Stephen Covell

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Is this the best time in history to be a musician?

We live in a time when the opportunity to share and interact with musicians around the world has never been easier. The old model of distribution is fading away and people who enjoy music can pick and choose to their hearts content without anyone telling them whats hot right now.

On the other hand, making a living as a musician has in some ways become more difficult. Many of this generations consumers expect pretty much everything to be free and there's more competition than ever to capture their attention.

The opportunities for creativity are only as limited as today's musician's imaginations, but has the loss of monetary value of music as a commodity created an environment that discourages artists from making music their main focus?

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    Sep 19 2011: In response to Steve Rosos, it should be noted that Beethoven was well compensated for his work not only by its publication but also by contributions from wealthy aristocratic patrons... so it's not like he was doing it just out the the kindness of his genius :) Also I don't see why it should make your blood boil to think that creative property has value. I'm not saying that value should be ridiculously inflated but I don't think it's unreasonable to try and convince those who consume music that it should be paid for. Music, film, and TV shows suffer currently from being easily copied and distributed which has in the minds of many, diminished their value. It's seen as a victimless act to download these files and enjoy what's taken years to create without giving anything back.

    I agree that if you factor in profit to your creative process you should probably find another line of work but artists have to eat too. In an ideal situation you could share your gifts with the world and not have to worry about bills and rent but we've not reached that point yet so I suppose my next question is; is there a way to help reeducate the public to hold the arts in a higher regard or are we just going to have to let talent speak for itself? Will the shining stars shine regardless? I'd like to think so.
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    Sep 17 2011: It's a great time to be a musician, but it always has been.

    I don't believe you are correct when you say consumers expect it for free. Of course, there are music pirates and loud mouth ignorant types that expect not to have to pay for a musician's time and effort, but there always will be.

    I don't think people are willing to pay $25.00 for a CD any more and so they shouldn't - record companies have always fleeced the record-buying public (and the artists). Many people are willing to pay $4-$5 an album, which, considering the lack of overheads these days, is reasonable.

    There's a guy I've been lucky enough to know who has been in bands since the '60's and still rocks a stage who told me - TCB. Take care of business. Get a day job to keep the wolves at bay and make music your life.

    I agree.
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      Sep 19 2011: Brilliant !! " Get a day job to keep the wolves at bay and make music your life."

      For those not musically gifted please take this brilliant advice and replace the word "music" with "art".
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    Sep 17 2011: Andrea just a quotation about being.

    Is from the Bhagavad Gita...Krishna said to Arjuna:
    "Your interest has to be toward the action, not to their regards."

    Really doesnt matter if is about music or sales or military or motherhood....or anything.
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    Sep 16 2011: Stephen,

    In my opinion there is no time in history that does not benefit from music. Musicians are gift-givers to societies.

    Not only do I think this is a time of remarkable creative energies, I think it is also a time of significant suppression of shared truths.

    Music can express truth and catalyze connectedness in powerful ways when other voices are quieted and less "hearing" is being done, due to obstructions on both ends: the communicators and the collective audience.

    Maybe most of all it offers respite and healing that opens emotional portals that all possess but fewer express during difficult times.

    These are the gifts that musician give. And, that they receive in the giving, if they connect and express their gifts with others.

    Which I think transcend economic measurements. I shudder to think of the loss to both musician and audience if these gifts are left behind in the pursuit of monetary reward.

    Not to say I don't think musicians should seek the best living they can achieve. Only that they don't lose the greater rewards in the process.

    Andrea
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    Sep 23 2011: It's the worst possible time in history to be a musician. So much competition all around. I wish I could be sent back 134,000 years with a kazoo. I'd be worshiped.
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    Sep 20 2011: music has always been a boom, right from the 60s down to the 70s and now.... the problem why some people dont really make it in the industry is because they are there for the wrong reasons, if you have the talent, the passion, and good marketing team, then i believe you will partake in the honey well of the industry.... what the consumers/fans want is the quality of your music and your passion for it.
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    Sep 19 2011: I agree with several posts below - being an artist in general, and in this case a musician, is not about making money. Of course you need to make a living, but besides that a true musician doesn't choose this career just to make money.

    And regarding this being a better time to become a musician or an artist, I have to disagree. I think it was always a good time to do what you like. I agree that it may be easier or less stressful than it used to be, but not necessarily better.
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    Sep 19 2011: Can't keep away - I think that the music industry was one of the first to be affected (and changed) by the internet and "illegal downloading".

    Ultimately, it's helped remove the "middle person" and connected a musician more directly with their audience.

