I spend a lot of time wondering if I will ever be paid for any of my art. I’ve spent time and money on music, acting, and writing, and yet getting paid anything at all for any of these things hasn’t really happened for me. There are all sorts of rationalizations I’ve had for myself about why this is, although a big part of it does come down to things like stress, fear, self-doubt. But considering the way fans treat artists who actually do become popular and get a chance to make money, I also sometimes wonder if I don’t rather prefer my lack of success just the way it is.
See, this week, as everyone possibly already knows, Taylor Swift decided she didn’t want to make her music available on Spotify. To those of you who are like me and don’t really like Spotify, you’re probably thinking yeah, sure, big deal. But apparently this was a very big deal to a number of people, who have been accusing her of being greedy for wanting more money. Because, obviously, why would an artist expect money for what they do? The thing a lot of us often forget is that while music costs a lot of money to buy, most of that money does not go to the artist. It goes to record labels and advertisers and whoever else helps sell the album, and what’s left over goes to the artist. Many artists make a lot of their money touring these days (or so I hear, I don’t really go to a lot of concerts).
This article from electric literature sums it up better than anything else I’ve read so far. Basically, musicians make less than a cent per play at Spotify, and Swift decided that isn’t enough, and now she’s getting called greedy. Sort of like when musicians got mad at Napster, and then people got mad at those musicians, and now here we are again, except Spotify is even worse than Napster, really, in my opinion. It offers you whatever you want to listen to, for free, and it’s even legal.
The article also references another type of artist that also faces this criticism a lot these days: authors. George RR Martin, for example, is constantly being criticized for how slowly he writes, sometimes humorously and sometimes less so. In this blog post, referenced in the article, none other than Neil Gaiman takes that down- “People are not machines. Writers and artists aren’t machines…For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I don’t really care what it takes to produce that.” while I’m not sure how many writers manage to be contented while producing work, he’s right. We take art for granted, all of us.
Americans hate spending money on things. We don’t want to buy apps, we hate spending more than 99 cents on an ebook, and heaven forbid that anyone who performs the services we survive on each day- cashiers to sell us our food, waiters and baristas and cooks to give us that food, custodians to clean our schools and offices, teachers to educate our children- is paid even a penny more than the least we can give them.
We are a society that is based on the least we can give at any given time. That was reflected even more than ever in this week’s election, in which only 12% of voters were under 30. Twelve Percent. I work at a company of barely 200 people; 12% doesn’t even add up to my one department. Despite the fact that everyone I know my age is at least somewhat dissatisfied, despite the fact that nearly all of us are broke or at least a little financially strapped, despite the fact that all we seem to do in our off hours is write pieces for our blogs about how our generation deserves to be taken seriously, apparently only 12% of us care enough about that to actually get out and vote…and I wonder how many of those non-voters who could have gotten to the polls, but didn’t, are going to complain that the books they want aren’t finished fast enough and not enough of the music they like is free.
Art is valuable, our country is valuable, and I wish more of us were willing to give the money needed to support the things we love.