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Black Sky Thinking

A Musician Vs. The Music Industry: A Conversation
Wyndham Wallace , September 7th, 2011 07:58

The Icarus Line have battled as hard, if not harder, than most to survive. In a follow up to his essay How The Music Industry Is Killing Music & Blaming The Fans, Wyndham Wallace exchanges mails with Joe Cardamone about the difficulties of making a living from music

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In late May, The Quietus published a story entitled ‘How The Music Industry Is Killing Music And Blaming The Fans’. In it, I argued that the music industry’s lethargic response to the possibilities of downloading could have catastrophic consequences for musicians, and indeed art as a whole, and that the battle to prevent filesharing was already lost. But musicians, like us all, need to be rewarded for their work - assuming of course that others are benefiting from it - otherwise we risk them being silenced simply due to their need to pay bills. The industry therefore needs to adopt a forward-thinking policy that acknowledges that people no longer consume music in the way that they once did, and instead allows them to pay for it in a manner that suits their new habits.

Despite its considerable length, the piece went on to become the most read story the site had published to date, provoking a stream of comments and also a slew of private messages. Amongst them was a mail from Joe Cardamone, who turned out to be the singer of The Icarus Line. Some three weeks later, a promotional copy of the band’s new album, Wildlife, arrived. Unfamiliar with their work, but intrigued by Joe’s correspondence, I played it without hesitation, and was pleased to discover that the thrilling rock & roll contained within matched the passion of his message. Bitter, angry, desperate and honest, it sounds like the bastard child of Swans, the Bad Seeds and glam-era David Bowie. It reminded me of why I love rock & roll, at a time when most of it's depressingly predictable, but paradoxically when we need it the most.

I won’t be alone in that discovery, I hope, but how many people will actually pay for the pleasure it gives them? Wildlife’s existence underlined for me why we need to fight to preserve the musician’s right to be compensated for their work. If Joe and others like him can’t afford to continue, the existence of powerful voices will be threatened. I suggested we pick up our communication once again to discuss the issues raised in more detail. What follows is an edited version of a candid exchange, beginning with Joe’s original message sent a few days after the original feature’s publication.

Joe Cardamone: No one knows how fucking heartbreaking it is to see my best friend sit there with a guitar in her hands looking at me with ‘What's the point?’ on her face. This was my day today, trying to motivate the singer of a band people actually care about, but she can’t afford to buy food. Like, anything to eat. Giant Drag’s new record has been done for months, but she has been so disillusioned that I am watching the effect of major labels on a fragile soul first hand. It’s crushing. What am I supposed to tell her??? It’s going to get better? I don’t know what to say. Her dad runs a gas station and mine has been out of work for two years. No trust funds here.

It’s fucked. We are starving our art into extinction, not because we don’t care but because what the fuck are we supposed to do? We carry on, sure, but the integrity and ideal that made us who we are today are the same things that are slowly rendering us a non-product.

Wyndham Wallace: So sorry to see things illustrated that are every bit as bad as I fear (though, as I suggested in the feature, they can still get so much worse). I worked as a manager for the last few years, and previously with record labels, and in many ways I feel like my article was a resignation letter of sorts to the business. But it’s music, and music is in our blood, so what’s one to do? Personally, all I can do is continue to champion what I consider to be valuable and hope somehow it makes a difference.

JC: When we (musicians) speak out on this kind of life we are made out to be spoiled brats. Nothing could be further from the truth. I came from nothing, made every opportunity myself and continue to. These last couple years have been a test of will and survival skills. The thing is, I would rather die trying than give up. I don’t know how many others feel that way, but without this, what do I have? 15 years of my life have gone in one direction. I have no high school diploma and nothing to fall back on, so when people kick back to enjoy the free shit it can get you down. I don’t know how it is where you are, but, in Los Angeles, not only are you supposed to give the music away but then people want you to play for free. The club gets paid off the bar and the band spends countless hours preparing and paying for space to prepare in.

So, thank you for explaining exactly what my life has become so that I don’t have to. It meant the world to me, even though I know things might just keep getting worse. We won’t stop.

WW: Reading a number of the comments made by readers of the original article, I was struck by something that you too refer to: the idea that some people hold that musicians are ‘spoiled brats’. 'There's no reason that society should have special rules to favour musicians over anyone else,' one person wrote, and that somehow seemed to summarise the confusion. They were arguing against the point I’d raised that musicians deserve payment for their work, failing to recognise that this situation is not about ensuring musicians are paid merely for picking up an instrument, but that musicians are paid by others who reap the rewards of that act. Musicians are being asked to work under special rules that mean they do not get paid for the work they do that others enjoy, a rule that few other professions would find acceptable (though more and more, like writers, for instance, are being asked to do exactly that).

JC: The reason that this is increasingly the case is because artists are inherently vulnerable to this circumstance by nature. Any art worth its salt isn't primarily motivated by commerce. It usually stems from some need for expression. Personally I have withstood unimaginable circumstances to create and perform. Even though it has been over ten years since I held any sort of 'clock in/clock out' job, that doesn't mean I have been receiving paychecks for sitting around acting cooler than everyone. When your means to communicate with the world is intertwined with your best means to sustain life, you are put in an extremely vulnerable situation. I would often choose going without over stifling one of the few avenues available to purge myself of ills that would probably otherwise manifest in negative ways. I feel like many decent artists are a breath away from a life of crime. Not because they are bad people, but because they were born with a limited range of ability to relate to the world around them. Perhaps I'm wrong, but before music I had a hard time finding a way to acclimate to society. When I speak about the threat of extinction, this is what I mean. Take away the means of expression and what choices are left? This makes it very hard to leverage against an industry hell-bent on the lowest common denominator.

