept everyone's attempts because it's online. So many who would have given up in the 'old' climate continue on because they're stupid video on youtube or song on myspace has 10,000 friends. Friends that over the course of these years have proven illusory to the revolution that I'm still waiting to see happen. The old way needed adaptation but the new way needs an overhaul and vision. Not just a bunch of people talking about it and telling others their trials and tribulations are naught because your ideas about change are what you consider more tolerant and cogent.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterRye Brayley

I've got to interject several points here:

1. Most musicians have never been signed to major labels. They weren't back in the days when major labels ruled. So how they made their money then, and how they make their money now, is in no way related to the major label system. Artists/bands were selling CDs, and before that tapes, that they created themselves directly to fans. What has changed is that fans don't buy as many now. The change in music consumption has affected unsigned artists because some of them made good money selling their own stuff.

2. There are fewer live gig opportunities now than in the past. It used to be that many neighborhood bars had live music. Frat parties hired bands. Weddings hired bands. Some of those opportunities have gone to DJs and karaoke.

3. Access to digital production and promotion has encouraged far more artists to create music and upload it. So we have a ton of music all competing for the same audiences. This is different than it used to be.

4. Entertainment options have greatly increased. Back in the day, people went to movies and went out dancing. Now they can stay home and watch cable, watch movies on big screens, play video games. So we have more entertainment options chasing the same entertainment dollars.

I've known musicians for decades. Some of the gigs they had back in the 1970s don't exist anymore. Rarely will you find a musician whose primary job now is to play every week at the same club.

I salute this article as a long needed wake up call for naysayers in the business!

The "golden age" was such only for record labels and other business executives: the number of artists getting financially raped by these scavengers is almost mythological, as well as the powerlessness of even quite successful acts to have any say on even something so stupid and basic as the cover of their album (and forget about marketing strategies, pricing of goods, choice of singles, and so on).

Also, the golden age is over for a reason: it is at least 11 years that the industry is treating the music fans as thieves and scumbags. No lesson has been learned, no voice of reason heard, no study of how those who pirate more are actually buying more too.

Is the music industry dead because of piracy, or because someone has the idiocy of signing someone like Tila Tequila for a record deal?

As for those who say that some gigs that existed 30 years ago not don't exist anymore: please wake up.

30 years ago, I couldn't dream to have my music in rotation in another continent's venues, like I can today. I don't need a record contract, I don't need to convince 100 executives that my songs might go well with Ceasar Salad consumption. All I needed was finding an Australian company online, sending them a polite email and send a sample of my music.

30 years ago, I couldn't call a venue owner in Germany without paying a ridiculous amount of money for the phone call (no call, no connection, not even a possibility to organize a gig some place 90 minutes away by plane. it's like saying that if you are in New York, you have no chance to play in Miami). Now, all I need is a skype account.

Yes, 30 years ago there were jobs that don't exist anymore. And how is that different from the 1950s or the 1960s? After all, the invention of radio meant many performing bands were out of a job.

So what's the golden age for you guys? One in which there were no radios, nor means to listen to music other than calling someone to perform in your bedroom? Please!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Mas

Exactly! Well said! Enough with whiners...just f**'ing do it!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterTeePee

Thanks to everyone who has commented so far -- no matter what side of the issue you come down on. It's greatly appreciated.

It's interesting to observe the range of reactions. Some people read this rant and feel more depressed afterward; others read it and feel optimistic and empowered.

It just goes to show, it's not really the post itself that matters. It's all about the mental filter through which you read it.

If you think the music world is grim, you'll find evidence to support that worldview. If you think of this as an era of opportunity, you'll see evidence to back up that positive perspective.

Many doom-and-gloomers think the empowerment people are delusional, while many optimistic musicians think the naysayers are fooling themselves.

Maybe we're ALL delusional. If that's the case, then your outlook is a choice.

And personally, I'd rather see more sunshine and less dark.

March 16 | Registered CommenterBob Baker

Simon, have you personally been making a living in music for 30 years, or are you speculating about how you think now compares to the past? If you have been in the business that long, you'd be 50 or older, I'm assuming.

For years people have flocked to Hollywood wanting to be a star. I'd guess about several hundred thousand have tried it this century. And there have indeed been 50 to 100 hopefuls who did indeed become famous, wealthy movie stars. It can happen, but that doesn't mean it is likely to happen to you.

So the odds are perhaps 100 in 300,000 chance for a person trying this gamble.

That's 1 in 3000.

Is it worth it if you have a family to help support?

Would you want to encourage people to try it?

March 16 | Registered CommenterGlenn Galen

@ Suzanne: no, Suzanne. I have been making a living with music for a whoopping two years. You can laugh me off and say that I don't know what I am talking about, and probably your dog knows more about the business than I do.

