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Transformative Vs Incremental Change

OK, I’m going to try and explain why Big Music genuinely doesn’t get what’s happening with the online stuff. It’s easy to dismiss the thoughts coming out about ‘3 Strikes Laws’, and Bit Torrent being to blame for the death of musicians’ livelihoods etc. as being a bunch of really rich people want to keep their massive piece of the pie - and there is some of that, for sure. But there’s also an entire way of thinking that explains why they feel the way they do. 

The problem is to do with the difference in response required between transformative change, and incremental change. 

Sticking with the music industry, let’s have a look at some examples of both, starting with incremental change:

The invention of cassettes, and 8-track cartridges was an incremental change - suddenly there were more ways of selling hard copies of recorded music. More places to play them, new machines needed, new possibilities for the length of music that could be issued in a single entity (90 minute cassettes were pretty standard, and some enterprising labels took to reissuing 2 albums as one on cassette, thus breathing new life into back catalogue.)

The same happened again with CD - more incremental change - the chance to pretend it was higher resolution than vinyl (a lie) that it was indestructable (a lie) and that you could take it anywhere with you (true). CDs were a breath of life to a fairly static industry - suddenly, all the people who were teenagers in the 70s at the dawn of stadium rock were now successful 30-somethings with disposable cash and a deeply fragile sense of self. Also business was the new rock ‘n’ roll, so hi-fis cropped up in offices, and needed things to play. Result? Brothers In Arms. 

What about transformative change? How about the invention of recorded music. Before that, as the wonderful Andrew Dubber keeps reminding us, sheet music ruled the roost. You wanted to hear music? you or your friends had better learn to play it. Or you went to a concert. Concerts featuring ‘stars’ were prohibitively expensive, so very few people ever got to hear the ‘real deal’. That didn’t matter. Music was magical, everybody played and sang, and lives were enriched by it. 

When recordings came along, it all changed. Lots of previously burgeoning industries shrank to the point of collapse. The piano/pianola business crashed - who the hell wanted a player-piano when they could listen to the greats? (issues of sound quality were clearly hard to argue back then too…) And the sheet music industry slumped. 

Why was it transformative? Because it wasn’t a tilt in either direction - it wasn’t more or less of what was happening, it was a completely new, new industry, new infrastructure, new sales pyramid, new shops needed, new factories, new careers, new artists, new medium. NEW EVERYTHING!

When you take an industry that has 4 big costs - recording, manufacture, distribution, promotion - and remove 3 of them, that changes everything. All the assumptions about how much it costs to make a record, what infrastructure is needed to make a sales team effective, who needs to own the trucks and delivery guys who take your product to shops - they all disappear. They are all now choices that you make, not assumptions.


  • If you don’t want to release CDs or vinyl because the chance of not recouping is too high, don’t. You cut out 2 of your 4 big costs straight away. 
  • If you already have a fan base who love what you do and are willing to talk about it, empower them to do it. You’ve removed another one of your big four. 
  • If you are willing to look at what’s possible with new recording tech instead of moving into Abbey Road for 2 months, you can reduce your 4th cost to a tenth of what it was. 


Advertising is completely broken. Recording tech is better and cheaper than it has ever been, fans are more and more willing to talk about and share your music, and far more happy to buy physical product from you than from a third party. Website merch is easy to do, either in short run, big order or even one-offs. 

The record industry before the internet was built on the assumption that to have a chance of making it ‘big’, you needed to have deep pockets to risk the kind of gambling collateral needed to have a shot at being in the 0.1% who ended up rich. The labels funded their gambling by owning the services they were charging you for, by keeping you in debt so they didn’t have to pay you, by keeping product prices artificially high, and by perpetuating myths about what it was that we all wanted and needed, as both artists and consumers. 

Everything has changed. If you look at the current possibilities as an incremental change to the industry - that is, if you see the infrastructure as still being the same, and see MP3s as ‘invisible CDs’, you are truly truly screwed. It’s awful. That’s why the industry says ‘the sky is falling’. They aren’t willing to let go of that old infrastructure. 

If you see the real changes, throw all the cards in the air, and realise that instead of hundreds of artists making millions of pounds, we can how have millions of artists making hundreds of pounds (and a straight, shallow line on the curve up from there), we’re all in good shape.

