Let’s look at a live show. My fee for an hour on stage is anywhere from $200-$1500 depending on the venue. That means, at the minimum, my time is worth $200/hr. Someone like Paul McCartney would get considerably more. Let’s say an arena full of 10,000 people at $45 per ticket. Conservative estimates on both parts. That’s $450,000 per show, before expenses. And you have no idea how expensive it is to put on an arena show.
So, let’s say Paul’s time is worth $450k per hour. Why is that? Because millions of people around the world love him and want to see him. As an audience member, you’re buying in on a group deal to see Paul for $45. Just like if you and your friends all chip in for a six pack and split the cost.
If you wanted a private show with Paul McCartney, you wouldn’t expect to pay $45 would you? Of course not. His time is still worth that much.
In my case, let’s take $200 an hour as an example, since that the minimum I’m paid for an hour show. Let’s apply that to songwriting sessions. It takes a minimum of 8 hours for me to write a song. And depending on the song, much longer. I’ve had songs that take months to complete. But let’s say 8 hours to write one. That means I should make at least $1600 per song.
If I could drop a new song into distribution and be guaranteed $1600 for it. I’d write a lot more songs. And I’d have no problem with that. Because the amount of work I do would be compensated just fine. But I can’t spend 8 hours a day writing. I have to book gigs, do gigs, travel all over the country, take care of the press, take care of online promotions, record the songs (there’s another 8 hours outside of the writing), and all the other things that go along with being an artist.
Get other people to do those things, you say? They don’t work for free. I have to pay them. But the artist is expected to work for free?
Let’s go more blue collar. Let’s say $20 an hour. For 8 hours of writing, another 8 to record. That’s still $320 per song. Do you know how many thousands (millions?) of songs there are in circulation that never make $320? It’s uncountable.
We work a lot for free already because we’re never sure where the lightening will strike. We have to maximize the hit song because we have to cover the duds. Entertainment is not an exact science. It’s not like making a car or canning beans. It’s constant experimentation to see what will connect with the audience. Ask Diane Warren, one of the most successful songwriters ever, how many crappy songs she’s written in between the good ones.
We take on a huge amount of risk. And risk is rewarded with higher compensation. You take a risk on the stock of a hot new company and you either lose it all or make a considerable profit. Or you can buy a savings bond with no risk and a small return. A blue collar hourly pay job is a savings bond. We’re working on highly speculative stuff. Big risk equals big reward.
“Ah, but…” the critics say. “You can make money selling t-shirts and special packages and such.” Why should I? I’m not a clothing designer! I’m a songwriter and comedian. My job is to write good songs and good jokes. If I wanted to design t-shirts for a living, I wouldn’t bother with the guitar. Anybody ever tell Stephen King that he could make good money selling t-shirts with his face on it if he’d just give the books away for free?
Picture this… “Hey Doc… You really should do this heart surgery for free man. But you could make a killing selling ‘Dr. Fun’ t-shirts. Maybe key chains…” Stupid, huh?
Artists have a chosen career path, just like everyone else working a job. And just like you expect to get pay raises and promotions, so do we as our popularity grows. Boy will that be the day when your boss comes in and says “Hey, we really like your work a lot. You’re very popular with everyone in the office. You’re a huge part of our success. So we’re not going to compensate you for your work anymore. We know you do it because you love it.”
Show me that conversation and I’ll show you one pissed off employee who’s about to grab the want ads.
So, in conclusion… Please do let your friends hear my CDs that you’ve bought. Absolutely send them to my website where they can stream every song I’ve ever released for free. If I send you a free MP3, tell your friends they can email me and I’ll give it to them too.
But please…please…. respect my time and skill by not just giving away the farm. I respect your time and skills in your job and would never think of forcing you to do it for free. There are plenty of ways for people to sample my music for free and then compensate me by buying it.
Common consideration is what will make music work again. Not law suits or regulations or copy protection schemes. It’s the Golden Rule. Back to basics. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Steal from me and you’ve given me permission to come and take your new flat screen TV out of your living room. Just letting you know.