I'm also 32. I've never seen stuff like labels (big and smalls) complaining that "tapes are going to kill the industry" or musicians crying out that "radio is all going to put us out of a job".

On the other hand, I have been playing, eating and breathing music for almost two decades now, and this is the first time in which I can really make a difference for my career. In Italy and UK (places where I have lived for years), and for me personally, things have changed, but for the better. Maybe in U.S.A. things have changed completely and for the worst, I don't know.

All I know is that I don't see anyone pointing a gun at my head and forcing me to play music or stay in this business. I have read rants from professional studio owners claiming that they'd make better money flipping burgers at McDonald's "thanks to the decline of the music business". Same from major record labels CEOs (people who have more money that I can ever dream of making). Same from the average Joe Player.

This attitude is both insulting, defeatist, damaging, and useless.

It is insulting because it flies in the face of all those that are working hard to make a living and make it happen for themselves.

It is defeatist because if one thinks that there is more future in burger flipping than in what they are doing today, they should have changed occupation already; because they are depressed and they think that everything is going down the pipe, it probably will if it hasn't already; because they are not focussing on what can be changed and how, on listening to what the customers want, on concentrating on what went terribly wrong, but only on what THEY want.

It is damaging because it paints a picture in which is totally acceptable to "steal" music (if everyone is doing it, and if it's hip, then I should be doing it, too, right?), because it creates an us against them mentality, and because it tells people that this world is hopeless (and people NEVER want to hear that... and so they take their business somewhere else).

Finally, it is useless because it just looks desperate and sad to pine of a (frankly imaginary) golden past that will never return. Because whether we like or not the digital age, the 1960s are not coming back.

Now, Suzanne, I agree with you. There should be even MORE opportunities to play and to make money. I love to be paid for my work just as much as the next guy.

If you can make your experience (which I highly respect) and knowledge useful for the community, by suggesting ideas, or new ways to engage the public, or even ways to win them back and bring about a new golden age that is just like the one in your dreams, I am ready to listen to you, to read your articles and to help you out to realize your dreams in any way I can.

If instead all I hear is that I don't know in which world I live in because statistics say that we're back to 1973 in sales, or that it was so much better back then, then I am forced to remember how for the last 16 years I have tried to find new audiences and gigs, and I had to please a number of yesmen only to have a chance to be heard and please the public. Today, I have to please ONE person: the listener.

I don't see how that makes us all doomed.

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Mas

Great article Bob.

We are moving to an age where instead of there being a few big bands like U2 or Coldplay you will have lots of smaller bands making a small amount of money from a very connected online fanbase. We see it all the time on the online listings on our site.

How this will pan out in terms of people making a full time living from music its hard to say but these are exciting times for music and musicians and its certainly better than the old way of doing things where few people got a chance.

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterLive Unsigned

What I am saying is there is a reason people look back at a Golden Age of music. It wasn't because of the major label system. It was a time when local communities had ways to support unsigned musicians who had steady income playing gigs and selling their CDs and tapes.

Now is a different age where music is everywhere and everyone can be a musician. Many are trying to be. This is a Golden Age of participatory music. It is likely harder to make money now for many full-time musicians (for an extra financial burden, toss in the added fuel costs for musicians and fans driving to gigs), but everyone can make music.

My scenario is not doom-and-gloom at all. I'm encouraging everyone to make music. But I am also suggesting that realistically it probably won't generate enough money to pay all of your bills no matter how talented you are and how hard you work. In fact, I am trying to make everyone feel better by decoupling music from making a living at music. Do it for self-expression, for creativity, for community. But for income, you might need to do something else, and that is okay. You're not a lesser musician for doing that.

Here's another way of putting my message. People are becoming empowered to create their own music. They are less in need of other people to make or provide it for them. So if you see your role to be a musician with an audience, you may be out of luck. If, on the other hand, you find ways to help them participate (and that might even be in creating mobile apps that allow them to play their phones as instruments or allow them to combine tracks into their own versions of songs), then you become important to them.The days of the passive music fan, who just buys what you have to offer, are over. Now fans want to be, and have the tools to be, rock stars themselves. Karaoke, for example, is generally poor quality music, but look how popular it became. People like to sing, and their friends get a kick out of watching them sing. It's a big social experience, if not necessarily a good musical one.

I agree with all that you say, Suzanne, except one thing.

You say that in this golden age (which I assume is the 1960s - 1990s, before the birth of mp3), it was easier for musicians to to be supported by local communities. This might be true where you are (which I don't know), but if I take my hometown (Bari, Italy) as an example, the opposite is true.