WW: Why do you think some people hold a grudge against musicians?

JC: Because good musicians represent an active distaste for the status quo. Modern western society at large is encouraged to witch hunt anyone who might wake up some sort of revolutionary instincts. I know it may sound dramatic because rock & roll is supposed to be fun and games, but artists have always been political/social vanguards. As we know, the vanguard is always the first to be killed.

WW: Why is there such a misconception that being a musician automatically equates to being a filthy rich capitalist bathing in asses’ milk and champagne whilst snorting cocaine off the chest of young nymphs?

JC: Probably because that's what we do for fun on the weekend. I mean, the notion of celebrity has been so contorted in recent times that anyone with moderate success in a creative field is put on a pedestal. The problem with that is human nature: envy inevitably kicks in. The successful artist is expected to live and portray themselves a certain way, as some kind of heathen that is above all of society’s rules. At the same time, they are made out to be the guy next door who won the lottery: they aren't there because of hard work or talent. Often these days it might be exactly that, and, if it’s not, artists are expected to be portrayed this way to appeal to society’s notion of success.

WW: Has the industry spent so long focusing on the glamour big stars enjoy that they forgot to acknowledge the extreme hard work that many musicians have to put into their careers for far, far smaller rewards?

JC: Shows like American Idol perpetuate this phenomenon. The idea that the guy cleaning toilets is just one lucky break away from being plucked out of obscurity. The idea that hard work in a chosen field of art is useless, so keep buying lottery tickets and you might be the one who gets to step out of the feed line. In the meantime just do your job, watch TMZ and shut the fuck up. It's also a mind frame supported by a music industry that will turn complete non-talents into musical legends. The technological advances in recording have been abused to no end. Recording tools that were developed to enhance great performances have become a short cut to control. Why would a record company deal with a real artist who could be moderately more difficult to control when you can put lipstick on a pig and make it sing? They saw a loophole and turned it into a drawbridge. The mentality of manufactured pop stars is nothing new, but it has been taken to such an extreme these days. Technology that was supposed to even the playing field has been abused to cast away many legitimate voices.

What can be done? I’m not sure, because the public mainstream palate has been permanently dumbed down. The sound that is pleasing to today’s listener has become such a watered down charade that is an uphill battle to offer contrary acts of art. The main thing someone can do is reject the notion of perfection as a standard in art. Support unique voices and actively deny manufactured dreck. It comes down to people making personal choices and digging a little deeper. In the music scene that I come from, this is mostly a standard thought, but there isn't always enough of us to keep something special alive.

WW: Some people mistakenly felt I was pinning all the blame upon record companies rather than an overall business system that has failed musicians and fans. Do you think the fault lies with any particular arm of the industry?

JC: I will say that the record industry heads slept on piles of gold while the pig was cut from head to tail. They had a chance years ago to do something about this current debacle. Instead of suing Napster they should have been on Capitol Hill. They missed the point completely and now face an increasingly uphill battle. The time to set laws in the wild west of the internet was over five years ago. They just couldn't wrap their heads around the impending haemorrhage, which proves that they are either moronic or completely greedy. There must have been a way to protect artists and even their own interests without censorship, but they just didn't acknowledge the threat until it was way too late. Now what? Is there a Band-Aid large enough to stop the bleeding? For people overpaid so much to be the think tanks of a huge industry they sure had no foresight. They had no angle on the endgame, so why were they being paid so much?

WW: Do you believe that there is still a difference between the manner in which indie organisations and corporate organisations operate, or have the former been forced to adopt many of the less honourable approaches favoured by the latter in order to survive?

JC: I think there is a difference, of course, but it isn't a rule of thumb. When I was a teenager reading Maximumrocknroll there was a difference for sure. Labels like Dischord outlined a model that worked and was ethically sound. Some smaller labels are still able to survive under these practices and some have to go the other way. At this point it is so fragmented that it is hard to criticise any small label for their practices. They really have to take advantage of every opportunity they can to survive the modern record business. Even though as an artist it may be saddening to see, I understand some of the concessions made by good labels. Today it's hard to get by on records alone.

WW: In your press release for new album Wildlife, you write about its genesis that, 'I had moved out of slums of Hollywood back to my hometown, Highland Park in East LA. The change of scenery was prompted by a need to get away from everything that living in Hollywood brought - Desperation, Drugs and Record Industry scum.' While none of these are terribly appealing, they could be said to have provided inspiration for many artists – would you consider that to be true of yourself, and of this album?

