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I read an post in a blog today that I felt compelled to respond to. Yet another person going on about how musicians don’t deserve to be paid for anything. I agree on some of the writer’s points, namely that current copyright laws are anachronistic given the advances in technology. The writer suggests that things return to the pre-classical era when the only people who had access to music and art were the rich. Yeah…very 21st century!

Here’s my response which actually I’m quite pleased with:

Hi there, interesting post. In many ways I agree with you too. However, I have just completed my tax return and it made for sobering reading.

I am a musician. I perform, teach and run workshops. I am trying to set up my own group which plays little known 18th century music. I work pretty much all hours of the day, not only at the coalface, but practicing and studying to maintain my skills, collecting resources and researching the 18th century music that we play. Having completed my accounts, I realised that, all in all I had made a not very handsome profit of £1,113 last year from music.

Your post implied that musicians (and other creative types) simply sit around waiting for the money from copyright royalties to roll in. As a musician, I can honestly say that to get paid performance opportunities when you have yet to establish yourself is VERY difficult (and nigh on impossible if you play original music, as I used to do.) The reason? People expect musicians to give their work for free on the live scene too, or even worse, pay for the privilege.

I have this argument time and time again with people that are not musicians. They cannot seem to understand that musicians are paid (when they get paid) appallingly given the time and effort required to perform to a goodl standard. The fees that people are prepared to pay in no way reflect the years of study and practice. It has taken me, personally, 4/5 years of hard, hard work to get to the stage where I can take my first tentative steps to singing classical music for a paying audience. That’s about the same as a doctor or lawyer. And should I continue singing, I will need to pay for regular coaching sessions throughout my career.

If a musician/artist is the position of collecting royalties in the first place, that position has most likely been won through years of sheer hard graft and living on the poverty line with no guarantee of anything to show for it. Don’t they deserve something for that? There is a place for tribute and covers bands, but do we really want all musicians to spend all of their time doing that to earn money, rather than writing new material?

In the past, new music only got written because it was funded by the aristocracy. Do we want that situation again, where professional musicians reflect the agenda of a social elite? Back in the day, the rich were the only people with access to art, and public concert halls only came into being when the publishing industry took off, in the 18th century.

Bodies such as the Arts Council were supposed to fill that gap, but again, will only fund the activities that suit their agenda. And they can have their funding cut on a whim if a government decides to bankroll an overpriced sports day (I am UK based in case you hadn’t guessed). I’m not a luddite, I love the internet, and I use it to promote our work. Much of our stuff is up there with a creative commons license. I don’t want to criminalise people for listening to us.

I agree that current business models of copyright have broken, and it would take a better person than myself to suggest an alternative, however, society does need to value the contribution that creatives make, there needs to be some mechanism by which we can make a living from our efforts someday and possible make up for the lean years. I didn’t get into music to make wads of cash, but as I said before, I do work very hard and for very little, because I have focused my time on producing something new and different. Surely, the prospect of a decent living at some point is not too much to ask for?

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