When I started, there were no open mike nights. There were selected few places where you could play live, and those that paid any significant amount of money were almost exclusively reserved to people with decades of experience, or with influential friends (managers, other experienced musicians, the owner of the venue, etc.).

One of the most important reasons why I moved to and fro from Boston from 2001 and then moved for good in Newcastle in 2004 was that there was no space to perform. My growth as musician was confined to endless rehearsals with my bands, with no chance to see any income for the next 5-10 years.

Now, I've decided to come back here in Bari. The situation is far from what I have seen in other places, but comparing today with even 10 years ago, it's live living in a dream: venues have understood that putting together an event of facebook that promises live music MIGHT result in more customers and (shock surprise) even the creation of a scene around the venue. I am giving the town another chance and we'll see if it works.

Regardless of where you live, though, you are right when you say that having more hobbist players makes a lot harder to find traditional gigs.

My old music school is looking for a new base of operation because they simply can't accommodate all of the applicants, most of whom have no desire to become professionals if they could. I am teaching some of them. That's income.

In addition, the existence of internet, allows me to take some jobs from out of town: I finished the music for an ad for some friends in California just a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn't have found the job without facebook to help me keeping in touch.

I think our difference of perspective depends on what you consider your community and your gigs. All the new sources of entertainment generate new ways to exploit your music.

You could hardly be featured in the soundtrack of a TV in the 1970s, but you can now become part of a music library somewhere in Paris, and your piece might be included in a French series, for example. Then there's video games. Audiobooks. I don't need to provide a full list, right?

Personally, I think every profession is suffering from the economic situation and the social change that a widespread use of internet is bringing. It's hard for almost everyone that I know.

It is hard to start using internet as a tool to find music jobs, if one has never done it before, but the again, experienced musicians might ask their fan base to see if someone would like to help them to start a newsletter, or a facebook fan page, or what has you. If they have the money, they could hire a small group of young people to be their PR company. I bet most MBA would love to get their first experience with someone in the music business!

PS: I've just seen your latest post and I don't want do sidetrack too much here, as I don't know if it's allowed by the rules of conduct of this site.
Why don't we take this discussion to email? mine is
I welcome you and anyone else to discuss the subject with me. :)

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Mas

I think it is okay to have the discussion here, because I'm hoping people will learn something.

On the one hand, people can get their music in film and TV shows more easily now. On the other hand, since so many people are happy to do it for free, the price paid to musicians is dropping.

On the one hand, being able to contribute tracks for songs can be done more easily now because of the Internet and digital technology. On the other hand, a lot of musicians who made their living as studio musicians have far fewer paying gigs now.

Competition has driven down compensation in music, just it has done in other creative fields. Writing jobs pay little or nothing these days. Graphic design jobs pay much less than they did in the past because people around the world are bidding on them. Flickr has democratized, and therefore dropped the price paid to photographers.

As for the comparing music gigs over the last 10 years, I don't think that goes back far enough. I'm thinking in terms of the 1950s to the 1980s. DJs and karaoke, not the Internet, cut out a lot of opportunities. While you say it is better now than in the last 10 years, it doesn't mean it is better now than it was 20-30 years ago. There was a time when on a college campus, you'd have live music at multiple parties. Having someone spin records or using a jukebox was only for low-end events. Imagine that for every place, every party, that you go to now where a DJ plays, in the past it would have been a live band that was paid about as much as live bands get paid now. I've had musicians tell me their take home per gig now is the same amount as 30 years ago. They could maybe make $100 per band member then. They maybe make $100 per band member now.

My ex-husband has played music his whole life, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s spent a few years playing music full-time. He was actually able to make a modest living and support a family playing full-time in bars in Southern Colorado. These were in towns that maybe had 500 to 10,000 people. It was a tough life (where customers would throw beer bottles at you if they were drunk and didn't like your music), but there was live music.

Around that time, I knew a guy in Denver whose full-time job was to be part of a house band that played in a local club. He made enough money doing that to send his kids to a local private elementary school.

I knew others, even as late as 1990-2000, who regularly played local clubs within a 60-mile radius and would sell $3000 in tickets every weekend. Six hundred local fans would come out for every show they played and would pay a cover. It was what people did. Go out dancing to their favorite local bands.

At any rate, I just have wanted to explain what people mean by a Golden Age. Yes, there was a time when lots of local bars had live music, paying bands a guarantee of $300 to $1000 per night. A time when a decent sized wedding would hire a band to play (it might be a swing band or a polka band, but it was live music). There was a time where a working musician in LA played lots of studio music gigs. My former brother-in-law studied at GIT to do that, but then left LA because of the crime. And so on.

A few people will make money now. But what is happening now doesn't negate the concept of a "Golden Age."

