Making a living (from music)

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Record labels in crisis, a slump in CDs sales and music downloads in the Internet. The music business is not the same anymore since the end of the last century. What are musicians doing to make a living in the 21-st century?

Technological evolution has brought about market changes in the productive chain of music. This has led to the decline of a business model, based on the growth of the phonographic industry, hegemonic thought out the past century. If, until recently, most popular musicians depended on such agents as investors to develop their careers, how to deal, nowadays, with a scenario in which these artists are ever more responsible for the administration and financing of their work? How can a band create conditions to fund its art and make a living nowadays?

Firstly, it is important to point out that the music business displays several niches and different forms of insertion. We can point to three different insertion stages:

– Amateur musicians – those who have a professional activity outside music. Music is an extra activity, which may or may not carry remuneration.
– Semi professional musicians – those who earn remuneration from music but need another economic activity to obtain an income to balance their budgets.
– Professional musicians – those who make their living exclusively from music.

Many are musicians who do not live exclusively from their craft. Guinga, a famous Brazilian composer, long shared his musical career with his activity as a dentist; Vinicius de Moraes was a diplomat. It is also common for a musician to use his income acquired outside the musical realm to invest in his or her musical career.

Currently there is a great variety of earning possibilities in the music field: several musicians act in different market niches to secure their sustenance. There are those very rare ones who live exclusively from a single professional activity. Most musicians seek to develop different skills to broaden their chances of work. An instrument player, for example, may have his own repertory, accompany other artists for pay, record, and teach. For a sound engineer, there is the possibility of working with sound systems in nightclubs and show houses, as well as, doing studio recordings. The combinations may vary according to each one’s abilities and aspirations. Here are some of these professional possibilities in the contemporary musical segment:

– A band with its own compositions;
– Tribute or cover band;
– Dance band or orchestra;
– Sound systems for events;
– Structure setup;
– Management;
– Booking;
– Executive production;
– Tour manager;
– Technical work (sound, lighting, stage);
– Artistic direction;
– Show houses, theaters, nightclubs, bars (live music);
– Phonographic production (recording company);
– Music publishing;
– Record distribution;
– Record, DVD, etc., sales;
– Music instrument and equipment accessories;
– Repair and manufacture;
– Composing;
– Player or interpreter (playing, singing for third parties);
– Independent singer;
– Arranger;
– Sound engineer.

As you can see, there are many work options in the music market, and being important to note that one vocation does not necessarily exclude another. A musician can develop his career by performing different functions according to his aspirations and professional motivations. Indeed, the current market configuration imposes that the musician have many qualifications. Besides being an instrument player, he or she must have skills not related to the music business, such as management and marketing.

Leo Morel is Professor of Culture and Media Studies at FGV/IDE-Rio, author of the book Music and Technology; he is also a professional musician.

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