Graham Henderson: “Of what is and is not broken…”

The Canadian Independent Music Association just completed a study that pegs the average musician’s income in Canada at $7,228. This echoes an earlier study undertaken by Professor Doug Hyatt of Rotman which put the number at $16,491. Income at these absurdly low levels render it virtually impossible to pursue music as a profession. It starts to look and feel more like a hobby. And let me tell you that this is a far cry from the conditions that could be obtained prior to 1999.

The “middle class” for want of a better term is in a state of what appears to be terminal decline. This is a phenomena that has been remarked on and discussed in many fora but rarely as it applies to the creative class. We now live in a world where a very few musicians have become fabulously wealthy, leaving almost everyone else with very little on the table. Was not digital technology supposed to have done EXACTLY to opposite? Successful bands today have become more brand than band, diversifying into luxury goods, film, television and beyond. This is in strident contrast to musicians of the past who would have been horrified beyond imagining to have their art, their political speech, associated with mere products. I knew artists who turned down absolutely fabulous sums rather than shill for an advertisement.


One thought on “Graham Henderson: “Of what is and is not broken…”

  1. The technos have told musicians if they give away their work via the internet, they could make up their costs performing live shows and selling merchandise. Unfortunately, that idea is severely flawed.

    First of all, consider that creating music for a recording or a live show involve costs and labor. As a matter a fact, any one in the music business can attest that it costs far more to produce a recording than prepare and play a show. And for any band to make it, there are very large costs for development and promotion, which up until the digital age were financed via record sales. Then consider that nearly everyone listens to recorded music. However, few people attend shows, and those that do, do so infrequently. So what would have to happen is that show revenue would have to go up enormously to pay the cost of recording, development, and promotion. But here is where the problem is.

    In Economics there is such a thing as a supply and demand schedule. Supply is the good itself, and demand is the desire and ability to purchase that good. The schedule is often shown as a graph. What it shows that as the cost of the good goes up, the quantity demanded (that is purchased) goes down. If the price goes down, the quantity purchased goes up. Here the good we are talking about is a live show.

    So if we want to increase our revenue, the technos are saying musicians need to play more shows. But here lies the problem. If the musician wants to play more live shows, the laws of supply and demand tell us we will have to lower our price to encourage more people to attend. But that is a course a problem since that means our revenues would go down, not up. If we try increasing the show price, that causes another problem in that attendance – and revenues – will go down. The same could be said about merch.

    From an Economics perspective, it is a really silly idea to expect sales from one good (live shows or merch) to subsidize another (recorded music) that actually is consumed far more. Actually it is downright ridiculous. And by the way, how do the technos see it as their right to tell musicians they no longer have a right to make the revenue from something they produced with their money and labor ? A right who’s protection goes back 300 years? And how is it the techos give themselves the right to make money from a musicians work without their consent? Have we lost all sense of common sense ethical behavior?

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