@ Suzanne and Simon

I just wanted to tell the both of you that I've thoroughly enjoyed your back and forth exchange on the matter!

I've been playing and recording music in NYC for about 10 years now. At one point i've played in subway hallways making a living off of tips and homemade demo sales. It wasn't easy and I played the maximum amount of time I could a week until I couldn't sing anymore and I had holes in my fingers. My take home was normally half of a full time minimum wage job. I was lucky to have a very low living expenses at the time and not needing a lot to eat! :/. When I have played bars and clubs with or without a band I found that it was still far more profitable playing in the subway and I had way more exposure doing so. In the past 5 years alone (besides the past 10 years) I have seen less and less opportunities to play in live settings and other ventures that may or may not be paying positions (at least here). A gentlemen who traveled the world as a street performer said that he always made double to triple playing in Europe compared to America. In his opinion and experience Europeans were generally more relaxed and appreciated the art more.

From my own experience with my own solo career I'd have to say that marketing is the biggest factor in any career or business. Even though music sales in general are sluggish, there are still big musicians out there making money, but they have the financial backing to get themselves into television, radio, and magazines (among other places) that some indie and almost all unsigned acts cannot. Musicians complain now because fir the past ten years so many people have clamored about the power of the Internet and how unsigned and indie artists could now make a living, but the reality is that there are so many artists grasping for the same small percent of the publics income and attention that it's been rendered a mute objective.

I'd go as far as saying that it is worse now than ten years previously just for the simple fact that there are less live opportunities to help propel one's self financially and/or to market themselves. We all thought the Internet was going to give us that missing boost, but for majority it has not. Still, if you love making music you should keep on doing it regardless of fame and fortune. To live a life not doing what you love and being unhappy is really no life at all.

Free album download at

March 17 | Unregistered CommenterChancius

Here, let me toss out this:
For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path -

I could find similar articles for other creative fields.

I have another concept to get you all thinking. Perhaps we should frame the Golden Age of music as a time going from the invention and popularization of the electric guitar until DJs replaced bands at many clubs and parties. Electric guitars brought a certain type of live music to popular culture.

Of course, that wasn't the only Golden Age of music. There was the Big Band era. (And several eras before that.) Now we have the Digital Era (also the Democratization Era). In each case technology opens the door for new ways to participate.

I have absolutely no problem with a new generation hoping to make their living full-time in music. But I know that as millions aspire to the same goal, the money won't be there to support all of them.


I missed seeing your comments yesterday, but thanks for joining the conversation. I've wanted to push the conversation beyond framing everything in terms of major labels because most musicians' careers have never been determined by that part of the music business. What has happened to major labels has always largely been irrelevant to most musicians.

The loss of many live gigs, on the other hand, has been very relevant to many musicians. And technology has taken away more than it has added to those opportunities. Unless you have more venues offering gigs and unless you have more private parties hiring bands, you don't have more opportunities. The one area where I think there has been growth has been in churches. Now quite a few of them use rock musicians as youth music directors. There have always been church music directors, but in the past they tended to be organists and chorale directors.

'What has happened to major labels has always largely been irrelevant to most musicians'

That's still not true, even today when, according to some, the major labels have all become corner shops selling home made cassettes along with the other items 'scum' like them produce.

The industry is still driven by the majors. Most of the money goes through their books, along with new majors, Apple & Google.

The impetus to 'be a star' went and still goes hand in hand with picking up a guitar. Why stand on a stage if you don't want to be noticed?

With apologies to the thousands of shy and retiring bedroom musicians who only pull on their skinny jeans and winklepickers to pose in front of the mirror...

The only thing I can see Bob Baker's above piece serving is his profile.

March 19 | Registered CommenterTim London

The impetus to 'be a star' went and still goes hand in hand with picking up a guitar. Why stand on a stage if you don't want to be noticed?

That's the crux of most of the discussions pitched to musicians these days. Yes, many got into music to be stars. And many are being told that now the Internet will allow them to be stars.

And, guess what, now all the people formerly known as fans want to be stars, too. They don't want to just listen to your music. They want to do something that gets people looking at them.

That's the biggest single issue I have with all of the "new music business" discussions. Why hasn't occurred to musicians that just as technology has replaced major labels, it is also in the process of replacing them. Fans don't need them as much as they used to because they can create their own music and they can find a multitude of entertainment options. Sure, we still have a celebrity culture, so musicians who play the role of celebrity will have a few minutes of fame. But fans don't need musicians to be those celebrities. They also have actors/actresses/reality TV participants/politicians/etc. to be celebrities.

Dear all,
I can only reiterate what I have already said.

Regardless of your personal perspective on whether or not now is a good time as ever to be a musician, the choice is simple.

