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If you live in countries where a lot of money is available for the promotion of culture and where venues and artists are financially supported, you are lucky and may not need to read any further. In countries like France, Sweden, Canada etc. there are many funding opportunities for non-classical musicians. In Germany, the USA and many other countries, on the other hand, it looks rather bad for artists within the rock and pop area. Here concerts and bands have to be economically viable, which is becoming more and more difficult.
In addition to commercial clubs, smaller DIY venues and uncommercial clubs have to work economically as well. If the latter host too many newcomer bands, they risk not being able to pay their rent and other expenses. They can cross-finance the performances of unknown bands with other events, but for that to be successful, you would also need a lot of well-functioning events.
Without support, art inevitably has to focus more on demand. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you should create music tailored to a particular audience. Authenticity is important for your success. However, it does mean that you should be aware of the economic context within the music scene. You should know what it takes to make the effort worthwhile for you and the other actors in the scene.
Art or commerce?
Most musicians just want to write songs, perform, and record albums. Often, they do not want to deal with any organization or advertising. In addition, many have a romanticized image or contradictory ideas of being an artist on the one hand and (financial) success on the other. For them marketing and making money with their band has the stale after-taste of “selling out”.
The image of the noble artist soul who creates work only for oneself originates from the epoch of Romanticism. The idea of art against commerce also originates from this time period. In this sense, however, commerce meant something different than how many musicians understand it today.
Casted boy and girl groups and other acts that have been made or are strongly influenced by big record companies actually fall under this term. It’s all about selling instead of artistic expression. If authentic bands, on the other hand, have a guilty conscience about accepting reasonable payment for performances, then this falls under self-doubt or masochism.
Strictly following the L’Art pour l’Art movement, a true artist is one who does not even want to perform, let alone be recognized. As soon as you perform on stage and care about the opinion of the audience or the critics, you can give up the idea of true art and be happy about fans and possibly also income.
Why it is important for your band to think economically
Nowadays, more people can afford to play in bands than in the past. Recording, printing albums and covers, distributing music on the Internet, booking tours etc. has become quite affordable. Until thirty years ago, all this was possible only for professional musicians who could afford to pay others for these services. The big rock stars originate from these times, where those who were interested in music were still actively looking for new bands and live concerts. Today, music fans can hardly save themselves from offers. Likewise, local promoters, A&R-Managers and booking agencies receive requests from hundreds of bands each month.
If you do not simply pursue your band as a hobby, meaning that you perform a lot and produce albums, then it’s worth considering your band as a company, as well as your music and shows as two products who will not sell themselves.
I’m not talking about starting an official company here, but rather, about your approach. It’s also not necessarily about financial success as this is only a side effect for many bands.
For some, earning money is even uncomfortable. Of course, anyone is free to donate any of their income to charities. But most bands want recognition, especially in the form of enthusiastic spectators at their live shows. If you prefer, you can consider yourself as an association or non-profit organization instead. The latter also have to work economically, if they want to be successful.