Why is the Music Industry Hurting Those Who Make It Possible?

The issue of internships has become a hot topic in the music industry lately, and I, for one, welcome the debate. Normally, I try to not take any “political” stance when it comes to issues in the industry, as there are often pros and cons to everything; furthermore, I try to not alienate people with whom I have a professional relationship, since we are all entitled to our own opinions… which can often differ tremendously. With that being said, I do not want to shy away from the issue of internships, as my extensive experience as an intern in the music industry has made it an issue extremely close to my heart. It is my belief that interns, along with musicians, are seriously undervalued and exploited by the overly aggressive and competitive mindset that has come to dominate certain pockets of the industry.

For me to say internships are all “good” or all “bad” would be an overly simplistic and grossly inaccurate statement — for they are neither. The internship experience depends heavily on its execution, and if the internships come with something other than just the promise of “invaluable experience” and “perks that come with the job” that companies so masterfully use to their advantage, then I strongly believe they are the best way for anyone to get started in an industry. But that’s a “Duh! Obviously!” statement and common sense, right?

Unfortunately, this is not always how internships work, despite the fact that their contributions often play a large role in the day to day operations of the company that they are a part of. Many intern positions, especially in the music industry, have no “trial period” or an “end date,” and they exploit vulnerable young interns whose passion and innocence drive them to volunteer vast amounts of their time and talent indefinitely. While it is ultimately up to the intern to decide when to call it “quits,” many are instilled with the false belief that if they just keep working hard, they will eventually be rewarded.

There are interesting parallels between interns and musicians in terms of the challenges they face. The way many interns are treated is no different than the way musicians are treated when they work for years for the chance to perform at a major festival, only to be rewarded by “exposure” while festival organizers are going home with millions of dollars, or when Grammy-nominated artists are only making $4.60 from >14k plays of their tracks in a year (and let’s not forget the salary gap between Pandora executives and Pandora artists). By focusing on maximizing profits and individual achievement, the industry is failing the very people who allow it to exist in the first place . I strongly believe many of these musicians, like interns, deserve a much larger share of the pie than they are currently being given, and I would expect any genuine lover and supporter of all things music to feel the same way.

I recently read an article titled “Why The Hardest Workers Win And The Complainers Lose…And I’m Totally Fine With It” by fellow Ontarian entrepreneur and founder of Audio Blood, Sari Delmar, whom I have a lot of respect for. But, I could not disagree more. There is no place for the idea of “natural selection” in the music industry, because of one simple fact: amazing things happen when people come together. Over the course of my career, I have seen the AbsolutePunk community come together to raise money for Andrew McMahon when he became ill with leukemia; I have seen fans come together to fund kickstarter projects, or to help out bands in need when their vans break down. I have seen people involved in the industry help each other out at festivals with hotel/housing accommodations and everything in between (even people who work at competing agencies or companies – imagine that!) or work together toward projects; and I have seen artists collaborate, tour and work together just to help each other out.

These experiences are reinforced by this quote from an interview I did with Arum Rae, an incredible musician from Austin, TX:

2 years ago, we were on tour with Gary Clark JR. and our van died in AZ coming back from CA. Although we did finish the tour, I felt like ‘Well, I’m never going to make any money or a name for myself in this industry but I still have these songs that I really care about and … fuck it, I must record them.’ I got two jobs and shared my vision with some close friends. Jim Eno (drummer in Spoon) owns Public Hifi in Austin, TX. He gave me studio time upfront. Chico Ramanath sound design for Gary Clark JR produced it and all of the musicians agreed to play on their down time. Not just any musicians… JJ Johnson (John Mayer and Tedeschi Trucks Band) committed to my project.

And Toronto band PUP drove the point home further, when they used their time with my managing editor on Made of Chalk, who was writing a feature on them, to talk about the Toronto community  – its artists, the record labels and the fans. This band is continuously using their new found success and the spotlight to bring attention to fellow musicians!

