Bands aren’t the same anymore

These days music is more accessible than ever. This abundant supply of cool tunes and new acts means being in a band rarely brings much of an income. As a result many musicians are not loyal band members, but come and go, often playing in multiple bands at the same time. For those like me who are passionate and committed it’s frustrating and a little depressing to see talented colleagues spreading themselves too thin.

A recent blog post on Ultimate Guitar prompts the question of whether being in a band (or bands) is worth it. This is quite a pertinent topic – I’m starting out in a new band in a new city. What is the point? What’s in it for me?

One of the commenters on that blog noted that this issue has been raised in the past. However there are some new aspects to today’s trend. Apps like Spotify or Pandora give a thrill to music listeners, but often fail to give musicians a fair reward (a living wage if you like) for the hard work they put in. This is a large problem that cannot be easily bypassed by choosing between strategies of pooling your efforts in one band or multiplying your chances by playing in lots of bands.

A contributing factor to the problem of low returns is the skewed distribution in wages. A tiny number get a big piece of the music revenue pie. Does a musician (indeed anyone) ever need to be a multimillionaire? I wonder how many more musicians would receive a living wage if there were greater equity in music income. How to achieve this, as with any industry-specific structural reform, will be difficult to achieve. I wonder who would be willing to take the leadership on this matter, especially when the resources and power are concentrated in a minority of record labels and media moguls who reap rewards from the current system. The line between music and politics is indeed a blurry and controversial one.

Thankfully I do earn a living wage, and to me music is an end in itself, increasing its worth above any capital return. But I worry for my colleagues, for my students, for the future of music. What do you think, does it worry you?