Let me first start off by saying that I’m a fan of Swift’s. Now, before you chastise this 29 year old dude for his music taste, hear me out. I’m a songwriter first and respect her artistic process. I’ve been a DIY musician from the beginning and have been making the majority of my income from music for 6+ years.
However, it’s very difficult to read Swift’s Wall Street Journal op ed and not think that she exists in a vacuum. A bubble, totally absent from the world as it is for thousands of brilliant musicians not blessed with a wealthy father to jumpstart their careers.
But, the fact of the matter is, no matter how much “heart and soul an artist has bled into a body of work,” if there isn’t a massive marketing budget behind it, the masses will not hear it. And it definitely will not sell.
I believe Swift puts a heck of a lot of “heart and soul” into her records, but by stating that the only records people buy are “the ones that hit them like an arrow through the heart,” belittles every other record that didn’t get a Swiftian marketing campaign.
I just released a new record. I poured every sense of my existence into this album and reached the highs of highs and lows of lows during the creation process. It nearly destroyed my relationship. I spent days upon days depressed in the studio because I was forced to relive some of the worst moments of my life over and over again in the vocal booth. I worked with some of the most respected people in the business creating this piece of art. And I’m damn proud of it.
It didn’t sell a bazillion copies out the door. It didn’t even sell more than a few hundred. But no one can call this record dishonest or inauthentic. But according to Swift, my record isn’t being purchased because I didn’t pour enough “heart and soul” into it.
However, like Swift, I am an optimist. I don’t care about the meager sales my record has procured. Because a modern music career isn’t about record sales any more. This is something that most people within the mainstream don’t understand.
I exist in a world completely foreign to Swift’s. The DIY music world. You may scoff at my relatively insignificant numbers across the various social networks, streaming sites and digital retailers, but I am part of a movement that is bringing change to the music industry much faster than “arrows through the heart.”
DIY artists are connecting with their fans on a deeper, more personal level that encourages true, long-term loyalty. While radio artists live and die by the hit (After his 2013 smash, Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke’s new album has only sold 530 copies in the UK in its first week), DIYers persevere.
With Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, Patreon, BandCamp, BandPage and merch at shows, musicians are able to monetize this connection in more creative ways than ever before. YouTubers are showing the industry how it’s done – from the ground up. DIYers tour with vigor and play anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. Living room concerts are proving more profitable than high profile club shows and while record labels scramble to manufacture the next Summer hit, this subgroup of hardworking, passionate DIYers are learning how to build a career on their own where success is defined by the ability to make a decent living doing something we love.
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The future will not rely on sales of music. No matter how much Swift preaches the importance of valuing art, technology had different plans. Instead of fighting it, forward minded musicians have learned to embrace it and soldier on.
Did I envision this lifestyle when I dreamed of becoming a rock star? No. I envisioned a life like Swift’s: the ability to ignore the inner workings of the business of music and solely concentrate on my art – while touring stadiums of course.
But the reality is, if you want to make it in music today, it takes a helluva lot more than just pouring “heart and soul” into your art.
Photo is by Jana Zills from Flickr and used with the Creative Commons License
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari’s Take. Listen to his new album on Spotify or support him more by downloading it on BandCamp. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake