C L A R K  S O R L E Y

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There is a misleading premise in the perennial question: what are musicians to do now that the Internet is destroying the music industry. It is misleading because the Internet is not destroying the music industry. It is the record business that is screwed. The business of music is in rude health. So to answer the question what are musicians to do: they are to do what they have always done. If they are driven and ambitious enough they are to find ways of turning their talents into a career. That is not an easy call but it’s a possibility.

When I started out, the options available were similar to the ones that still exist today. Here are some: get a qualification and teach, get a qualification and join a professional orchestra or choir, get accomplished and become a session player, become a live performer, become a producer or engineer, open a recording facility, join or form a function band, compose music for visuals, advertising and broadcast. Or a concoction thereof.

Granted, some of these are not very sexy. But we’re talking jobs here. A careers councillor might advise caution and rightly so. The arts in all its forms is a precarious endeavour. But he wouldn’t shoo a student from the room who suggested any of the above. They are tangible. He would rightly disapprove if the student suggested becoming an artist or a songwriter and pursuing a record deal. Why? Because that would be the equivalent of buying lottery tickets as a career choice. It’s not an impossible prospect just an unlikely one and always was. Nothing has changed in that regard except it is even more unlikely now.

Of all musicians, a very small fraction got on the record business gravy train. All but a small fraction of them were thrown off again. Of the remainder another small fraction got to drink from the cup. Being an artist in the record business is not and never was a viable career option. So why do so many discussions seem to assume that it is?

The new networks and associated technology add something extra to the business of making music whether one is involved professionally or recreationally. They take something away from the traditional business of making records. And that loss hampers virtually no one other than the gravy train people. So to ask what are musicians to do is a legitimate question with a simple answer: find work! To ask what are the folks on the train to do is like asking what will kings and queens do when the world is a republic. Why would anyone care?

being an artist in the record business

is not a viable career option



music • 18.12.09