I’ve been presenting radio shows on unsigned music for over two years. One topic that comes up whenever I meet a band is how to “make it”, or failing that just how to make a living. As an unpaid volunteer at two community radio stations, with a parallel challenge of how to make a living from radio presenting, it’s a conversation that I have a lot of interest in.
The solution for me has been very simple. I don’t try to make a living from radio. I earn a living working in technology and pursue radio as an outside passion. As the coveted deals with record labels get fewer and less lucrative, more and more musicians are treating their careers the same way. I rarely meet a band who support themselves with their music alone.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to attend the Scottish Album of the Year Award and interview the winner, RM Hubbert. “Hubby” has been making music for over twenty years and spent three years “in a darkened room eating nothing but chips” retraining on acoustic guitar. Despite his long career and widespread critical acclaim, he told me in the radio interview that he can’t make a living from his music and recommended unsigned bands to “find a better paid career”.
This story is now old news in the music industry. Back in February LL Cool J announced the “end of music” at the Grammy Awards. “There is no money in this sh*t any more, except for sponsorship from fizzy pop companies” he said , elaborating “[…] we now realise that ‘artistic’ values often do not serve the core brand values of fizzy pop makers.”
But the simultaneous rise of the portfolio career, based on part-time work across different sectors and roles, can give musicians greater freedom. Hi-life wedding formed as a band in Taiwan. “It’s a really good scene for artists and musicians” says Davos, one half of the musical duo. “The local scene is really unique. There’s no real market to make money so you’ve got to just do it for the love of it.” The result? Musicians who don’t feel the need to fit into a genre and so can be truly creative.
Further, the lines between professional musician and skilled amateur are blurring. A year ago punkster Amanda Palmer wrote an extremely eloquent open letter on playing music for free, and working with unpaid musicians. She insists that she wouldn’t have been able to achieve the success that she has without having the chance to play unpaid gigs.
The advent of the internet has increased the diversity of music available. More people are listening to more music, but they no longer just listen to the same top 20 singles. The availability of flexible jobs means that rather than one rich mega-band, we can have hundreds of artists who need to work but have time left over to spend making music. Better music.
Feature by Zoe Cunningham