JC: The record, like all the others I have made, is just a direct result of what is going on around me. If things were different would the record sound like it does? Probably not. Records to me are documents of time. You do the best you can to paint a picture of the world around you as you currently understand it. At least that's how I have always approached it. It’s not the same as making a documentary film, of course, because I have to respond to events with sound and phrase. I have been enamoured with music as art my whole life, and when you play rock & roll it’s such a fine line between fantasy and real life. How else can you put someone halfway across the world in your shoes for three minutes? It blows my mind sometimes how powerful sounds can be. Actualizing emotion through song is just such an awesome thing to me. It’s hard for me to take it for granted, no matter how many times I produce a new tune. To me music just seems like such an alien, immediate and direct form of communication. Hopefully the listener can get a feeling for what is going on before a verse is even sung. To me, that is magic.

WW: Do you think that, as some people suggest, there’s a danger of succumbing to a sense of nostalgia about ‘how things used to be’? Was there ever a golden age in which the music industry knew what it was doing, artists were treated fairly, and the cream rose to the top?

JC: I’m not sure if such a time ever existed. Many of my favourite records were made by unsung or undersung heroes. Sure, Johnny Thunders is known by people like me and you and the readers of your publication, but the world in general ignored him. Was it because he wasn't good enough to rise out of the dreck? Or did he sabotage his trajectory through drug use or whatever? I feel like that’s just life. There are only so many seats on the bus, so people who don't want to wait in line have to walk on their own feet. Artists have often been treated unfairly but it's a hazard of the situation. That's pretty evident on day one.

WW: Is it actually relevant whether such a time existed, the point being that the situation now is way worse, even critical, and the complaints about how musicians are suffering for their art are becoming even more desperate?

JC: It's just that the current situation is of unbalanced proportions compared to past times. That's all we have to measure against. We are at critical tipping point where the rules are being rewritten all the time. Not just in music, but in our daily lives and freedoms. Open societies are slowly being closed down as people gladly hand over control to the powers that be. You would think that the internet revolution would be an empowering thing against these forces, but often it seems to act as a foil to scatter efforts and keep things that are underground exactly where they are. The chance of marginal mainstream success became an ever closing door the day Kurt Cobain blew his head off high on heroin. They sure aren't going to let that happen again. He made sure to reverse whatever progress he initiated that day, unfortunately.

WW: Has commercial success become too significant in our judgement as to whether something is valuable or not?

JC: In mainstream culture? Oh, hell yeah. Especially in America. This country's appreciation for fine art dwindles at every turn. Funding for arts is cut all the time. The very things that inspired the innovations that made this country great are being strangled. People are encouraged to shut the fuck up and do what they are told. The whole mentality is so dangerous. It is scary to think that there is a generation that thinks music/art is basically worthless. A mentality encouraged by 'cool' artists like Radiohead. Pay whatever you think the music is worth: that's a terrible message to send to impressionable youths. Today I decided that Gucci suits are worth 10 dollars. Fuck anyone who spent time designing, manufacturing and creating them. It's madness.

WW: We’ve watched growing demonstrations across the world over the last six to twelve months voicing disgust and dissatisfaction with the current order, in which the divide between the haves and the have-nots has arguably never been greater. But are the actions of the illegal downloaders not comparable to these protestors and rioters, another – albeit often inarticulate and ill-directed – attempt to voice their frustration at a system that, frankly, will only be rebuilt after it’s been torn down to the ground? Is there even any purpose in trying to save the music industry as we know it?

JC: There is a point to saving what we can. It has been a system that supported great artists and fostered pieces of work that enhanced lives of generations.

WW: Do you think people underestimate just how hard it is to survive the rock & roll dream?

JC: I’m not sure if they estimate at all. They see a record come out, they see a show date and they either support it or they don't. As it stands, independent artists are forced to make insane choices. I could never do this band if I had a child to support. At 32, having a child and a family is just not an option. How many other professions require you to completely give up huge parts of life like this?

WW: And, if it all ended tomorrow, would it have been worth it for you and The Icarus Line?

JC: Like if I died? Yeah.

WW: Do you think that the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, even at its most sleazy, still offers glamour, or is it, as you sing at one stage, 'a bitch with no hope'?

JC: It has to be a bitch with no hope or it isn’t rock ‘n’ roll.

WW: How much of what stops you is money?

JC: 100%.

WW: And what can keep you heading towards that goal in the face of continuing adversity?

JC: My love of what I do is what keeps me going. It's that simple.

The Icarus Line’s Wildlife is out now. They play UK dates as follows:

10 Oct UK Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
11 Oct UK Manchester Ruby Lounge
12 Oct UK Glasgow King Tuts
13 Oct UK Wakefield The Hop
14 Oct UK London The Lexington

Vince Millett
Sep 7, 2011 2:22pm

Quote: "It is scary to think that there is a generation that thinks music/art is basically worthless. A mentality encouraged by 'cool' artists like Radiohead. Pay whatever you think the music is worth: that's a terrible message to send to impressionable youths."

I couldn't disagree more. I run two small UK-based labels. The hard fact is that people will not pay significant money for music any more and, whether that's right or wrong, it is the way the world is and time doesn't run backwards. So, we either whinge for ever or we deal with it and get creative. Radiohead's approach was a creative attempt to find a way forwards. We've recently tried the same with a release by Secret Archives of the Vatican. Just over ten percent chose to pay and average payment was $5 for a download, or about the same as we'd have got if we could have sold CD copies through shops. Which we can't in the UK because there aren't any record shops left, a situation caused by the arrival of the downlaod age but made much worse by the greed and massive overpricing of the record companies. People ARE willing to pay a sensible amount for good music but we haven't yet quite come up with a universal business model. In the meanime, experiments with name-your-own price are a good step in the right direction.