Music-world doesn’t need millionaires to be significant - music doesn’t change my life based on the wealth of the artists - and Simon Cowell will make sure that there are plenty of clueless, talentless, dressed-up, fame-hungry disasters for people who really don’t care but just want an inoffensive noise to soundtrack their day. He’s good at that. The success of X-Factor - which, like Lily Allen’s career, has started and grown post-Bit Torrent - proves there’re still macro-industrial processes at work in the world of music. They just don’t concern us any more. We can make the music we love, and make it available to our audience without debt or bogus mythology. 

And of course, when our careers naturally grow to the point where we need all that help, we can still hire touring professionals, and radio pluggers and designers and CD pressing plants, and agents and everything. The difference is now that it can be a straight line. It’s not the pole vault any more, where to have a shot you need a million dollar pole the breaks if you miss the bar. You climb the hill, slowly, normally, without any of the life-shocks that instant fame brings. And you, YOU make the decisions, based on what you and your music need.

Fame is the downside to success. Don’t be taken in by a dead industry that doesn’t care about your music, but instead wants you to be famous. Consider the transformation, and you’ll be reaching for the shades.

Reader Comments (30)

Very well said. And if you doubt any of the above, check out the new movie "Pirate Radio" and see how the innovators of *their* day steered around governmental and other control points nurture an amazing and engaged fan base.

In the fourty years since then, labels have moved over to side with government in their determination to maintain control, and the result is that many of the forces that *did* work so well in the 1960s have been disabled: there are no "international waters" for the internet.

Rock and roll!

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Tiemann

Nice post Steve! I appreciate the insights and opinions you give here as they open my eyes more towards how the music industry was before this era and how things worked back then and how much it actually has not changed: that innovation and change is always met with prejudicial over protective jealousy. It also brings to light that the major interest of the established publishing companies are *not* the welfare of the artist although that is what they say in all parts of their campaign to preserve the status quo of the previous music record industry model.


November 15 | Registered CommenterEndy Daniyanto

thanks, guys,

Michael, I haven't see Pirate Radio yet, will look out for it. Sounds interesting.



November 15 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

Firstly, I think your basic premise is incorrect ... Big Music DOES understand what's happening with the online stuff...Big time.

Those who don't fully understand what's going on are artists who embark on careers in music believing they have a chance of being the next Bruce Springsteen or any other artist you can name that has had a long lasting, creatively productive, financially rewarding career.

The days of the mega star are behind us. As soon as the old war horses and their audiences die off ... stadium, arena and other large venue shows are a thing of the past - and that's in the not too distant future I might add.

Certainly by engaging all of the techniques you suggest artists may bring themselves to a level or eking out a meager living ... but, how long will they be able to maintain their creative vitality, their youth and their relevance and hold on to a fan base that votes with their delete key and moves like a school of fish from whim to whim to whim... from one YouTube thrill to the next.

There is no long term loyalty in the digital music space.

Once tomorrow's potential artists get the 'memo' that there is no future in pursuing a career in music... how long will it be before seriously gifted people stifle whatever hopes and dreams their predecessors might have had and elect non musical endeavors for the life's work.

Let's seriously consider what the reality of tomorrow's musicians (those who hang in there) is actually going to be if they wish to try to maintain a career in music.

1. 40 years of juggling all the middle man stuff yourself .. or paying someone else to do it.
2. Being creative and relevant ... and 22 ... for the entire 40 years.
3. Dealing with real life issues ... like family, health care, retirement funding ....
4. Playing crappy little or mid sized gigs for club owners and promoters out to screw you...
5. Paying to get yourself to gigs where you might wind up not getting paid...
6. Being forced to give away all of your music in a futile attempt to maintain a fickle 'fan' base
7. Being on your own to track, license & collect from those who use your music for profit
7. Winding up with nothing to show for your 40 years including few, if any, who know who you are or remember or care about what you did..

Believe me I'm not advocating bringing back the good old days ... they are gone. We are now in a world that no longer includes an opportunity for musicians to move beyond mediocre success.

That's the way it is. Life goes on.

Believe me Big Music gets it.

It's now time for artists to wake up and delete the concept of super stardom from their wish list and plan their lives accordingly .

The opportunity to hit it big is gone with the digital wind.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez


not surprisingly (given that I wrote the article) I disagree with you - not just about Big Music getting it (I've seen precious few actions that demonstrate any level of transformative awareness - lots that seek to 'monetize' digital music, but none that seek to move outside of the current infrastructure. Rebranding half your marketing team as 'online marketing' is not transformative. Neither is running ads on myspace instead of in Q Magazine.)

