What’s Important To Musicians? Analyzing Reddit for Insight
Reddit may boast the largest community of amateur and professional musicians on the web. Its thriving WeAreTheMusicMakers “subreddit” thread had 55,321 subscribers at the time of this writing.
I’m not going to explain to you how reddit or crowd sourcing works, but suffice to say the conversation going on is lively and enriching for any type of musician. So what are all these music makers talking about?
I scanned the last month of WeAreTheMusicMakers posts to gain some insight on what’s important to the community. I would have liked a larger sample size of posts but reddit’s archives stop after one month. However, the community itself is a huge sample size, and I was able to see a few trends emerge. Here’s the data I ended up with after counting and categorizing each post that received 30 or more upvotes:
Tips, techniques and resources for digital recording, mixing and mastering represented nearly a quarter of the most popular posts. While it’s true anyone with a laptop can produce a great-sounding record these days, it still takes a considerable amount of skill and experience to properly record, mix and master. Many of the most popular posts were links to free resources to learn the ins and outs of digital recording, followed by information on the hottest plugins for “in the box” recording.
The next most popular category was career advice. Clearly there is a lot to talk about here with the big changes happening in the music world. It seems the WeAreTheMusicMakers crowd tends toward the amateur end of the spectrum — musicians that have been playing for a while and are looking for advice on how to begin establishing a career. Luckily there’s a good number of professional musicians in the fray to provide quality advice.
Along that same line, there were robust discussions of the music industry in general — mostly around unfair, exploitative business practices we’ve become too familiar with. But there were also a few posts that looked to gain lessons from the industry success of other artists.
Also popular were requests for specific feedback on non-career issues. These were usually creative ideas about new websites or resources for musicians, and the posters got an enthusiastic response.
Anyone who’s hung with musicians knows they can’t shut up about gear, and the prevalence of gear porn and gear advice among the most popular posts was unsurprising.
The rest of the most popular posts focused on humor, inspiration and commentary on miscellaneous issues important to musicians. There were also appearances by music apps, exhibition videos, requests for collaboration and allegations of copyright infringement.
While these insights may seem self-evident, to me they powerfully illustrate how musicians are taking their fates into their own hands. And that’s a really, really good thing. The odds and benefits of winning the major label lottery are disappearing more and more each day. We’re replacing the old, corrupt system of exploitation with a new do-it-yourself, direct-to-fan attitude.
Digital recording has made every musician a producer. We’re now culturally cool with a lower-fidelity standard of audio quality. We may never individually learn how to make recordings shine in the way an expert mixing engineer can — but as long as we can make the music we hear in our heads, the tradeoff in fidelity is more than worth it. Old folks like Neil Young and Flea might complain we’re a generation of overly-compressed, earbud-isolated kids who don’t know what we’re missing, but it’s clearly the old folks who are missing the point.
Likewise, artists are taking on management and marketing roles for themselves. Again, most of us can’t create amazing music and manage ourselves to six-figure salaries at the same time. But we’re trying because we realize that the first step to “making it” is taking an entrepreneurial attitude and realizing we’re managing a small business. It’s exciting to see that realization dawning after decades of musicians pathetically waiting to be “discovered”, creating great music that dies in obscurity.
I’ll continue to keep my ear to the WeAreTheMusicMakers thread, and even try and get a conversation or two going myself.
Great stuff. Thank you!
How many artists are you working with that are making six figure salaries after paying expenses (gear, recording, management, marketing, etc)? I firmly believe that musicians should be able to make a living making music the same way someone who opens a pizza parlor does as a small business. I’m curious how many are really able to make it work.
Looking forward to your insight and examples of the artists you are working with. It seems like there’s a big disconnect between hobbyists who don’t care about making a professional living, and musicians who are interested in having professional full time dedicated careers making music. I’m so glad you are focused on the later not the former.
Forgive me, I’m having a little trouble following your comment.
If you’re really asking me how many artists I’m working with who make six figures… well, the answer is a self-evident no. I certainly wouldn’t have time to do this blog if that were the case!
We are in agreement that “musicians should be able to make a living… as a small business”. If you’re curious how many are really able to “make it work”, I guess that depends on your definition of “make it work”. The FMC has a great link on the subject here: http://futureofmusic.org/blog/2012/12/04/putting-common-assumptions-about-how-musicians-make-money-truthiness-test
Keep in mind the FMC interviewed only “professional” musicians for this study — so the average of $35K/year would drop substantially if we were to include “musicians who are interested in having professional full-time dedicated careers making music.” I can guarantee you there are more musicians who fit that description that aren’t making any money whatsoever vs. those that are. There is a huge divide between art and business — so even those who want a career may not know the first thing about achieving that goal, and spend their whole musical lives ignorant that to succeed in music in must be pursued as a business.
As you can see, the FMC’s study suggests 7% of professional musicians make 6 figures. Clearly music has never been a place for those who want to make six figures. They are by far the exception with or without copyright, as would be expected of a profession based on something that every human has a hardwired capacity to do to some degree. People forget music’s purpose is social bonding, not wealth generation. Compare that to a doctor or a teacher or a mechanic.
The artists I work with are the pizza parlors of the music business. They create music for niche audiences. The music business was built to reward mass market success for the few. It is now thankfully changing toward rewarding hard work, talent and great music with less exploitation.
I have to disagree with your last statement that I’m focused on career musicians over amateur musicians. I’m focused on both. I want to see a more equitable relationship between the two segments. If anything, I’m more focused on the amateurs because they best represent “music”, while the professionals represent “business”. We too often think of music as mere entertainment product. Music is human, it’s personal. It’s best when lots of people speak the “language of music”. It’s obviously still important to support career paths for musicians, but the idea that we need copyright to provide a financial incentive in the form of a virtually perpetual market monopoly that gives the negotiation advantage to musician-exploiters — that idea has come and gone.
There will be less professional musicians and more amateur musicians in this new music paradigm. If that means more “music” and less “business”, so be it. I think more specifically, it means more people will be composing, performing, recording and listening than ever before, but with a more and more fragmented market. Average income will go down, but the number of musician “small businesses” will rise considerably.