If you love what you do, if you are driven, and if you have enough economic incentive to go on, then do so. If not, stop and find another path or at least try. Seriously, I think it is as easy as that.

The moment I will be sick and tired of fighting for my future in music (including fighting for the next meal, fighting to fix the website which has mysteriously gone down, fighting with venue owners that try any excuse not to pay you, etc.) I will stop and do something else.

Pining for a rosy past doesn't help. Whether or not being a musician 20 or 30 years ago meant getting your pay without sweating it so much is inconsequential and useless. The past might come back one day, but it will likely take decades, if not more.

If the current situation sucked all joy from your professional life, that's it. Move on. Do you think fans care one bit if Joe or Jane Musician find harder to get their cake today? I don't think so. All they care about is listening to great music. Whatever gets in the way of you providing that hurts your business. Spending 1 second complaining means spending 1 less second rehearsing, chilling, finishing that newsletter, checking that job ad.

As for professionals losing their job to amateurs who want to do it for free, two thoughts:

1. Some professionals *are* amateurs. They might get paid for what they do, but that doesn't make you a professional in any other way than "dictionary definition".

Singers who don't even know their vocal range or their preferred tonalities. Drummers that believe that the world revolves around them because they can keep time on 4/4 time signature. Guitar players not preparing their solos because "it's jazz, MAN!". Bass players sightreading at rehearsal because "I just have to play roots anyway, and I was way too busy to rehearse the material at home".

With "professionals" like these, no surprise kids just out of the guitar hero academy gets hired. At least they have plenty of friends that come screaming to see their pretty faces on stage.

If your act is REALLY professional, you will get hired.

2. Not every musicians gets his money by performing. Teaching pays really well, too. If you have 30 years of experience, maybe you can get some money by passing on the experience. Mozart did it, and I can't see why you and I should be snobbish about it.

As for Europe being the land of musical and artistic appreciation: I have heard that fairy tale more than once, from Americans. It's poppycock. If the stereotype is that Americans only care about the bottom line of any artistic endeavour, then Europeans only care about its fashionability (if that's a word).

In other words, if you're in, you're in. If not, good luck. Please notice that you have zero saying in what is in, 99% of the time.

Europe is also the land of "wanna play for 5 quids and a beer, lad?" or "what, you're an artist... are you not ashamed of thinking about selling your cds at the venue? it prostitutes your music!".

Italy, in particular is a place where the Italian Paul Anka can perform with a so-so jazz band and suddenly become jazzier than Nat King Cole.

If this sounds like a greener pasture, then, let's swap passports and come and see for yourself.

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Mas

Suzanne, it's not a question of playing 'the role of celebrity' - if you have success in pop music you become a celebrity; even a plaid wearing unassuming Canadian wood chopper like Neil Young is a celebrity. They go together, fame and pop success.

Yes, a lot of people ('fans') want to be famous and maybe try via the internet, flooding the normal filters.

But there is still a route to success and fame in pop music which is largely controlled by the major labels and TV stations and, especially in the UK, by print media which continues to work.

This exists outside of the internet as well as using a large, corporate presence on the web.

Technology hasn't replaced the major labels - they still make millions and the new labels (bear in mind, a lot of the majors come, originally from TV or radio or publishing companies) like Google and Youtube are doing very well, ta very much.

March 20 | Registered CommenterTim London

I think we're talking about two different worlds: the celebrity world driven by the major labels, and the working musician who never was going to be signed by a major label and has always had to find ways to make a living at this.

UNLESS, you are saying that most musicians wouldn't become musicians without the hope of becoming a celebrity and in order to do that, they must aspire, at some level, to a major label contract.

I'm not sure, though, if that is the case for all musicians. Some get into music via school bands and learn jazz, for example, And then maybe they become musicians-for-hire. Do you think they, too, only took up an instrument to become a pop star? Or what about kids who learn bluegrass and old time music from their parents? They are outside the pop/celebrity system, too, aren't they?

Personally, I think those who want to become celebrities will take any avenue to become celebrities. They don't necessarily have to pursue music to do that.

Yep this is ALL true god damn it jeejee ... seriously now: i agree with this particular reality. I was struggling for almost 10 years now ... do i get something in return. regardless the love about been musician?? Hell NO...I have been playing bass guitar, piano, violin, keyboard and clarinet for many years in many bands and get no attention. i Love playing but now im married and i have a daughter ... well i cant afford to be full time musician so i get a half time job, it sucks you know but i cant raise a family with "musician" budget!!! sorry for my crappie english... Best regard from Argentina... far far away!!!!

March 21 | Unregistered CommenterWalter F. Sosa

My 2¢, coming to the party late. Suzanne & I have fairly similar views on "then" vs "now" & rather than try to address all the points everyone has made, I'll just make a couple of points from my personal experience.