But I also don't recognise anything transformative in the language you use to describe the bits that we get to keep - what has 'youth' got to do with it? I'm not 22, don't feel 22, don't behave think or play like I did when I was 22... and all of those things are good. There's nothing about my 'youth' that I wish I still had when it comes to being a musician.

And why the leap from Bruce Springsteen to 'eking out a meagre living'? As though that's all we've got - trying to be a mega-star was NEVER a smart move from a business point of view, and was pretty shabby motivation if you had any hope of maintain a career. I'd suggest that the exact opposite of what you say is true - that it was never viable to aim for super-stardom - that was always the myth peddled by big music to justify the over-spending that kept most artists in debt.

Now, the chance is there to build relationships with your audience. I don't see my listeners vanishing in any numbers - I wrote about the difference between those members of my audience that I was in contact with and those I wasn't a while back, talking about the different between 'Primary And Secondary Audience' - my primary audience grows, steadily, and keeps coming back to buy the next record. They book me for house concerts - something I can continue to do with a family, let alone beyond my 'youth'.

There's no reason why independent artists can't work with publishing companies, promoters, managers - as I mention at the end - this isn't about everything turning into a series of lone ranger musicians - it just means that artists can hire the people they need, and decide who to hire, based on their level of success and the person's track-record, rather than because their label has a deal with them...

The opportunity to 'hit it big' is still there if you're not interested in music, and are happy with lottery-ticket type odds - if you want to be famous, there are TV Talent shows, and still a steady supply of corporate tie-ins in the Hannah Montana vein. That big entertainment side of things will always be there. But they are no longer even remotely connected to the industry that we're in. A lot of our audience don't really see it as the same thing any more.

You tell me that Big Music gets it, but I see no evidence of that at all, and endless quotes from people in that world telling me that the world has gone to shit and everything is terrible for them. We're told that artists are starving, no-one's making money from recorded music and times is hard for a 'umble multi-national. All of that tells me they don't get it at all.

The people I've met who were in Big Music who get it have all jumped ship. Many of them are involved in fascinating new music projects...

None of your 8 points are things that concern me - the idea that big venues are better than small is nonsense, I've NEVER had trouble getting paid for gigs, have learned loads of useful skills along the way to running my music career, and had loads of help (and have given lots of help to others in trade), I don't have a measurably fickle fan-base, they're surprisingly loyal.

I make more money, spend more time with people care about, eat better, sleep in more comfortable beds and play in nicer places doing house concerts than I ever did playing club or big theatre venues.

I've played the Royal Albert Hall and I've played in people's living rooms. Seriously, I'll take the latter any day.

Your assumptions about what the rewards are for a career in music are all things I decided were bogus years ago, and anyone who plays music to get those things has ALWAYS been nuts, not moreso now than in the 70s and 80s. Aiming to be a star has destroyed a thousands times more great musicians than it has liberated, and the label system that peddles that as the aim is still there, and still complaining about file-sharing rather that seeing it as an opportunity.

So yeah, not surprisingly, I don't see it the way you do.

November 15 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

Excellent - and clearly very well considered - post.

I maintain that the availability to access music digitally across the internet has increased my purchases of (legal) music: has probably prompted me to spend £30 in the last month.

It is a different channel, and it needs a different business model. Restricting people's access - and making them criminals in the process - really isn't going to help.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

Tonso, it sounds like you're having a really shitty career so far -- sorry to hear that.

Me, I've been having a very different experience so far. Sure, I've lost a lot of money doing this, and I don't have any income to show for it, but that's because I'm stubborn and slow. I don't have any external blame to dole out, and I also look forward to the future. (There might be a connection there.)

We are now in a world that no longer includes an opportunity for musicians to move beyond mediocre success.

I'm baffled by that one...mostly at how you logistically manage to have your hands covering your eyes AND your ears at the same time. Do you use some sort of helmet?

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

What an excellent summary of the state of play for those of us who aren't teenage pop-moppets with suspiciously straight 'n' white teeth.

I like it. In fact, to quote Zaphod Beeblebrox in THHGTTG, "that's so amazingly amazing I think I'd like to steal it" (page 38 in my copy). Or link to it on FaceBook. Something of that nature.