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BasicEconomics
Sep 7, 2011 3:04pm

In reply to Vince Millett:

I totally agree.
I'm sorry but the Icarus Line blaming their struggle on the current "music biz crisis" is a poor excuse that a lot of non-mainstream bands are now peddling.
The Icarus Line probably wouldn't have made any money in the 90s, or 80s, or 70s either.
Good art and profit have never made great bedfellows.

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Tony
Sep 7, 2011 4:55pm

The "music businness" has alway been about the business of promotion...not the quality of the art (insert your own example here ). The old model allowed the method of promotion to be controlled by the few elite. The agonizing that the industry is experienceg is the old guard's dying throws to protect its exclsuive control. Where are the examples of the new democratizing of the methods of promotion that are working in other industries? Find them ... and borrow

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Angus Finlayson
Sep 7, 2011 4:56pm

This is a great article, mr. Cardamone writes very passionately and compellingly. I do worry about these 'endtimes' predictions though, in that you can generally find them, in some form or other, at any point in the history of culture. I can't dispute his points about the economic hardships of being a musician, but "the public mainstream palate has been permanently dumbed down" is a pretty loaded statement. I just think we have to be aware of what is and isn't unique about the current situation.

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M
Sep 7, 2011 5:39pm

I doubt Foster the People or MGMT are sitting around having this discussion...the system has changed, but is still in effect. The power is back in the artists hands now and the problems with artists (and I am one) is that artists are not business minded and expect others to do the biz for them, i.e. records labels. In these times, with a great song and self promotion, there are more opportunities to succeed than ever before, if you're willing to keep believing in yourself. Most artists I know have more then one job and that is just the way it is...art is business and it takes time and money to build any business. Do the work, invest in yourself, and stop waiting for Daddy Big Bucks Record company to rescue you. Times have changed. Move forward

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Anonymous
Sep 7, 2011 5:44pm

I agree that it's a shame that musicians are artists that are having a hard time being paid for their work.

However, what I don't think is quite apparent is that it was never really that lucrative a career.

Just read a little music history to realize that musicians have always been marginalized, disempowered, and disrespected by the industry. In fact, this is where pop music derived a lot of it's socially changing power once it finally had it's moment.

In the grand scheme of things, the financial rewards reaped by the boom that followed the birth of rock are really just a blip in the history of music. This type of rise and fall is not unique to the music business. This is a perpetual risk of business in general, which is why things like "trade secrets" exist . . . to protect against intangible intellectual rights entering the public domain unprotected, and thus widely distributable. I'm not sure if there is an analogue to the notion of a trade secret for a successful band or label or distributor or whatever, but I hope someone with a more vested interest in the industry is out there thinking seriously about this sort of thing right now.

Not only that, but even if we are considering history from the more short-sighted perspective that it was in fact once possible to make a decent living off of music, it is worth pointing out that most bands that we have come to treasure did not last as long as an Icarus Line, or artist of similar calibre. So, for whatever reason the band ultimately failed, chances are the window that they had to make a living off it was very brief anyway.

Music, like any other business, is a matter of supply and demand. Your band can be amazing, have fantastic energy, a great look, a great sound, and all that. But, if you aren't relevant right now, nothing can make you suddenly explode. It is also a matter of luck. There is the common example of the steam engine - how it was invented simultaneously by separate people all over the world, but only one of them was credited as the inventor and became successful from it. Or similarly, there is the story of the Tesla/Edison rivalry. The conspiracy historical factors in favor of long term success and reputation is always at play. The question is, will your music be lucky enough to find favor with these fates? If not, what are you doing to increase your luck? How are you working to make yourself stand out from the 5 excellent local bands playing in 5 decent venues in London or Los Angels or Brooklyn?

On the subject of working for luck, it is worth pointing out that most musicians are not known for their work ethic, innovation, or lack of a sense of entitlement. Certainly there are some out there, but they are in the minority. Moreover, there is also the argument that artists shouldn't have to think about this stuff - that's what managers, agents, and labels are for. Newsbrief. They do. How bad do you want it? Even visual artists have to think about this stuff from time to time.

With all the energy and novelty required to help create the circumstances to enable your own success and relevancy, you might be tempted to come back to the notion that pop music should really be left to young people. But that would be to ignore the age of some of the most relevant musicians right this moment. An educated person would be hard-pressed to say the youth are dominating the market right now.

The short version of this is, you have to work for success. This might involve some scary decisions. Maybe your band is awesome and you believe in it. But, maybe you have to work even harder with a new band. Or on your own project. And so on. All I know is music will never die, anymore than painting has, or poetry has, or ballet has. Note that I purposely listed mediums that some might feel to be archaic. There will always be people who have no choice but to do it, whether rooted in fearlessness or naivete. They might be successful or they might not. But, as people get weeded out of the race, for all of the above, their chances of success will certainly improve. Where do you fit in?