1: When I began playing for money, here in the Midwest of the USA, I knew literally dozens, maybe even a couple of hundred, full-time musicians. The live music scene has changed, & now I don't know any. (Well, 2, if you count Rick & Bun E. from Cheap Trick.) We can speculate & spout opinions until the sun collapses as to the "why" but it won't change that fact. (But I will bet there are a few places in the US where a good musician can still earn a living playing live. I just don't believe they are common, as they once were.)

2: Bob's right when he say's it's always been tough. But "back in the day" the way you overcame the challenges was to hone your skills as a musician. This took time, & not many people were willing to put the time in, so there was a smaller pool of talent at the level where buyers were willing to part with their money. Today, due to technology, anyone can make a recording with "band-in-a-box" type tools, auto-tune their vocals, & appear to be far more talented than they actually are. So now, we have a huge pool of music makers (whether real musicians or "programmers," for lack of a more concise term) putting product out to the buying public, plus we compete against X-box, 32 screen movie theaters, 500 channels of cable, unlimited channels of internet entertainment, iPhone apps, laser tag, & who knows what else that did not exist when I entered the music industry. Which means the law of supply & demand kicks in. Bottom line: it IS tougher than it used to be.

Are there more opportunities? Yes. Are there enough to make up for all the new music makers? No. But all this means is we will have a higher hobbyist-to-pro ratio than we did once upon a time. It's kind of like blacksmiths; when the "horseless carriage" came around many lost their livelihood, and were very vocal about it, others adapted & learned how to fix automobiles. Today there are very few blacksmiths, but millions of car mechanics, both hobbyist & pro.

If we want to make a living as musicians we need to find the way to adapt, like the blacksmiths that became mechanics. The problem is this: no one really knows what we musicians can do to consistently replace the income that disappeared with the changes. Lots of guys on the web making money from us by selling us books, down-loadable training sessions, memberships, etc., that offer ideas & theories, but no one has a proven track record with any of it. And things change so fast now anyway that something that worked last year may not work today. Plus, something that works now for me may not work for you; locale, genre, personality, etc all factor into it.

On one side we have the cheerleaders shouting "It's better now than it ever was!" while they turn a blind eye to all the hurdles & losses that came with these new opportunities. On the other side we have the cynics hollering "Give us back the old days! It sucks now!" while they refuse to embrace change. Yet both are right, and both need to acknowledge the others' views.

Me? I know how it was, but I can't afford the luxury of wallowing in the past, and I don't see the "promised land" yet, so I'm barging ahead without fear, grace, or much luggage. I'll write when I get there.

March 24 | Unregistered CommenterClark Colborn

To Clark and everyone who has posted such great comments ... Thanks for sharing your perspective. I agree with much of it.

But I will address one issue related to this remark:

"Lots of guys on the web making money by selling us books, downloadable training sessions, memberships, etc., that offer ideas & theories, but no one has a proven track record with any of it."

That last part is simply NOT true. At the end of my post I link to four artists who ARE indeed making a full-time living with a proven track record. The "many more" link goes to a page where Ariel Hyatt features 10 artists succeeding in today's digital era.

If you're talking about "authors" with a proven track record, then you haven't seen David Nevue's book that details how he's been making a good living with music for the past decade. Details at

The examples above are only a small sampling of musicians doing very well in today's environment. And they are making it happen by living the principles that I and other teachers include in our books, training sessions, etc.

It's easy to be cynical about authors like me who are "selling the dream" (or however you choose to spin it) and state that there's no proof that this stuff works. But the examples of real music people doing well in a very concrete way are plentiful. You just have to look for them.

Is full-time status easy to attain just because there are lots of examples to prove that it can be done? No. It takes a rare combination of traits and skills to make it happen. And the majority will continue to struggle.

But it IS possible -- and more musicians are "proving it" every day.

March 26 | Registered CommenterBob Baker

To Bob: Please don't think I'm taking a shot at you. You may remember I was at the bootcamp event you did in St Louis a few years ago, & I got a few good ideas from the event, and Tom Jackson was excellent. Nor am I denying the existence of full-time musicians in the current environment. The main points I hoped to make were just these: 1 - While it has always been difficult to have a career in music, at one time it was simpler, and more musicians could do it. (And please don't confuse "simple" with "easy." While it is simple to swim the English Channel - just jump in & start swimming until you get to the other side - it is not easy.) and 2 - it is much more complex & difficult today. But I am not saying this is exclusive to musicians; I know doctors & lawyers, engineers, IT experts, & more that say the same thing: it was simpler 30 years ago than it is now.

