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Musicians - workers or entrepreneurs

Written by Tommi on 22.05.2010 21:37:07

Blog image for entry Musicians - workers or entrepreneurs There was some really good discussion in the comments section of a piece of news at the Rumba-magazine website the other day. Unfortunately for you foreigners it's all in Finnish.

But the gist of it is: (indie) musicians often get paid unbearably bad for playing gigs.

No argument there. I know all my bands are in the lower regions of the interest thermometers and we're happy to make gas money + food + shelter for our gigs and that bands with several times our popularity aren't really much better off either. Most gigs end up grossing you sums that kids in 3rd world sweatshops would be extatic about!

Workers or entrepreneurs?

That all leads us once again to the same pessimistic conclusion I've been dancing around time and again in this blog: music as a profession (in Finland) is a friggin' joke.

Then why are all my arguments in the comments in the article linked above more or less against musicians getting paid better?!

I'm a musician. Not a super-professional one as I make most of my money from other stuff, but nonetheless, I spend a huge portion of my time making music and I'd like to argue that most of the stuff I create does have an audience, albeit not that huge. I wouldn't mind getting paid.

I'm also an entrepreneur and as such I understand the fact that money and employment can't be taken for granted. If I'm not able to provide a service that's worth paying for, I don't have money. If my competitors are willing to provide the same service for cheaper, no money. Plain and simple.

My point-of-view in the matter is pretty much summarized in this thought:
Musicians should regard themselves as entrepreneurs, not workers.

Pretty much the whole point in making music is to be own boss, striving to create a product and / or service that people are willing to pay for. No minimum wage, no unions, no welfare... nothing. You evaluate the market and try to position yourself in the best way possible to get yours.

But the fact of the matter is, that music is insanely over-saturated as a market. There's always someone more-or-less competent willing to do the gig for less money than you. You have to be exceptionally skilled to be worth the kind of money you really need to make a living for one person, let alone a whole band!

An entrepreneur in a hostile market

That's where the high demand for realism kicks in: there's simply not enough money in the market to make ends meet for the insane amount of people operating in it.

That's why I decided early on to learn other things to do. The business side of making non-mainstream music just didn't work.

Still, I'm not saying that musicians shouldn't expect to get paid. Far from it! All I'm saying is that musicians should be harshly realistic about how much money their work is worth.

If the case was that somebody was pulling a fast one by keeping money that belonged to musician, I'd be the first one on the barricades. But from all I know about the Finnish music industry, it's a pretty darn honest circle of people. I will believe that somebody is grabbing more than their fair share once somebody actually proves it, but I doubt they will. Record labels, event organizers and other such organizations are no gold mines either and I'm sure most of them are very artist-centric in their ethics.

Or am I just naivé for trusting them?
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