Musician as Freelancer – Part I

The strobe-lights, camera flashes and the halo around “celebrity artists” blind us to look deeper into a musician / artist’s life as a sentinent being.

Once the Age of monarchs and kings gave way to “mass people” as the arbiter of music in democracies,  court musicians became extinct. In other words, musicians were freelancers and lived from project to project – commissioned by rich patrons, state or even municipalities. This was true for geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven. As a matter of fact these two musical geniuses worked as freelancers and that freedom perhaps gave their music something which is radically different from the masters of the previous era.

Mechanical reproduction of music multiplied the reach but it also brought something which we are too aware in the Internet age – zero marginal revenue, i.e. a piece of free software does not earn anything additional per unit when user base increases from 100 to 1 million in terms of marginal revenue.

So, the revenue model now becomes complex and layered. In one version of this model following Pareto Principle, 20% of the paid subscribers subsidizes the 80% free subscribers. Since the total is very large, 20% becomes significant to bear the load of the rest. The free segment trades something for the service :privacy. Providing their contact details, taking a survey, providing preferences and these become sale-able items for other businesses.

The layering comes from businesses now directly coming in between the product and the paid audience in the form of sponsors. These sponsors are generally large corporations or global organizations and institutions with overt and covert agendas. Today, major corporation’s ultimate judge is the fickle and restless public opinion ( “..In a liberal democracy, there is too much movement and motion but little change.” – Alex de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, published in 1833)   and this translates the following for any artist/musician in a liberal democracy :

  • A musician as an income earner becomes  a freelancer and comes under the ambit of all the laws of freelancing.
  • One of the fundamental aspects of this law is to finish a project and have another project ready in the pipeline.
  • An increasing need to be visible and present before the restless judge – public.
  • Fighting with the public expectation that is always in a flux
  • In addition to the invisible boss called public, one may have a visible, tangible, ever-present boss in the form of sponsors and obligations to implicit and explicit protocols
  • Retaining artistic independence.

Thus, in a liberal democracy with incessant mechanical re-production, Art declines.

However, many will dis-agree with my last assertion of decline.

I shall not make my defense but will quote a poet who spoke thus, in another context but poetic context is cosmic in its highest level

“The best lacks all conviction / The worst is full of passionate intensity.”

In Part II, we shall discuss the steps society must consider and take to become true patrons of Art and Music.

This means that the public demand for musical and artistic products must qualify itself higher than the raw demand of the economics.

If any demand of some economic connection has to reflect into the public space, we cross Art and Economics both and enter the domain of Politics.

This explains why Art, Economics and Politics are all connected.

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