Thursday, 8 March 2012

What about artists who can't/won't tour?

Glyn Moody has written an interesting post on the old question, "should artists be entitled to make money?". It's worth reading.

As you may know, I write quite a lot about copyright-vs-technology, mostly concentrating on the technical aspects of copyright enforcement as I'm a tech journalist. But I'm also a musician in my spare time, a songwriter and a sometimes-performer, so I like to think that these two sides give me a sense of balance when I report on these issues.

I completely agree that artists shouldn't feel entitled to anything, particularly to being rich as a result of their endeavours. After all, if money is your primary motivation then you're probably pumping out some pretty shitty art. However, the idea that art should always be given away (not, I realise, what Moody is saying, but something that many people do say) bothers me somewhat.

The conventional wisdom underlying this position is that the art itself can be the free gateway to paid stuff like performances and merchandising. There's an element of truth to this, although I think it holds much truer for established artists (Radiohead, NIN etc) than it does for new.

But the thing that gets me, the bit where I start to play devil's advocate, is this: what about musicians who can't perform? Let's take the hypothetical and somewhat extreme example of a singer-songwriter who's paraplegic and finds it difficult if not impossible to tour. Let's say this person has an amazing voice, writes amazing songs and can record... um, amazingly. You get the point.

If we take the give-it-away-now approach, what chance does this person have of being rewarded for their art? They can record, but they can't use that recording as a springboard for more lucrative follow-ons. Are we saying that this person should treat it as a hobby and nothing more?

And what about the mad-genius-type musician who can record incredible works in their loft or whatever, but doesn't deal well with the public and certainly can't play the self-marketing game?

Basically, are we saying there is no longer any inherent value in recorded music? Does it have to be in the added extras? I'm willing to be persuaded, but I'm not there yet.

PS - Yeah, I know. I'm writing this from the perspective of someone who treats music as a hobby (by necessity - gotta earn a living) and can't really perform right now (I don't have a band but record like I do), but would ideally like to see some return for it. Self-interest abounds. Still, this aspect of the debate is worth having.


  1. Thanks for the response.

    You're right, there are likely to be
    artists who won't/can't perform, and obviously there's no reason they
    should. But the whole point about getting your work out to a wider
    public – by giving it away – is to build up a fan base, people
    who love what you do. That was very hard to do before the Net, now
    it's much easier.

    This opens up new possibilities –
    things like crowdsourcing, aka "1000 true fans". That is,
    because of what you've produced in the past, people are willing to
    give you money to produce more of it. This works – I've done it,
    and other people do it all the time. It's because we're not stupid:
    we know that artists need to eat, and that if they don't, they won't
    produce the stuff we like. So it makes sense for us to pay for work
    in this way – to commission it.

    It's effectively a return to the
    patronage model, but democratised. Now it's not just kings and
    aristocracy who support artists, but all of us. In fact, patronage
    gave us the vast majority of traditional art; opening it up in this
    way combines the best of that old system with new virtues of broader

  2. I've seen a couple of examples of this kind of patronage working, but do you reckon it's gaining enough momentum to be a widely viable model?

  3.  well, as you know, there have been some very successful Kickstart projects recently.  obviously, those are exceptional, but I think they show that people are becoming more comfortable with this model.

  4. Maybe I'm missing the point but if the Paraplegic artist has a great voice then why cant he recruit a backing band for the tour?  If Edwyn Collins managed to record and even tour despite having had a debilitating brain Haemmorage then it's certainly possible. 

    Even before touring became a main revenue stream for artists, it was always the case that touring was a key part of the marketing for an artist and album.  It would be a rare case that an artist would be signed if they were unable to tour. 

    If they are still an amazing songwriter then there is still a good living to be made writing music or songs for others, composing for film/tv/games, composing stock music for licensing etc. 

  5. A good point.