SXSWORLD February 2013


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Flexibility and Self-Promotion Crucial For Today's Working Musician by Linda Laban A D AV I D D O W L I N G mong the many jobs in the music business, none is more difficult to negotiate than being an actual working musician or songwriter, the profession that makes the industry possible. Despite the dramatic reordering that has occurred within the industry, music is more widely sought, with more potential revenue streams than ever before. "The music business is transforming in terms of uses of music rather than where it's sold," says Peter Spellman, director of the Berklee School of Music's Career Development Center. "Those channels seem to be increasing. It takes a different strategy to find those opportunities. Musicians have to expand their ideas of what a music career can be." "There's this rainbow of expressions out there," he adds. "Some musicians do several things each day. One of the most important things is to know how to spin all those plates effectively." There is more good news for artists, too: big corporations no longer pair product with only recognizable A-Listers. "In the '90s, it was only the branded superstars who got the opportunity," says Kristin Thomson, co-director of the Future of Music Coalition's Artist Revenue Streams project. "But now there's more willingness to have something fresh that's more obscure. More bands participate in these revenue streams now. Unless you're an orchestra player or a session musician who is paid directly for knowledge and skill, musicians today depend on a bigger variety of things." JESSICA KOURKOUNIS Bleu Kristin Thomson Good business sense and, perhaps most important of all, flexibility are keys to being a working musician. Los Angeles-based artist Bleu is typical of the growing musician middle class, which occupies the ground between the starving artist and the superstar. After losing his major label deal, Bleu kept his own musical career afloat by social media, connecting directly with his fan base. He uses sites like PledgeMusic to fund recording projects. More important, he is comfortable being behind the scenes as well, writing and producing for people such as Demi Lovato, Chris Mann and Meatloaf. "I make most of my living by producing and writing for other artists. That's my bread and butter," says Bleu. "For my next album, I'm doing a fan funding campaign through pre-orders. So I'm pre-selling a good 44 SXSWORLD / FEBRUARY 2013 chunk of the work I'm doing for the next year. But if I were just living off my artist career, it would be a real struggle. As it is, I do quite well, and I do work that I love." Though technology has changed the way people acquire music, the music business still revolves around a good song. "Traditionally, there were four main areas where artists could make money," says Thomson. "Recorded music was the real linchpin of artists' revenue pies. They also made money on the road and through performance royalties and merchandise. Those still exist today," she adds. "The value of a piece of recorded music, even if it's not at the top of the food chain now, is still important. It can generate licensing money or can be in a movie, and all this can lead to more branding." The music business revenue pie might be bigger, but, as with any 21st century marketplace, there are more people grasping for a slice. According to a Future of Music Coalition study, touring, a traditionally strong revenue stream (albeit one that's loaded with out-of-pocket expenses) can account for as much 48% of a rock band's income. "Income from live performance has always been an important part of revenue, but what we found most recently, is that there's more competition," says Thomson. "There are more and more bands on tour and depending on this revenue stream because it has been consistently available. It's shifting, not just because of technology, but because there's more bands relying on touring." "It's a brave new world," admits Bleu. "A lot of new bands are realizing that they have to be concerned with more than just making the music. Self-marketing becomes a part of how a band can survive and move forward. There are a lot more people making music and coming out with records. But I think there are more opportunities for bands to have a viable career, though probably only a small one." "There are thousands of musicians who make a living and have benefits," says Spellman. "There are employed musicians in orchestras or on Broadway shows. But the majority of artists do it freelance, and it isn't easy. The myth is that freelancing lets you be your own boss, but the reality is that you have many bosses and you have to report to every one of them and deliver every step of the way." ■

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