I was lucky enough to start working on AbsolutePunk almost a decade ago. What I have achieved since cannot solely be afforded to “hard work.” I have only been able to get this far because I have had others support and believe in me every step of the way. I have had fellow writers help me edit my pieces, fellow music lovers recommend me bands that I would go on to work with, friends help me raise money to launch projects, and even musicians themselves helping me in any way they can. I’ve had publicists share their contacts or put me in touch with the right people so I could promote the artists I work with. And I’ve even had writers on competing websites work with me to provide coverage for some amazing musicians, because, when it comes down to it, we all got involved for the same reason: to promote the music we love.

I can’t argue with the idea of hard work, as I believe it is a necessary component of success in any industry. Everyone needs to work hard in order to get where they want to be. However, it is completely wrong to assume that people who have not succeeded financially are not working hard enough, or lack the necessary passion to get there. There are innumerable members of the music community who have yet to reap the benefits of their hard work. The problem lies not with them, but the prevailing attitude of unhealthy competition and greed in the industry as a whole. There is, unquestionably, enough money in the industry to ensure that musicians, interns, publicists, writers, sound engineers, tour managers, and festival organizers alike can enjoy a comfortable existence, so why are so many people struggling?

We must, as an industry, regain some perspective and begin appropriately rewarding the people who make everything possible. Community is of importance, as it compels us to work together. That isn’t simply a matter of efficacy, but of humanity, as we are social creatures that care and that’s what we should maximize, not profits.

 

If you’d like to get in touch or work together in some capacity, please don’t hesitate to reach out via email

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2 thoughts on “Why is the Music Industry Hurting Those Who Make It Possible?

  1. great blog! thanks for writing and for sharing!

    I am a huge believer in community and that is what my company is built on the back of. I grew up in the same world, interviewing bands, and doing what I love. I still love what I do. About 2 years in to building my company I learned that I had to start to run it like a business if it was going to be sustainable and had to make some changes even if it was against my punk-rock-warped-tour-for-life background. The change was a hard one but in the transition I fell in love with the industry and the business side just as much as I did the community. I learned that if I approached from a more business standpoint I could actually have a better shot at helping my artists succeed and giving the community I love a voice that stands out amongst the rest.

    My viewpoints on internships are not to hurt the community or discredit it, far from it, but to enforce a lesson that every industry loving teen will eventually come head-on with on their own. Passion and love will get you very far but at some point it’s about fighting strategically and that will propel you even further.

    Everyone deserves more than they are awarded in this industry and I believe that from the bottom of my heart. Every blogger, intern, staffer, is probably undervalued. I have come to understand I live in a world where any excess dollars will be put in to keeping the business or a band alive rather than in anyones pockets and have sacrificed everything I’ve ever earned for that to continue.

    I believe in people getting paid for what they deserve but in an industry where there is no standard rates and there are many people willing to take advantage of it – use it to your advantage and prove your value. Play ball and you will be able to find money in the most unlikely of places. That’s my message. That complaining will not get you closer to making a living in this industry. The only thing that will (alongside your passion for it) is hard work. No time for resentment with the system.

    But I love all the things you are saying as well and think we are on the same wavelength in many ways. I should perhaps have had your blog as a pre-cursor to mine as I think they are two separate but related beliefs.

    All the best 🙂
    s.

  2. I completely agree. Not to think too deeply on the matter, but musical community is heavily influential and it reflects where we are in society; at no time have we been simultaneously more connected, yet more atomized. Musicians are producers of our cultural artifacts, as individuals heavily involved in culture influence, matters. For example, think of protest music of the ’60’s as being produced by, and effecting ideas. There was a communal consensus that helped to aid real change. Similarly, we live in a troubled world that right now needs that cultural influence, that needs a community to connect with each other and provide something the reflects our reality and produces something around which the broader community, of all backgrounds, can rally and begin to see that community produces progress and eliminates the boundaries that hem all of us in- whether in terms of artistic freedom, wages, gender equality, racial equality and so on,.

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