    Also, advertising and distribution is sorted. Example below:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYWpVyndLnA

    (My apologies to the Tedsters who have seen this link before but the squeaky wheel get the grease).
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    Sep 18 2011: Music is a language of your soul. If you hone your art to it's finest, your soul fully redeems it's worth.
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    Sep 18 2011: Time never was best to make or convert anyone to be best, it's rather other way, the BEST always redefined time and will be doing so in times to come as well..........
  • Sep 17 2011: Entertainment is now a corporate industry.Creativity no loger matters to the masses in general.They like anyone they're told to so long as it distracts them from thought.A good barn dance and fiddle player would be a welcome change.
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      Sep 18 2011: Some people who really appreciate music look for the meaningful material. :)
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    Sep 16 2011: Can one afford to make one's music one's main focus (your last question)? Assuming you're meaning a full-time committment, in my opinion, only if one has a benefactor and/or one is O.K. with homelessness until one 'makes it' since generally lots of travel is required. I've experienced young musicians living out of their cars which is fine and good until they tire of the lifestyle. My advice would be to 'go for it' but don't neglect the contingency plan.

    Hey . . . how about a benefactor website where musicians can apply for grants. Those people with extra money who want to give back to society can support the talented musician just like they used to adopt a child to feed in another country (or was that a scam?).
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    Sep 24 2011: Good question, I don't think it's either a good or bad thing to be a musician at this time because I guess, I can see it both ways. As a freelance music critic for The Examiner, as well as a music blogger on my own site, I see that through blogs a lot of really good artist get exposure. I have got to hear music from artists down the street from me and some overseas which is a really good thing, and at times it seems like music listeners are really eager to get new music. However, on the other side, since music is free no one wants to pay for anything, so if you're doing music for the love and not for the bills it's a great time I guess. Also, with so many artists coming out and essentially doing the same thing as 100 other artist, it could be quite difficult to be an artist if you do not do anything to set yourself out in the crowd.

    Also, I don't know if I'm the only one who notices this, but it seems like since there's such an easy access to music these days, a lot of artists find comfort in the digital platform as far as online so they don't excel to do more than that which you can tell in the quality of their music. Sorry, I kind of rambled.
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    Sep 24 2011: Expressing yourself as a musician has become much easier thanks to technology. Everyone can become a musician nowadays. Ofcourse this has some downsides (repetitive sounding music on radio to give a cheesy example), but it also has major advantages. A perfect example would be Jason Becker. At a very young age he was one of the best guitar players around, until ALS was diagnosed. He can't move at all at the moment, but he still composes music using his eyemovement.
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    Sep 20 2011: In regards to artists and money I don't think it is a bad thing or it takes away from the quality of someones creation just because they want to make a little or alot of money. The term "sellout" is kind of overrated if you ask me. I went to school for fine art and back then I was ok with being a starving artist or whatever I just wanted to learn some technical stuff but now that the real world has kicked in my perspective has changed . If someone wants to pimp me out and peddle my art to someone type that wants to pay 10 times the labor and supplies of what it cost to make it Im all for it. lol. I don't see how its any different for the music industry.
  • Sep 19 2011: The last paragraph of the question makes my blood boil...

    The mere suggestion of "monetary value" of music is utterly repugnant to me personally. To illustrate this, imagine Beethoven suddenly resurrected and immediately retaining a phalanx of lawyers to sue for subsidiary rights/royalties from all the symphony orchestras that performed his compositions since his demise... demanding a royalty share of ticket prices sold for each performance or better yet... in the fine tradition of (modern American) paying new-CD prices for radically inferior sound quality performances (128kbps 10:1 lossy compression joint stereo) download MP3s as "albums"...

    Why not go for broke? PAY-PER-NOTE?? Unfortunately, capitalism (materialistic greed) has no place in the expression of creativity of the human soul expressed so magically through the medium of music. The sad reality of the modern monetary illusion stifiling creation or expression of music is an abomination.

    The ability to create music is a divine gift, and should be treated as such instead of a marketable commodity like pork bellies or FCOJ.
  • Sep 19 2011: I beleive the simple answer to the question is YES, and substantiate my opinion with the manifold groundbreaking achievements (viewable and searchable right here on TED.com) made by individuals like Ray Kurzweil, Tod Machover, Dan Ellsey, the entire MIT Media Lab group, and countless others who are employing future thinking and cutting edge technologies to facilitate an unprecedented potential for individuals to express their heretofore untapped (and indescribably) vast potential for musical expression unhindered by classical training methodologies or impeded physical aptitude playing instruments. Especially Tod Machover, who has demonstrated these incomparably emotional accomplishments in his work utilizing gesture sensing and EEG brain-computer interfacing to allow extremely handicapped (physical and mental) people the ability to compose and perform profoundly articulate and soul stirring pieces of music with minimal impediment. With this huge array of embryonic externalized technology devices, it creates the potential for individuals and collaborate groups to express themselves with music in ways heretofore unthinkable, not to mention creating the unprecedented ability for audiences to spontaneously interact with the performance and/or performer(s). These realities are earth-shattering, in potential, and never before possible before this current and future generations. THIS, the ability for anyone, without training or dexterity skills with a specific instrument, is the key to making a reality a new paradigm of self actualization potential through musical expression, a gift to humanity beyond words. I wish so many others would view things from this perspective instead of the narrow-minded assumption of material profitability or the small cross section of the vast populace who have never before envisioned themselves as capable of being composers and/or performers, instead of passive audiences or enthusiasts. BRAVO MIT MEDIA LAB!!!
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    Sep 19 2011: Well a true musician wouldn't see or care for all this. He just loves his music and ultimately will be recognized even if he is hiding.

