Like many music fans, I’ve been really into the gigs over the last few months. It was a glorious return to my pre-pandemic life. The masses somehow feel different. There are no more casual fans – all viewers of these performances have been waiting for them.
We had months or in some cases years to record the songs before hearing them live. Singing along is an intense, sometimes tearful affair. The acts cry. We cry. Live music is back.
Of course, being Irish, we’ve always loved concerts. I would argue that part of our national identity rests on being among the best fans in the world (not just football, you know). When we go to a gig and the act doesn’t tell us that Ireland is their favorite place, and they don’t just say that, then we feel let down. We are passionate about music.
We’re good at it too. I spent 11 years playing new music on the radio and over the years I have seen the quality of Irish music continue to improve. Do you want top-class electronic music? Look no further than Bicep from Belfast. If you’re looking for pop-country, Dublin’s CMAT will blow people’s minds. Need some indie rock? Pillow Queens sell concerts all over Europe. There is no shortage of talent in our small country.
As someone who thrives on this talent as a fan, it’s heartbreaking to hear that many musicians are ditching it because they can’t make a living from it. But when you look at the facts, it’s understandable.
Record sales are practically non-existent these days. What was once a revenue stream for musicians is now a revenue stream for streaming platforms. Spotify, the leader with a 31 percent share versus runner-up Apple Music with 15 percent, made $11.4 million in revenue last year.
On average, an artist earns around €0.004 each time their song is streamed on the platform, meaning it would need to be streamed a million times to earn €4,000.
Of course, if the song is produced by a band, the money has to be split between the members and in many cases their management and/or record label. As the cost of living for one person in Dublin is currently around €3,142, you can see that most artists won’t be able to make ends meet on their streaming earnings.
So to live music, where artists make the big bucks, right? Well, that depends. Artists receive either a flat fee or a split (typically 80 percent of sales) for their concerts. The amount depends on venue capacity and ticket prices, but for an Irish artist doing well, a night at Vicar Street or the Olympia in Dublin could fetch around €10,000 or possibly a bit more. The thing is these gigs only happen once or twice a year and of course that revenue is shared if you are in a band. Smaller gigs increase live earnings, but support slots (sometimes useful for fan acquisition) yield little and often turn a loss once the artist has to pay for his band, agent fees, and travel expenses.
A lot of the Irish musicians I’ve spoken to about this are at tears. They love being in Ireland as the music community is special. People really support each other and take care of each other, but you can’t live on support. Surely you can’t live on assistance in a country where the cost of living is skyrocketing. So people go.
Musicians, crew and creatives supporting the industry move to places like Berlin and Lisbon where life seems easier. Others just pack it up and get tired of fighting for auto insurance, let alone a mortgage. The result is that we lose. As a nation, we are losing a thriving industry that means so much to us.
Positive steps have been taken. The Music Industry Stimulus Package or MISP program was introduced during the pandemic to provide emergency support to artists during such a difficult time for the arts. A total of €1.7 million was given to a selection of Irish artists to help them record and release new music. With the newly introduced basic income for artists, they receive 325 euros per week. 9,000 people have applied for the pilot project, 2,000 will be successful. It’s a start.
As music lovers, there are things we can do to support artists we love. Buy their music. Buy a nice record from a music store or order directly from an artist online.
Buy the album digitally through iTunes (also another thing) or Amazon, or better yet, Bandcamp, which allows artists to set their own prices and gives them more control. Keep an eye out for Bandcamp Fridays when the fees are waived and the artist gets more of the money spent on their music and merch.
If you stream – and we all do – switch to Tidal, which pays artists significantly more per stream (€0.01 vs. the €0.004 above). Buy tickets. Go to gigs. buy goods. Ask your favorite radio station to play your favorite artists (artists make money from airplay, it’s about more than “presence”).
We live in a golden age of Irish talent and have been blessed with the opportunity to access more music than ever before, but everything comes at a price. Of course we don’t want that prize to be the music itself.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/sound-of-silence-could-be-result-of-turning-a-deaf-ear-to-the-plight-of-our-musicians-41843942.html Sound of Silence could be the result of being deaf to the needs of our musicians