Tonso - I'm sorry if you feel that huge stardom (& possibly the attendant "celebrity lifestyle") appears to you to be out of reach...but a version of it is *still* possible, if that's what you're after.

Take the Finnish "symphonic metal/neo-classical metal/er...METAL!" band, Amberian Dawn. I first encountered them on MySpace when they had fewer than 1,000 "friends". That's now almost 15,000. Primarily through their own efforts, utilising t'internet as a means of self-publicising, putting out demo's, etc. Once they got over a certain 'critical mass', they were offered a mainstream deal - but again, it's on their (far more modest) terms, not "here's wads of cash, now you owe your lives to us, rock monkeys (insert evil cackle for effect)".

They're touring, making videos, etc. The whole "rock star" thang. Of course, it helps being in an easily-defined genre, but then it also helps to be good at what you do. And clearly enough people think they are, all because of the effort they put in at the start, and the reduction in Steve's "Four Big Costs".

I know, wearing all that leather 'n' Goth gear is probably a bit of a hassle sometimes, but it's a small price to pay, really... :-)

All the best from someone who probably won't even make "hundreds" any time soon. But is enjoying the process anyway...

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Gilmour

Steve great post - This sums up the reality of big music so well. They don't get it because they don't want to get it - they don't want to get change because it removes all kinds of benefits THEY get and their artists don't!.

The million dollar pole for those successful, nine times out of ten landed you in the debt 'trap' that has remained for many recording artists for years! Gambling/Record biz and Banking have a lot in common as the world in general now should realize.

I'm reluctant to use the word 'famous' but no doubt in the future we will see artists who will have significant success because they have embraced the reality of NEW EVERYTHING and will have still employed the remaining more traditional promotion methods ie in the live music arena.

As someone the wrong side of 50 (if sticking with the old way) who has spent most of my life involved in the business of music I embrace the NEW EVERYTHING and am glad to be rid of the debt 'trap' of my youth!

I look forward to the success of those young artists and songwriters that is just around the corner in the NEW EVERYTHING world where the record biz of the past will no longer exist,,,,

November 15 | Unregistered Commenterkevin j ryan

This post is amazing and so are the comments. I get more good stuff from music think tank than almost anywhere else, so THANK YOU for that!

"Also business was the new rock ‘n’ roll, so hi-fis cropped up in offices, and needed things to play." True that! I noticed that in the mid-90s when I got my first day job. I thought, wait, when did it get cool to be a yuppie? However, the point is not the value judgment so much as astutely watching (listening) to how music permeates society in different ways over time. Of course, we're still figuring out how it's working today, at this very moment. I find it somewhat silly that people in a recession are seemingly so obsessed with iPhones and such but on the other hand if that enables them to play my music and buy my songs then more power to them. Sort of a digression but anyhoo...

Thanks. I am going to reread your piece now!

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterAlexa Weber Morales

Hey, Steve ... Good on ya mate.

Have you built a little nest egg for retirement? Health care? Gonna have a few bucks to leave to the wife and kids when you start booking living room concerts in the sky?

Look, I'm agreeing with you. I think you have attained about as much as any future artist can hope to attain. I think you are a roll model.

I'm hoping every potential artist absorbs everything you are doing, emulates you and will be satisfied with the results. Because, in this new world, what you've achieved is about all they can ever hope to achieve.

Every new artists needs to remove pie in the sky dreams from his or her thought process ... that's all I'm saying.

P.S. To Justin ... Actually I've been very fortunate with respect to my music career ... I've had all of the serendipitous breaks anyone could ever hope for. Serendipity, however, that used to be convertible to long term careers, has left the building. I'm glad I got mine before it left.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez


I know a lot of musicians making a lot more money than me, completely independently. I'm a solo bass player - before I started my career there were, as far as I could tell, less than 10 solo bass players on the planet making money. Now I know hundreds. Most aren't making a living from it, but many are making part of a living from it. And the ones that are signed to labels? Still those same 6 or 7 that were doing it in the 90s.

I'm still not sure what you mean by 'pie in the sky dreams', assuming that these are something that was ever attainable. What was previously a 'good thing' for musicians to pursue, but is now 'pie in the sky'? Cos stardom has ALWAYS been a lottery win, and never statistically mappable to talent/impact/whatever... it's always been about marketability. Occasionally that crossed over with great music. I wrote a bit about the statistics behind this in another blog post recently.