I'm also not implying that many of the strategies people are using don't work, I'm saying that even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in while. Just because something worked once, or even 10 times, for someone in a totally different situation than you, over a year or more ago, does not mean it will work for you, right now.

When you have literally millions of musicians trying to use Facebook (or whatever) as their "breakout" tool, and 15 success stories, those are pretty miserable odds. Plus, by the time the vast number of artists hear about a unique way of getting noticed, literally millions of others are going down that same path.

When I say "no one has a proven track record" I'm not speaking of musicians, but of the online guys selling thinly disguised, old school marketing methods shoe-horned into a "new media" box. I see guys selling "systems" for hundreds of dollars that contain information that may have worked to a small degree 10 years ago, but are worthless today. They will hold up the same handful of success stories as proof that their system works. And most of these "success stories" are artists that built a huge level of visibility under the old major label system, and have gone independent.

Once there were guys like Phil Spector & Neil Bogart, who had systems that worked. They could take raw talent & create stars, and there were a bunch of them with systems once upon a time. They had proven track records. Gold & platinum, in fact. But that era is gone now, no question. There are no "new media" experts with those kinds of track records, and while there are a few, like you, that are truly trying to help find some paths for musicians, there are many more that look at the "how-to" industry as a way to cash in on desperate wannabes. I would just caution people to be careful about throwing money at self-proclaimed "Svengali" types in search of a panacea.

I guess the other point I'm trying to make is that each & every one of us will need to find our own way. I don't mean struggle on without help, I mean, realize that whatever bits of useful info we get may need to be bent & molded to our own unique situation. Don't hang your hat totally on the "new media," for instance. Use it, but use it in a way that works for you. I know a couple guys in Chicago that are earning modest livings as full-time musicians, and both of them have backed way down on the amount of time they spend online. Both saw their income rise once they did that & put effort into other areas. But your situation may be the reverse. Just stay fluid, observe & adapt. And be careful who you give your money to.

By the way, Bob, I see you have a 365 day money-back offer on your new book. That's a nice touch, & that's why I think your heart is in the right place. And I realize that today, no one is (probably) going to be able to develop a system that worked like the ones from the old-school days, because they worked on a rarity-exclusivity model that just isn't possible today. The other thing I completely understand is that we each need to measure success on our own terms, which I am doing. My guess is that in the future we will again have a good sized musical "middle class," but it's going to have nearly as many variations as there are musicians in it.

I'm headed there now. I'll write when I get work. ;-)

March 30 | Registered CommenterClark Colborn

Saying that there's no need for real musicians because everybody is doing music is like saying there's no need for restaurants because everybody is learning how to cook. :-)

April 4 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Well written article. The only thing I have to say is, from my 20 or so years in the music biz, I've noticed most of the "empowered doers" are terrible songwriters. And the victimized complainers tend to be tragically brilliant.

April 11 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua Path

I'm glad so many people are passionate about this issue. Music has always been a part of my life. I'm a guitarists and music is my life. I see a lot of guys faking it all the way to the bank which is fine but don't call it music. A lot of guitarists rape and pillage their instruments. Clowns. That's a hard dose of reality for ya. Anyway I love rock n roll. Rock n roll, blues, country, and punk rock is my thing. I ain't faking it. I love how we've hit a home run in the information department but I'm sick of everyone and their grandmother playing 2000 notes per millisecond on the guitar and strutting around like their Jimmy Hendrix reincarnate. Its inorganic and unnatural. To me its so blatantly obvious these people are clowns. Anyway have fun wasting your life monkey brains. I'm a man and you ain't taking my pride away.

January 15 | Unregistered Commentermatt

I ended up here doing a search for making a living playing music. Very informative discussion. seems a 50/50 take on the issue, but it was a very interesting read.

August 16 | Unregistered CommenterRay

'Man's got a point. Music probably will be a good hobby 5-10 years from now. The music industry has drastically changed,and I'm not just talking about mainstream. We all know of "the domino effect". One thing changes,and everything changes. I believe that the internet has a lot to do with the drastic changes within the last decade or two. Some of this change may be good, but of course it will have it's negatives. When I was a little kid, I used to think I wanted to be a rockstar. Of course it changes when you mature. You start thinking more rationally and learning more about reality. It isn't all that simple,and quite honestly, I don't think it's all worth the effort unless you KNOW what you want to pursue, but I digress. This article I agree with too. So I'm somewhat on the fence with this one.

October 23 | Unregistered CommenterTy

Great post Bob.

