money from music

September 13 2011

You do some private teaching and sometimes give burnt CDs to your students because you know they won’t go and buy them if you ask them to, and you don’t want to lend your own CDs to people. You have also just spent $10,000 on an album with your group and after 3 months of busily doing gigs and promoting the CD you have made back just $2000. One day you go to a lesson and the student brings in a burnt copy of your album that their friend gave them. What do you tell them? Explore all aspects of this question. Would this change your behaviour in the future? How?

That was one of the questions posed to a group of 50 young musicians last Saturday at ‘Money From Music’ – a workshop presented by the Australian Youth Music Council (which I currently chair) in my home town of Canberra. We asked the participants to answer questions such as:

– Why do I want to be a musician?
– Do I expect to be paid as a musician?
– Do I expect to earn other sources of income to sustain my Arts Practice?

Despite a lot of last-minute organising and preparing, the day seemed to be incredibly successful in terms of having musicians dissect broad questions about the wider industry and interact with difficult issues. We played a ‘game’ (likened by a few to be somewhat similar to Stephen Fry’s QI), where teams of musicians had to answer a range of situational questions, and got points according to how popular their answers were. The idea was to get people to think about broad issues, not to disseminate information. To provide a context we featured 8 diverse speakers to give a snapshot of their own careers – Griffyn compatriot Matthew O’Keeffe from the RMC band, Boy and Bear manager and AYMC member Rowan Brand, Fourplay musician and Senator Christine Milne’s adviser Tim Hollo, and film/TV composer Art Phillips to name a few. We then challenged the groups to answer questions such as:

You’re auditioning for a job in a Stage Band that tours. They select you, but realise that they pay you as a casual for the first 6 months before they commit to a full time contract. You currently are a music teacher with 50 students. Do you cancel all your students, knowing that will not be able to get them back to take the risk and commit to the trial?

This blog isn’t the context to summarise the responses – what was most important was that it got people thinking about larger issues of music and how to make a living out of it. (…although the group that answered the above question suggested that if they were a good teacher that if they were a good enough teacher their students would come back to them if it didn’t work out – so they should go for the gig!…) However, the responses were incredibly interesting and we’ll be working to follow up on some form of summary, which will be presented at the International Music Council’s World Forum on Music in Tallinn later this year.

Most illuminating for us [the AYMC] was how this seemed to be an effective model for youth advocacy. How did we achieve this? We hunted around for a few answers to this post-workshop: It was free, there was a mix of ages and genres, it was about exploration instead of disseminating information, it was interactive, it was about global issues affecting primarily a local audience, and there were strategic local connections. More important was how everyone had fun and were able to share their own diverse experiences as an aspiring, emerging, or established musician.

So what next? Perhaps a ‘Watch This Space’ for how such investigation can continue to be promoted throughout communities around the country, and hopefully illicit debate and discussion among young musicians as to how their Practice fits in with the broader economy and society.

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