I can see LOADS of very obvious steps that an artist can take to build up a following that would lead to them having a very tidy living from music. Your metrics of 'what's important' don't really mean anything to be, as I live in a country with free health care... I'm earning enough, as much as I want/need to earn, and certainly would change any of what I'm doing just to earn more.

I'm not sure what you're arguing against here - given that we're at the start of something, you're suggesting there is no 'potential' - which it seems to me can only possibly be an outcome of incremental thinking. If you see the changes as transformative, then the 'potential' for an entire new industry and scale of success to emerge is not only possible but highly likely, given the place that music holds in our culture.

If I can earn a decent living as a solo bass player, and have a sustainable recording and gigging career, playing the most niche of niche musics, the potential for singer/songwriters, bands, jazz artists, classical performers, folk artists, people performing music from non-western cultures is HUGE. It can only get better from here on in.

I'll meet you back here in 30 years, and we'll see what's happened in the interim...

November 15 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

Tonso, I was reading way too much into your negative language about gigs -- apologies. Been a great discussion, I've enjoyed reading all 5 sides as much as the original article, which was outstanding. MTT has been a very successful experiment.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Again, Steve... I'm with you ...

I just want to be sure that musicians don't enter the business - as I did - hoping to hit it big... which was not an unusual thought process when the opportunity existed.

It was a dream that offered a way out of the ghetto ... a way to a better life ... a way to leave your creative mark on the world that would last long after you were gone ... and a way to provide something for your heirs. (True that odds were 95 to 5 against any of that happening.)

I came from that school. I got lucky.

For better or worse, that opportunity I had is now off the table. And, there's is no way to bring it back.

Tomorrow's artists will have to work their asses off, as you do, to make it to the middle ... then bust their butts to maintain what they have achieved until they are forced to drop out by whatever hand life deals them ... usually with no residual financial benefits and little, if any, recognition for their accomplishments.

I just want all new artists to realize that any of the music industry axioms that existed in the past no longer apply. That if their dream is to be the next Bruce Springsteen or Beatles - ain't gonna happen. Ever.

I would like them to get real, face the world as it is... and, get on with their lives after making a rational assessment as to whether of not making music as a profession should be a part of it.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

...if their dream is to be the next Bruce Springsteen or Beatles - ain't gonna happen. Ever.

I disagree because human culture creates those legends, and human culture demands new ones every generation. We're in a transitional phase but there will absolutely be superstars like that again. I don't see how even the most disruptive technological change is going to alter human culture so much that we don't crave New Gods.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Tonso, I think we're all a little confused when you lament about all the poor folks who will have to work their asses off to get to the "middle" of the music industry.... as if in the past working your ass off actually had a greater chance of moving a musician anywhere above the bottom!

But that aside, I think Tonso gets at an important question that we all need to take seriously. That is, in the emerging music business, who represents a "Big Success", and thus a represents a business model that can lead beyond a "middle class" of musicians? What I hear Tonso saying is that no one has, and no one will. And while I disagree with that notion because I see so many potential opportunities and ways to achieve that, I have to admit that I don't think anyone has yet emerged that can be used as an example to prove Tonso wrong.

Radiohead and NIN got famous under the old school model so they don't count. Almost exactly nobody who has name recognition works sans record label.

We can all disagree with what Tonso is saying, but if we can't offer concrete examples proving otherwise, I think we all should admit that the jury is still out. Yes, society wants its gods. But I'm worried that if there isn't a big enough pile of money involved to put them on that pedestal (as there always was in the past), people may simply just look elsewhere.

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Justin wrote: "Tonso, I think we're all a little confused when you lament about all the poor folks who will have to work their asses off to get to the "middle" of the music industry.... as if in the past working your ass off actually had a greater chance of moving a musician anywhere above the bottom!"

My contention is this: When the possibility of catching the brass right existed more truly talented people work harder to try to catch it, therefore insuring that the pool of truly talented people from which consumers had to chose was ever expanding.

Once those who might be gifted with the magical spark of an as yet undeveloped musical talent understand that as far as they might go financially may be the equivalent of working as a store manager at McDonald's, it is likely that most of them will take their father's advice and 'get a real job.'