October 24 | Unregistered CommenterThe Ster

Good discussion. Here's been my experience: Started as a bassist in 1990 and continued for
10 years until year 2000 when I quit playing in bands and became a solo singer/songwriter. As of 2012, I have 3 CD's of original music mixing jazz,blues,Latin, swing, folk, instrumental guitar and country influences. Basically background music. While a bassist, my income was solely dependent on what the band leader was paying. Mostly cover band material and just once was I in a band that had a CD. Band politics, immaturity levels among band members, and just the right combination of talent, luck, determination and believing in what we were doing prevented success.

Now that I'm in complete control of bookings, writing material and when to put it out, I can now creatively pursue a career in music. All my songs are registered with SESAC. Similiar to BMI and ASCAP. Cost nothing. Now, everytime I book a gig, I report to SESAC where I performed by going to my account and listing the original songs I played and 3 months later I get a check for what they call "Performance Royalites which SESAC collects from places like restaurants, hotels, etc.. because I've given SESAC the legal right to collect on my behalf. That's not including what the restaurant pays me to play live each evening. Registering with BMI and ASCAP is free. If you're a songwriter, definitely look into that.
As a solo artist, I can take risks playing in a variety of venues with most not being typical live music venues. Festivals, retirement communities, grocery stores, outdoor markets.
I've gotten very good at finding those places that maybe people haven't thought of having a musician but they have the one thing that all musicians need: People!! Wherever people are is a possible fan of your music. They just need to hear you. Now, this is assuming you've done your homework in assessing your own music and determining where it fits and most importantly, where it doesn't. Obviously if you play loud music, you don't belong in a grocery store setting or retirement community.

I have a friend who is a bassist, drummer and producer. He doesn't write his own material. He plays in several bands sometimes as a drummer and others as a bassist but he's always working. If you're a sideman, then working with as many groups as you can will give you the best opportunity to make a living as he does and loves it! I don't play nearly as much as he does but when I do play, I'm playing original stuff.

My music is for sale with ITUNES, and many other online outlets but I don't make as much as I do live. I don't put as much importance on Facebook, My Space, etc though I have them.
I'm at my best when I'm in front of other humans! And if that's all it will ever be, then I'm happy.

November 8 | Registered CommenterVictor Andrada

i do not agree, the late 80s to mid 90s if you were good, damn good,, you got picked up.... whether you lasted was up to the music and fans, but if you knew what you were doing and was a good strong band , you got picked up... sure if you lived in a ho-buck town or never tried to promote meet people/the general bizz aspect ,,, your toast ... and lots of bands that did sign with labels had and have to sue.....later, but cds were the way,,, it was actual product with character, that people bought, not to mention the economy was much better, and people would shell out real $$ for there bands.....

December 11 | Unregistered Commentergg

how many of you freaking people actually gig? most of what i hear on here is just bullshit. i make my living playing music. i'm one of the lucky ones.
have you played more than 100 paying gigs? if not, piss off.
look, the biz has been better and been worse, depends on the angle. being a musician has never been good, it's something poor people did.
so much bullsh*t on the internet. it's redonkulous.
are things good now? no.
are they trying to f#ck you. yes.
has it ever been any different. no.

i will gig till i die. it is who i am and what i do, but seems like there are a lot of stupid kids spouting off on here.
oh, right. not a news flash.
ok, last rant ever on these message boards, it's just newbs and marketers.

just a note to all those idiots that think this is great new world, once you have to stop sucking on momma and dadda teets and do it yourself, you may wake up. it's not a brave new world, we've just traded the old boss for the new boss.
now, i make a living playing music. about 40 grand a year, for the past 10 years. if you don't know how good that is for a real musician, then you don't know this business.

just sick of hearing, by mental munchins, how much better it is now that music has no value. that the solution is to tour and sell t-shirts. that's stupid. stupid.
do the math. f' that. do the tour. and then next and the next, and then tell me about how awesome selling t-shirts is.

most of these articles are written by semi or non musicians. peeps, we got to stop listening to this. don't think the tech crowd is any different than a record label. they plan to build their business on your back.
and they have. what is youtube? it's a video-on-demand channel.

ok. i'm done. yeah, i just got home from gig. yeah, i had a bunch of beers. yeah, i made money tonight. good money, too, but all this internet stuff is freakin irritating.
(i'm not braggin, btw. 40 grand is nothing to brag about. it's almost poverty in san diego, where i live.)

no one should ever go into music. they will use you, abuse you. and if you become famous, they will crucify you.

isn't that sweet?

do music because you love it.
and that's it.

if you have to play four hours a day, make it happen, if you don't, don't.

do i have the solution? nope.
it'll work out, or it won't.
i've given my life to music, for better and/or worse. f' me, right?
it's cool. got a nice bike, great town, and sweet girlfriend.
way better than afghanastan.

one message.
don't believe the hype.


February 16 | Unregistered Commenterjon

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>