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Jason from Alkari in Houston
Sep 7, 2011 7:01pm

I enjoyed reading this article and identify somewhat with The Icarus Line. Despite years of torment doing it, I'm still playing originals rock music. My one big dream left unfulfilled is to tour the US with my band, and we hope to do that next summer, at our own expense. It's got to be a tough life for someone who doesn't have a day job (everyone in my band has one and that lack of freedom makes it even tougher sometimes!) Someone who tries to just go at it on music alone without teaching or waiting tables or something is just a step away from being homeless or worse, on their parents couch. Anyone can write a half-way decent song and get it recorded (often rather cheaply) and it seems like everyone is doing it, making it a daunting task to try to wade through all kinds of crappy music to get to something you might like enough to pay a dollar or two for. Our album is costing $400 a day to record (10 days in and still need to record vocals!), then we have to duplicate it and try to sell it to a public who has gotten used to freebies. We've got an ep but most people just stream it online. Sound like a bad investment idea yet? On top of that, the competition for attention is crazy and anyone who expects to make a living at it is even crazier... Yet, every year I attend sxsw and find thousands of bands/songwriters trying to get noticed. It's an addiction we have to feed, a need to somehow transcend this rotten life we've got and be remembered for something other than our amazing Excel spreadsheets and managing talent at the paper company. It's the high we get from performing, and the satisfaction of thinking someone out there connected to our songs or thinks we play our instruments well. All the while we watch as music we don't like (and hated 20 years ago when it was called New Kids On The Block) or think is bubble-gum (we liked ok it when it was Madonna, but as Lady Gaga it comes across as insincere) sells more copies than our top 10 favorites combined. It is an incredibly frustrating exercize in futility. Pass the Southern Comfort please.

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Jason from Alkari in Houston
Sep 7, 2011 7:11pm

Ahh, one more thing... My favorite ROCK singer alive, maybe 4th favorite of all time after Freddie, Buckley, and Orbison is named Jimmy Gnecco (he was somewhat known for being the leader of a band called OURS). If Jimmy is playing the small room at Stubb's in Austin (he doesn't even come to Houston anymore!) to a devoted crowd of 75 people instead of 10,000 people at Toyota Center, then there really is something wrong with the world. I don't feel like I can complain. If Jimmy ain't world famous then how do I expect my band to ever have a chance?

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Spacious Specious
Sep 7, 2011 11:22pm

Icarus Line make good points here, but the scorched earth left behind by filesharing and music industry collapse is not terrible to everyone.

During the years that I struggled to get a foothold in the music industry, there was always pressure to consider the commercial aspect of anything I might be working on. I always had to work a noxious day job, so the gleam of real money was hard to ignore.

Now I just accept the noxious day job and make the most hilariously uncommercial music I care to make. This wasteland is terrifically liberating to creativity.

The important thing to remember here is that "recorded" music has been nearly totally devalued, but other forms of music not so much. My suggestion to you is to not bother with recorded music. If you want to release an album, run a hard drive recorder off the mixing board from your shows. Comp the best takes, pay someone to master it. There's your Vinyl record, CD, FLAC, OGG or what-have-you. Honestly, that's what most of your fans really want anyway.

Or, you can always find devastated and out-of-work studio engineers to make into the fifth member of your band. The "digital" colleges are cranking out engineering geeks at a remarkable pace nowadays, despite there being no job market. If "recorded" music has no value, then stop mortgaging your future making audiophile cathedrals. Make cheap records and make them fast.

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wakeupcall
Sep 8, 2011 1:28am

As much as I appreciate his point, there is a juvenile tone to the blaming others thing, aka the "evil industry".

In the past 3 months, I released an EP of home-recorded music online and some great attention and fantastic reviews on very high-profile blogs, developing the beginnings of an audience. I live very far away, in a "third world" country, and have done everything myself (music, artwork, videos, press releases, etc...) basically pretending I am a record company. I got an incredible amount of responses and frankly , although I have made no money, I have barely spent any either, and I keep 100% control. Maybe the question to consider is that money really isn't the end goal, for me anyway. DON'T AUTOMATICALLY EXPECT TO MAKE A LIVING FROM MUSIC.

I've achieved what I set out to do in my small goal. I used to live in a large music-industry center and that was very hard, because you have to give a lot (free gigs, etc...) and the jobs take too much of you. And you always think "oh, tomorrow things will change, I will get a break, etc...". One day I realized that it wasn't going to happen - I didn't fit the mold. So I packed up and left and started over on my own terms.

If you notice now a lot of bands come from tiny places (salem - michigan, balam acab, pennsylvania suburb, etc...). Even a few years ago that would have been impossible. For someone like me to get a teeny bit of attention it would cost money, time and face-time, which I didn't/wouldn't have.

I actually respect labels A LOT they are not publicly whining, the indie ones anyway, look at Triangle, Cascine, etc...there are so many small labels doing a great job. This guy just sounds like he was going for a major label and he hasn't been picked up. Start a label, do something. Share. Find your audience.

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Smacka
Sep 8, 2011 5:58am

In reply to wakeupcall:

Don't miss the point here. Look at your record collections, if you think the stooges records would have happened without a major label you are fooling yourself. The classic records weren't made on an Mbox in a bedroom. Is it backwards to mourn the loss of the prospect of trying to achieve something that stands up against records that have spanned generations? I dont think I need to give a history lesson here. Not all great records were made through the major label system but a great deal of them were. Check out everything that came out Sire. Classic Studios close every other month here in LA. Everything is fine with Indy's? Right. Where's Touch and Go?
We are all moving forward, what other choice do we have? Give up, fuck that. The problem is stealing is stealing. There's no other way to paint it. Sure we can make records of lesser fidelity but why should that have to be the only standard? Having limitations on art can be a good thing but doing off with options for good doesn't seem like a way forward. It seems like death.