The result will be a continually shrinking pool of new and exciting talent from which future consumers will be able to choose - a pool likely be engulfed by the cacophony of the ever expanding onslaught of truly talentless wannabes...

November 15 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

Jusitn wrote: "...human culture creates ... legends, and human culture demands new ones every generation."

The problem is, how are we going to find them ... how are we going to build the meme about artists that solidifies a large group of people into a long term interest in any particular artist?

Music is now one of many diversions in our lives... the fact is most people who consume music don't have the time to develop any sort of bond with artists. Bottom line ... with so many other distractions, they no longer have the need to truly care about music.

The biggest inhibitor to developing the next legend is the nature of how we listen to music in the digital age ... rather that one to many (as with radio and TV) we are now one to one ... with everyone making their own playlists and or constructing their own Pandora stations. It's great for consumers but not so great for the developing artist...

Look at it this way ... If an artist has one million hits on YouTube that means one million individuals throughout the world (assuming no gaming) have viewed an artists offering. On the other hand, one radio play in Los Angeles could easily be heard by two million people. Extend that to take in all of the cities and radio stations in the US and millions upon millions of people will have heard the equivalent of that one play... If a song were being played on limited playlist radio stations and rotated endlessly, that song would make billions of impressions before its run was over ... and a meme and an artist's career would have been born.

Today radio and TV are losing audiences meaning their powers to build memes is waning. All of the internet connectivity in the world will never emulate the ability radio and TV had to create needed to turn artists into legends.

That's just the way it is ... there's no turning back.

November 16 | Unregistered CommenterTonsoTunez

>>My contention is this: When the possibility of catching the brass right existed more truly talented people work harder to try to catch it, therefore insuring that the pool of truly talented people from which consumers had to chose was ever expanding.<<<

This I think gets to the heart of where we disagree. I don't think 'talented' people ever played popular music in order to get rich. I think people were convinced that that's why they did it once they got within shouting distance of the bigger labels.

The list of GREAT bands who were together for a decade or so, then got signed had a minor hit ended up in debt and split up in the space of 18 months is so long it makes me want to cry.

The big question is, what kept them going for 10 years? I don't think it was the hope of money. And if it was, it was a false hope, because when the money arrived in the form of an advance, almost all of them blew it, and had all their dreams shattered.

I know a lot of musicians at every level of fame. I've been fortunate enough in both my playing career and as a journalist to spend a lot of time with people I respect talking about what matters. Their happiness or contentedness or satisfaction with what they are doing has almost never been attached to their wealth.

I have, however, met and heard from a few multi-millionaire rockstars who feel hard done by, who feel that 5 million sales following on from 10 million sales is a disaster. A total loss of perspective.

I know of the guitar player in one band that a friend of mine is in. He lives in a five million dollar house in the southern states. The house is paid off. He talks all the time of the kind of house he's going to build 'when he gets rich' - the guy earns a million a year. It's insane. He's not driven by music, he's strangled by money.

The utter wonder of the future is that the millions of musicians who do this because they love music, who play music because they can't not play music, can do it at a sustainable level. Sustainability is at the heart of the transformative element in this. The industry has never been sustainable, it's been speculative, with a 95% casualty rate, and very few long term survivors. More people get rich in Vegas.

Now, all of us can stop pretending that riches are our goal. Or even that doing music full time is our goal - no-one else has to define my goals for me. If my life is light enough that I can sustain myself on music-money, then great. If my interests and passions are bigger than that, I can do both, I can work seasonally without a record label telling me when my 'release date' is. I can choose where and when to play, based on who wants to actually listen, not who wants to sell beer while I play.

You and I agree that super-stardom isn't the way to go. Whats odd is that you once thought it was, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Get onto the MU or the AFM and get some stats on musicians wages through the years. See who's been earning and how. aiming for stardom is like running a market stall so you can one day be Walmart, and in so doing missing everything that's awesome about working in a market.

I don't want my music career to grow. i want it to continue. Under the old rules, that would require me to speculate with two chances - one, I get bigger, 2 I disappear. Now sustainability works. I can keep doing what I'm doing, it keeps paying for itself and paying me, and affording me time to do everything I love. Growth is not a factor in my plans, and I'm 36.

I do know a significant number of musicians who are earning good 6-figure salaries from self-run careers. They have a lil' music empire going on. It works. I don't think they're happier than me, they just got lucky, and the bigger money happened to line up with what they care about. I know musicians who play just for fun and treasure their music time, and I know rock stars who resent every second they spend with an instrument in their hands. And vice versa.

