Rethinking the Value of Musicians in the 21st Century - Musicbed Blog
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Rethinking the Value of Musicians in the 21st Century

As we get closer to the end of the first Musicbed Film Fest, we’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between filmmakers and musicians, and why that relationship matters not just creatively but culturally.

Three years ago, New York Magazine ran a story about Grizzly Bear in which Ed Droste admitted that not only was the band not getting rich, but a few of them couldn’t even afford health insurance. It was pretty surprising considering, as the article says, Grizzly Bear is “indie-rock royalty.” If they were struggling, imagine how hard things were for other bands. It was a case in point of what we’ve all known for a while now: the music industry is in the middle of a radical upheaval, and not everyone is going to survive.

The music industry is in the middle of a radical upheaval, and not everyone is going to survive.

Over the past few decades, it’s gotten increasingly harder to make a living as a musician. Not that it was ever easy, but with album sales free-falling and artists getting fractions of pennies per stream, it now seems close to impossible. As experimental musician Nicholas Jaar told the New York Times last year, “No musician I know is making their living from selling music.” Unfortunately, the same thing is true for a lot of the companies doing the selling. Despite their 20 million paying users, Spotify still isn’t profitable.

Musicians making a living is an issue that’s on a lot of people’s minds. Everybody is trying to figure it out, whether by increasing the artist’s cut of stream royalties, increasing the price of streams, or abandoning streaming all together. The whole industry has become so shady and confusing that a “Fair Digital Deals Declaration” was written recently, which basically states that record companies shouldn’t purposefully rip off musicians. Apparently that wasn’t already obvious. But that’s where we’re at, and that’s why what we’re doing here at Musicbed feels more important than ever. Because musicians making a living isn’t just something we think about, it’s something we see happening every day.

Small, brilliant indie bands who’d been barely scraping by are suddenly able to quit their day jobs and make music full time, just by choosing Musicbed as their licensing partner. They’re even able to afford health insurance. And we’re not just patting ourselves on the back here. The reason this works is simple: We’ve found an audience that not only loves music, but is willing to pay musicians what they’re worth. We’re talking about filmmakers. The secret formula is bringing musicians and filmmakers together.

The secret formula is bringing musicians and filmmakers together.

In a lot of ways, this model is redefining what it means to “make it” as a musician. Previously, “making it” meant fame, which meant fans, which meant album and ticket sales, which meant (finally) money. Musicbed is turning that all around, offering the chance to do what a lot of indie musicians can’t do right now no matter how famous they are: make a living selling music. As Lily Oberman wrote for Mic.com: “This matters because indie artists and young aspiring musicians have no way to support themselves as they grow and explore their art — art we need to keep music vital, and we need to support music’s new voices.”

For a lot of musicians, the ability to support themselves with their music is game-changing. It allows them to live the artist’s lifestyle we all thought was dying out. It allows them to focus entirely on their craft, and to have their craft support them in return. In other words, the power and the earning potential is now completely in the hands of the artist. Which is where we believe it belongs.

Musicians represented by Musicbed are redefining what music is worth at a time when nobody else can agree.

This power shift is one of the reasons musicians are so proud to be a part of Musicbed. Even more than making a living, musicians represented by Musicbed are redefining what music is worth at a time when nobody else can agree. So while we’re obviously very passionate about filmmakers and their films, we’re equally passionate about the musicians they’re supporting. When it comes right down to it, it’s artists supporting artists. It’s the creative community defining for itself what is valuable and what is fair. It’s a bit of solid ground in the midst of upheaval.

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