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colin fraqu
Sep 8, 2011 8:27am

the inconvenient truth is: If it's good enough, people will pay for it - what i'm hearing i've been hearing for 25 yrs,

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MADASHELLANDNOTGOINGTOTAKEITANYMORE
Sep 8, 2011 9:10am

Hey, people in showbusiness. STOP TRYING TO SELL ME STUFF I DON"T WANT YOU FUCKWITS!

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Sep 8, 2011 9:35am

In reply to MADASHELLANDNOTGOINGTOTAKEITANYMORE:

Also take into account all the people at who have made careers helping make records. Producers, engineers and the ilk. These people are rapidly losing job due to downturn in sales. What does a 45 year old man do who has dedicated his whole life to the craft of recording who suddenly cannot find enough work to support his family? Yeah sure you can adapt and cut out all the middlemen but a crap load of great records were made with some killer middlemen.

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Sep 8, 2011 9:36am

In reply to colin fraqu:

not true.

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MADASHELLANDNOTGOINGTOTAKEITANYMORE
Sep 8, 2011 9:50am

In reply to :

My Uncle Peter used to work for an audio cassette manufacturing company. He lost his job when people stopped buying cassettes. Are you still buying cassettes in an attempt to keep him in work?

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Sep 8, 2011 10:18am

In reply to MADASHELLANDNOTGOINGTOTAKEITANYMORE:

Tapes didnt make records better. Engineers however do. Studio do as well.

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MADASHELLANDNOTGOINGTOTAKEITANYMORE
Sep 8, 2011 10:34am

In reply to :

My point is, trends come and go. Demand goes up and down. For some products demand never comes back. It's sad, but all industries have job losses as technology advances. Believe me, file sharing and illegal downloading is here to stay and won't stop unless someone turns the whole internet off.

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MADASHELLANDNOTGOINGTOTAKEITANYMORE
Sep 8, 2011 10:46am

In reply to :

And you seem to be implying that Engineers are more entitled to have a job than my Uncle Peter was. Which they are not.

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Will
Sep 8, 2011 10:58am

The only problem I can see, is that the music business actually WAS a trickle down economy.

Back in the day, it wasn't unheard of for an artist to be put in the studio with a massive orchestra for their debut single. Finding that level of investment now is basically impossible now because there simply isn't the money.

I could definitely bang on about this some more, but it IS quite depressing, and ultimately not as fulfilling as just sucking it up and making a record, regardless of who's gonna listen to it.

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Will
Sep 8, 2011 11:31am

In reply to Will:

sorry- incomplete thought.

And aside from there not being the money around for that level of investment, there is a definite lack of industry movers and shakers with a degree of imagination and desire to change things.

Feels to me like much of the industry is ticking along on safe bets, things that sound like rehashes of past times, rather than actively pushing anything that sounds different.

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wakeupcall
Sep 8, 2011 12:55pm

In reply to Smacka:

look, you are missing the point here. Using the example of Iggy Pop is fine. It seems that you long for classic records or want to be of that ilk. Great. You know what, start somewhere. Blaming "stealing" is just not productive. You have a serious issue in that you are contradicting yourself value-wise by saying that you want to be part of the major-label system at the same time that you call them "evil" and whatnot. BUT you're not Iggy Pop or David Bowie. And now what??? Blame the record companies for it or the downloaders...no, get real. It is both an issue of talent AND an issue of historical context. These artists had a combination of great talent and a supportive network and historical context. Now these days are gone. Move on. Grow up. Yes, Sire issued great records...about 35 YEARS AGO. Those days are gone. You live in the world of today. Are you going to stop making music because you are not signed by a major label? Then you're not necessarily interested in making music, you're interested in attaining the rockstar lifestyle...says it all really.

This issue of downloading really is relatively recent (5-8 years) before that there were hundreds of great bands that issued indie records, like The Smiths for instance and Sonic Youth another example.

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scott
Sep 8, 2011 2:06pm

I really don't think I should have tried to make a living from music, being as all the acts I like from times past are either dead or skint.

Sadly, it's not a meritocracy.

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Matt Stevens
Sep 8, 2011 6:43pm

In reply to Vince Millett:

My figures show most people do want to pay and you earn more than you'd get thru a label from Pay What You Want.

Its not the end of the industry - just a change.

Matt Stevens
www.mattstevensguitar.com

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Video Buddha
Sep 8, 2011 9:53pm

It's funny reading this article, as it has this feeling of "everything is so much worse these days", when really that's a complete fallacy. Things are different maybe, but not so very different. It reminds me of the complete naivety of a lot of musicians, and why my own band dissolved 15 years ago. In the group of musicians I hung around with there were two types, ones who thought that a major label coming knocking would be the end of their problems and another who accepted that the art they created was never going to generate much money and they would have to be working all sorts of shitty jobs to make ends meet. Funnily enough it was the second lot who made larger amounts of records and more creatively interesting ones too.