November 16 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

I just added a blog post over at as a kind of addendum to this, called 'Share And Share Alike', if y'all are interested - :)

November 19 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

Thank you for posting this article.
It really made me think about the way I view the industry and realise that to earn a living from music, you don't actually have to be earning millions. That sounds like a pretty obvious statement, but it honestly hadn't occurred to me before.
I think this naïve view of the industry could be because I have grown up (am growing up?) in a time where television shows like The X-Factor present this warped image of the successful musician as someone who is constantly featured in the tabloids, whose duty is to aspire to earn as much as they can, who has been catapulted from a 'nobody' to a major 'star' with a million pound recording contract in mere weeks - even if it'll be a long time before they'll actually see any of the money. Maybe I'm being cynical? But I think there should be less emphasis placed on what a person is earning, and more on the quality of their music and if they are challenging themselves and their fans creatively with each album, or what and who they are being influenced by and how it is helping them to grow as a musician.
I really enjoyed reading the comments too, it was good to hear from both perspectives and prompted me to consider how much I am affected by what I read, and that you need to look at something from both sides before you can get a well-rounded, well-informed opinion.
I hope my 15-year old ramblings made some sense!
Thanks again.

November 20 | Unregistered CommenterClare

Sorry, what I meant was more 'earn much more than they need'.

November 20 | Unregistered CommenterClare

"I think there should be less emphasis placed on what a person is earning, and more on the quality of their music and if they are challenging themselves and their fans creatively with each album, or what and who they are being influenced by and how it is helping them to grow as a musician."

uh...from a FIFTEEN YEAR OLD?!?!

That gives me the distinct feeling that the future of music - heck, civilization - will be just fine, regardless of what direction the music business goes.

Clare, your open-mindedness, critical thinking and ability to articulate your thoughts are extremely refreshing- please continue to be vocal and rock on!!

November 26 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Now sustainability works.

It's always worked. All that's different is that now more people know it works.

I know a local jazz band called Muldoon's. They play once a week in a pub called Macsorleys, and once every two in another called The Thee Judges. They play elsewhere too, and it keeps them in booze and tops up their pensions. They are all over 60, and I imagine 70. One chap in particular has been playing longer than I jhave been alive, and has lived in Germany and the US, playing jazz and living his life.

He doesn't have a twitter account, as far as I'm aware.

November 26 | Registered CommenterThe Boag

Thank you very much.
I think being able to express your opinion in a way which can actually be understood - as opposed to cutting out all the vowels in a word, changing the 'th' sound to 'da', and replacing letters with numbers - is very important if you want people to consider your views and look at them objectively. And might stop people viewing my generation as completely illiterate :)

November 27 | Unregistered CommenterClare

Yes but how do bands get local gigs if the promoters don't know who they are? Even if they have local fans wanting to see them?

November 28 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Hi Bill,

Local gig scenes are almost always strongest when they are band-led - the web allows for a whole other level of band communication, advocacy and support within a scene, whether stylistically, geographically or friendship-defined. I've rarely had any support from local promoters in my music (with a few notable exceptions - one now very successful promoter in the Portsmouth area of England started promoting gigs just to get me shows in his area :) ) - instead, I put my own gigs on, working with other artists and our collective audience to make it work. I've never done a gig for a promoter that required me to sell tickets for them to get paid, or any other kind of pay to play scheme.

Promoting any show used to be an expensive process, encurring all kinds of advertising and print costs for flyers, local press, posters, listings etc... These days, it's possible to actually book and promote a show for nothing, if you find a venue that has space and needs customers and can engage your audience to help spread the word.

I wrote a post recently about bands helping out other bands, entitled 'Share And Share Alike' that explores some of these ideas in terms of bands talking about eachother online, building shared communities by spend time talking about your peers and favourite artists...

November 29 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

Thanks for your reply Steve :)

November 29 | Unregistered CommenterBill

This is sort of tangential, but I came over here from TechDirt. Having never heard of you Steve, I checked out your site. I really like "Blue Planet." I think your new album is going to carry me through the day.

December 21 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

Stephen, thanks for that, it's always lovely to hear from people who are enjoying the tunes :)

December 21 | Registered CommenterSteve Lawson

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