Last week’s White/Lowery debate was bigger than I anticipated. Plenty of supporters and detractors. Yet very few discussed the final paragraph where I mentioned several artists making a handy living from the internet on their music. Tyler Ward is about to do another European tour with sold out shows in the fall. Megan and Liz had to win a contest to play at the iHeartRadio festival. DJ Antoine’s two biggest videos combined have over 100 million views. Forbes wrote about Alex Day a few weeks back asking the question, “Where is the music press on all this?”
This just scratches the surface. There’s an amazing class of musicians who have nearly everything: fans, familiarity, income. But the one thing they don’t have is respect. Meanwhile, other musicians who have respect don’t have the income. What we’re experiencing here is nothing new, quite frankly. In the late 80s/early 90s, indie rock had a ton of respect and was desperately trying to make money from it. Meanwhile, jam bands were growing at a rapid clip making a lot of money, while getting derided by music critics. Eventually, some in each camp got an uneven mixture of both, while others fell by the wayside. I’m sure the same could be said for battles in the early 70s and probably even in the fifties during the transition from big band to rock music.
In my earlier days with internet radio (2001!), I had several people push hard because they felt internet radio was finally going to give esoteric indie artists a chance to have widespread success. I argued against that point. Just because something esoteric can reach a bigger audience doesn’t make it less challenging for someone to listen to. Let alone something people want to spend money on. People want easy-to-digest music that makes them feel good. Naturally, that’s what became the most popular music on internet radio, and is now the most popular music on streaming services.
There’s always been a very small class of musicians who command both respect and reap the rewards. (Arcade Fire comes first to mind) Others tended to get one or the other. Many get neither. Maybe it’s time to step back and recognize that this is push/pull is just part of the mindset of the musician. This dichotomy will always exist. If we are to accept artists of “artistic merit” should earn more money, then I hope we can also recognize artists earning money should earn some “artistic merit”. I realize this is futile and will lead some of you to leave “have you listened to their crap?” comments. But that’s my point. Theirs makes money. Yours doesn’t. It’s not the internet. It’s the struggle that’s always existed with art and commerce.