I must admit I found a lot of the tone of this article very whiny. "I have no high school diploma, nothing to fall back on." Well that's your look out, you always need a backup plan. And then I play the clip, and I think, you've spent 15 years of your life on being "just another indie rock band", and that sounds condescending, but I don't mean it because I spent several years in "just another indie rock band" so I know what one smells and looks like. And it wasn't through our lack of trying to be something more than just another average band. But ideas and execution are two different things. But I never thought success was a godgiven right, even if we were ever more than average, indie rock just ain't gonna sustain 4 people's lifestyles for 10 years on any record label. If I wanted a job in the music biz, I would have worked hard at being a session player. But if just one person bought our record after a gig and liked it, that was great, and if we covered out petrol expense, that was often enough.

My lightbulb moment was I remember one of the buggest and best bands I knew getting an 85 grand advance and my friends regarding it with awe, with jealousy, and I was like that's pretty cheap - how long do you think 85 grand is going to last between 4 or 5 people especially when you have recording costs, instruments coming out of it? If that is the pinnacle, then to me, it's not worth having, because in less than a year we'll be struggling to eat again. Rather this money comes out of my own pocket, then I spend my creativity in hoc to somebody else's corporate whims. And while we're at it - the cost of recording, of instruments is way lower relatively speaking, and it's way more affordable than it was say 20 years ago. I love the messthetics/DIY aspect of those 80s bands who could do far more with a four track or a tape, than most engineers can do with a huge mixing desk and every digital effect known to man. We've got lazy.

Also "The chance of marginal mainstream success became an ever closing door the day Kurt Cobain blew his head off " is absolute bull. There are always routes through, however more and more people are making music, and getting success seems more and more arbitrary. There are always plenty of people looking for an alternative, looking for soemthing outside the mainstream (such as myself), you just have to energise them, capture their imagination. Offer them something different than just another indie rock record.

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chris
Sep 10, 2011 1:21am

At the end of the day, if you like the album/ artist, BUY THE FUCKER!. nothing good ever got made for free, not just money-wise, either.

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wakeupcall
Sep 10, 2011 3:52am

Ok we got this article...it's hard out there if you're not signed to a major label and the old expectation of playing live to get a deal just doesn't work anymore. This gets old after a while.

Anyway, Quietus people I love your site, what about having a POSITIVE article about the music industry, the labels that are doing ok , the artists that are surviving, the new distribution paradigms, etc...maybe it's me but I see a lot of great stuff happening. Could we try and focus on that as well...you know, positive cases, yes, money has dried up but really money isn't everything. Or is it?

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John Doran
Sep 10, 2011 7:25am

In reply to wakeupcall:

Man, I try not to get sucked into these insane arguments but really this one takes the biscuit. Positive? For a small website run by three people we give positive coverage to so many small bands, independent festivals, leftfield book publishers, DJs, tours etc etc etc it's unreal. Positive? Fuck you man, seriously. I think it's some kind of born again christian site you're after if you want people to actually lie to you.

And, for the fucking 100th time: we're not money obsessed. If we were we'd be doing something else.

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wakeupcall
Sep 10, 2011 1:45pm

In reply to John Doran:

John, I'm sorry you took the comment the wrong way. I love the Quietus, I read it obsessively and I think it's a positive manifestation of the world we're in now. That's what I meant, that there is a lot going on that's great. When I meant "focus on the positive" I meant that a lot of great stuff - including independent journalism - has benefited from the new paradigm. There are great artists that have space now that wouldn't have a few years ago. I was only interested in focusing on how music changed for the **better** and not for the worse. That's my perspective anyway. Reading this guy's interview I see only the negative and frankly I find it sort of stale. Like it's pegged on the old major label model. He's sad he hasn't been signed by a major label??? Why should anyone care??? Like I said before labels like Triangle, Cascine, etc...are doing a great job and they're not complaining publicly, they focus on what they love. When I meant it's not about money I was talking about this guy on the interview, who seems to assume that it is his god-given right to become a rockstar of some sort. Many of us make music with lesser expectations and succeed. That's what I meant.

I know the quietus is a labor of love, I'm really sorry you felt that I was attacking you, it's just an issue of perspective.

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Raz
Sep 10, 2011 3:27pm

In reply to wakeupcall:

Ninety-five per cent of what I write is positive. People only care about the five per cent. To my detriment, I still focus on the ninety-five.

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Ben Myers
Sep 10, 2011 4:02pm

In reply to Raz:

I was once taken out for drinks in London by an A&R man for a major international record company who wanted to know who he should be signing. (That's quite a depressing sentence to read isn't it?). I told him "The Icarus Line" and left.

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Graham
Sep 11, 2011 6:28pm

Here here. I've had to move back to my parents to continue playing since i was priced out of East London (where i've resided since 2006) 4 months ago due to it's recent yuppification. There was just no point in spending all my money on the gas/electric cards whilst living in say Plaistow in a glorified bedroom.

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Hegemony
Sep 11, 2011 6:49pm

I'm in agreement but i think rather than walking away with our tail between our legs there is another way. The gulf between the mainstream crap and good music is getting rather large in the UK, almost to the point where alternative music co-exists with the chart but does not appear in it due to it not being to the tastes of mainstream culture. Also the fact that people into this music are living a different lifestyle (often with low funds), therefore not buying records or just not buying into purchasing binary code.
Musicians and fans of alternative music need to form their own musical society un-penetrable by the mainstream and industry vampires where different music can exist and be profitable. It's already starting, but the lack of funds is the problem- £60 a week to live on doesn't help..