    Making a living as a musician may mean lot of work other than perfecting in music itself. Yes the focus from music is lost but then a real musician would want to give more of his best and doesn't mind getting paid just enough for himself. Its not only in music industry but in every other field too that a person who sticks with 'dedication' and 'patience' will ultimately make it to his dreams. So let the primary concerns be only about 'music' and nothing else. :)

    This is a good time indeed to be a musician but i dont think there will be a time when people will stop feeling pain, love, happiness ... so i dont think there will be a time when there will be no need for a good musician.
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    Sep 18 2011: Interesting diversity of opinion so far :)

    I suppose I'll weigh in with my take now that I've seen a bit of what the rest of your are thinking.

    A agree that making a living as an artist has always been challenging. You have to be willing to give up the security from the routine of the standard education to career path that most people take for granted. You have to have an almost manic drive to succeed in the face of all logic. You have to think you're special enough that you're worth peoples time, money, and attention. Not to mention possess a rare talent that must be honed with years of practice.

    Scott said something I believe is true. People may not expect everything for free. But they do expect everything to be available right now, on all there devices, for a reasonable fee. The era of $20 albums with two good songs is over. Napster wounded the beast and iTunes stuck the sword in the heart. And over all I think that's a good thing. I think major labels got a little lazy because the money was so easy they no longer had to cultivate acts, they could just pluck another young talent, bank off a single and move on.

    Tom thinks that today's artists say nothing and I have to disagree with that. Sure many of your top 40's are mostly void of emotional substance but there are hundreds of lesser known bands making amazing new music right now. And really, no one gives a shit about MTV anymore. They don't even play music. People learn about music through Pandora, Spotify, Pitchfork and any number of other music related websites not to mention word of mouth. Social media drives interest more directly than top down mainstream distribution channels.

    My only concern really is that as I said, with so many options, video games, movies, TV, the internet, and as some here have stated the ease at which music can be made and shared, I think people may be losing their appreciation for how special music really is. It may be in danger of just becoming background noise.
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    Sep 18 2011: For those musicians who makes their work reflections or passion of life,they will never be discouraged or stoped,cuz life never stop and they know no time.
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    Sep 17 2011: Well what other choices do you have?
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    Sep 17 2011: I think so man. It is very hard to make money as an artist. I have known a few people who were signed to minor lables or started their own label but when they were not touring they would have to work odd jobs. Most of the money that supports the smaller artists comes from merch sales and not venue tickets sales wich is what I thought at first. But one really good thing that has happened for a lot of artists is alot of commercials and popuar tv shows are using lesser known songs that are really good -so that kind of boosts the popularity for some bands that really deserve it. I am a muscian but have never really desired to make a living at itther than a few shows here and their but it was far from paying the bills:). But the ones that try to make a living I really admire them it takes alot of heart because unless its very mainstream and most of the time not very original its a rough road. Although it seems like in the past few years people are more open to different types of music and even indie rock has gotten poular although since then every kid with a pair of skinny jeans and a keyboard wants to sell a record. I cant say anyhting though at least they are willing to try. :)
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    Sep 17 2011: "Musicians" like Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Bruno Mars (main stream,,,,) are making millions.
  • Sep 16 2011: Making a living as a musician has always been challenging, esp. in light of today’s economic conditions. The other day I was lamenting the loss of the pit orchestra in silent films, singers traveling with big bands and open mike two track recording wehre you needed more than a synth to make a record - sorry a CD, oops, MP3, 4 . . .
    The easy access to so many choices by which to make music have, in my opinion, lowered the bar and possibly listeners' expectations - but as I feel this statement has been made since the lute was all the rage - you play the cards you are delalt
  • Sep 16 2011: Today's modern arts say nothing. and most people are told what to listen to by MTV, so if you make it big on MTV you'll be famous for a week maybe. When Lil' Wayne is one of the biggest icons of music you know the music market is way down. Also with today's society you ask any young kid what they want to be when they grow up, they'll answer "famous" They don't know what it takes or what they do they just want it. Everyone with a guitar is trying to make it big. Lot of compilation and very few people searching. If you want to become famous with your music carrier. Give your music away that you write, on torrents or anything. That is the best way to get your name out and start playing at concerts where the money is all at.
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    Sep 16 2011: Today's artists are too lazy too create beautiful things. Most of them create the first thing came up to their mind. Because it is easier to broadcast know.