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Jamie
Sep 12, 2011 1:48am

"Joe Cardamone: No one knows how fucking heartbreaking it is to see my best friend sit there with a guitar in her hands looking at me with ‘What's the point?’ on her face. This was my day today, trying to motivate the singer of a band people actually care about, but she can’t afford to buy food. Like, anything to eat."

I'm sorry but this is just ludicrous. Like the majority of other people in the world, get a job. Pay your bills, buy some food and do what you love to do - that doesn't necessarily have to lead to riches and glory - in whatever time is left. This article just smacks of entitlement. Sorry Mr Rock and Roll, your art doesn't automatically give you the right to not have a job. I don't particularly like working either but such is life. 'Rock and roll' is such a tired, boring concept.

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John Doran
Sep 12, 2011 1:09pm

In reply to wakeupcall:

No worries at all. No real offence taken.

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Jaz
Sep 12, 2011 2:20pm

Given that he makes it clear he won’t stop making music, what’s the problem? He’ll make music even in what he claims are terrible conditions. So the music is created even in the absence of profit. Short of belly-aching about the world at large not making life easy, I don’t see an issue here.

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Vince Millett
Sep 15, 2011 8:52am

In reply to Matt Stevens:

I'm not sure I'd say 'most'...but as I said, we get about 10% choosing to pay. As there's no physical product to pay for, and hosting is paid for from a small percentage of the takings, it's entirely possible to release albums and make a little money. As you say, probably the same as you'd have made in the old system. I'd add 'with a lot less hassle and with no-one trying to rip you off'. I'm positive about the new world - we'd have had no way into the old world as we don't make predictable commercial music styles. Now we do what we like. We shift relatively small amounts but we can do what we like, when we like. We have the respect of our peers, a small number of dedicated fans and we enjoy what we do. All sounds pretty positive to me!

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John Thomas
Sep 17, 2011 12:49pm

In reply to Jamie:

You make an excellent point sir.
The world is full of people who spend their days working hard so that they can spend their spare time doing what they love. Why does it only seem to be musicians who think they deserve to make a living at what everybody else would consider a hobby?

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Sep 17, 2011 5:44pm

The Icarus Line are fucking shit. Their music is achingly boring and trite.

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Daniel Neofetou
Sep 18, 2011 10:36am

It's pretty obscene for a white person in the western world to complain that they "can’t afford to buy food. Like, anything to eat" when there's people in the world who quite literally can't afford to buy food. Like, anything to eat. The melodrama isn't helping his case. And neither is his dull music.

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jon bon jellyshoes
Sep 19, 2011 2:52pm

In reply to Jamie:

I reckon the icarus line and other skint bands should get some swagger like what cher Lloyd has got... they are exhibiting a severe case of ' swagger jaggering ' and quite frankly its sad.

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Brett
Sep 23, 2011 12:41pm

Maybe Im being naive here but it seems to me that most bands that I like seem to have to contend with having a full time or part time job, and still seem to produce music easily, in fact music that is so much better than Icarus Line.

Again maybe I am being Naive, and that its not realistic to scale what most smaller bands do. I dont see why not, though.

There is a very healthy blog scene that is encouraging some of the most interesting and exciting musical times in my living history. This is without any intervention or support from majors. Just remember what they did to grunge.

I know bands (including my own) who have brought stuff out, released it via Bandcamp or something similar, and have come out with more money that they put in. Ok, not enough to make a living, but enough to carry on.

With our stuff, I noticed that there were MegaUpload and Mediafire files of our stuff, yet we managed to sell out our (albeit limited run). In fact some people paid more than what was being asked.

Personally, I do feel Gucci clothes are worth £10. It's probably a lot more than the production line workers will get paid.

I don't think Radiohead sent out any bad messages to kids. I just think they showed that they regarded their listnership over the industry. It didnt make their art worthless to me, it showed that they could perhaps give a little back.

I get the idea that people like Joe Cardamone have spent their whole lives working on their rock star persona, that they've found the rug has been pulled from underneath them and feel short changed. Maybe the record industry will have a few less bargain bin Iggy types, but thats no loss in my book.

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Anthony Saggers / Stray Ghost
Oct 22, 2011 4:55pm

I have never read an article which I could relate to as much as this one, when I realise than even musicians who have far more of a reputation than I do starving along with myself it just makes me want to cry....

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len
Nov 25, 2012 8:05pm

" It has to be a bitch with no hope or it isn’t rock ‘n’ roll. "

That's stupid. That's why you aren't able to survive. You have a death wish that you put in your songs and that limits the audience because believe it or not, moron, most people want to live and be well, and yeah, there is plenty of rock'n roll about that.

There is a pathetic side to the business and this guy made it sound like it was the only art worth practicing. Yes, the art is in a fight for it's life and yes, the industry is adapting. iTunes is a viable business model but you can't compete against free.

And you can't sell a death wish. At the end of the day it is still a business and unless you get your head around that, it's a dead end business. Caveat vendor.

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