Loving Music vs. Living in the "Real World"
Recently I bought a ticket to a Godflesh concert. No big deal, right? People buy tickets to concerts every day. The ticket came out to a whopping $31, less than the cost of most parking passes to arena-sized shows. Why would anybody consider this transaction to be some kind of major grievance? Well, here's the problem - the show is four months away, it's in a city some 1,000 miles from where I live, and I'm currently between jobs. However, I didn't drop a bunch of money on a full vacation package. I spent $31 of the money I had in savings on a concert in advance out of the hope that, in four months, I will have another job that will afford me a weekend getaway. The ticket serves as a promise for a reward if I am in fact able to get my life together in enough time.
Some people didn't take too kindly to this ticket purchase. By "some people", I mean my boyfriend's mother. Being the micro-manager she is, she jumped to conclusions and assumed I dropped a ton of money on a vacation package using his money, something I would never even think to do. However, because my boyfriend and I spent money on a vacation in New York last year that was built around another Godflesh concert, she started theorizing that I was making my boyfriend spend money he didn't have to fulfill my wildest rock n' roll dreams. She left a particularly nasty comment that mentioned my perceived poor work ethic, my unwillingness to solve my problems, and how I was more concerned with "chasing this band around" than "living in the real world". Anybody could read this, including musicians I network with.
Her unkind words threw me into a bit of an emotional tailspin. Had I committed some kind of heinous act by just spending money on a concert ticket, given that I don't have a job? I mean, I have done similar things before. I have bought tickets to shows well in advance with the hope that something would work out and I would get to go. In some instances it worked, in others it didn't work. Regardless, I like having the assurance that I can attend a show I really want to see if life chooses to afford me to opportunity. Also, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get out of town for a few days. There is nothing wrong with still being obsessed with music and the musicians who make it at my age, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to have a type of fun that stretches beyond immediate everyday life.
What happened last week ultimately made me think about what it means to "stan" for a music artist when you're in your 30s. I'm turning 31 this year, and while my fangirling has matured significantly over the years, I am still a fangirl nonetheless. I go to shows, I take pictures of the bands, I try to meet the members, I post reviews with my photos included, I tag them on Instagram and Facebook (sometimes they share my work!), and I run fan blogs where I post my own content or share others' content with credit given. It's more than just a hobby to me, it's a source of pure joy. Call it my Marie Kondo-esque space within my conscious existence. Music sparks joy. Musicians spark joy. I like feeling joyous feelings, and so few other things in my life produce the kind of joy that music does.
Most people in my waking life understand why I love music and music promotion so much. I have other friends who share the same kind of feelings for different bands and artists and put themselves out there to give these artists more attention. I network with music critics and bloggers well into their 40s and beyond with similar hobbies as mine. Through music blogging and band promotion via fan sites, I have met many of the musicians I admire and even formed friendships with a select few of them. I do it all for free. Money isn't my motivation, it's just pure love for the music itself. The things you do out of love, ultimately, are the things that matter most. Not everything has to be for profit. Not everything should be for profit.
Try telling this to the handful of dissenting parties I've encountered over the years, including my own mother and of course my boyfriend's mother, as well as former friends. I have been told that artists are "using" me for free work and don't actually respect me as a person. I've been told I make a fool out of myself, that liking music and its makers so intensely at my age is a sign of immaturity, and that I need to find more practical things to spend my time on. The last time I checked, I have the practical parts of my life in order. I'm making rent and most of my bills. I am in the running for three different jobs in my degree field. I am doing chores and running errands and keeping a tab on my finances. I know what the "real world" is. I have to live in it every day.
Here's what detractors like these fail to realize, though - the "real world" is different for everyone, all 7 billion of us on this weary old planet. The real world for them might entail working 12 hours a day at a job they hate, watching a couple of Netflix original series, griping on Facebook, going to bed early, and starting the whole mess over again in the morning. The real world for me involves writing articles like these, keeping the blogs I run active, editing content, cooking meals, cleaning, caring for my cat, caring for my boyfriend, and yes, making sure Every Single Adult Responsibility Is Taken Care Of, Karen. Oh yeah, and it also involves having silly conversations with band members on Instagram when they share something I found that interests them.
Now let's talk about the "real world" for musicians themselves via a recent news item. PledgeMusic, a service that managed crowd-funding of new music projects and merchandise by artists, filed for bankruptcy last week. According to the company’s co-founder Benji Rogers, PledgeMusic had no other choice but to go bankrupt in order to pay their various debts to creditors. The underhanded part? PledgeMusic will be using the revenue generated by crowd-funding in order to pay off a substantial part of these debts. That means fans who pledged money to their favorite artists to help them complete albums or design new products will now see their money used to settle legal matters instead. There have been talks of fans receiving refunds to their credit cards, but few have seen actual returns. As of May 14th, Rogers stepped down from the company while fellow employees, artists, and patrons pick up the pieces.
Some reading about PledgeMusic’s downfall might be wondering why bands that have achieved a degree of success even need crowd funding in the first place. They’re “rock stars”, right? Doesn’t their label or their management take care of things like this for them? Therein lies the problem - nobody in the "real world" camp wants to actually talk about a musician's reality. Aside from the absolute upper echelon of pop stars or those who got famous during the music industry’s heyday, most musicians barely make any money off their music. What happened to TLC in the 90s is hardly a fluke in the music industry, especially during a day and age where buying music isn’t even remotely as commonplace as it was just 20 years ago.
What little money does get made from music itself goes to the label, management, producers, and/or streaming services with only a small cut going to the artists themselves, which then has to be divided multiple ways depending on how many musicians were involved in bringing a project to life. “Real world” folks don't talk about how many bands out there have been screwed out of their money by bad business deals made when they were young and impressionable and how the repercussions of these decisions had lasting effects on the artists’ financial well beings. T-Boz, Left Eye (RIP), and Chili were in bankruptcy court and scrambling to save face while their manager, Pebbles, was reaping the rewards from their hard work. This happened in 1996 and it is still happening in 2019, except it’s now arguably happening on a much larger scale.
The days of trashing hotels and blowing through thousands of dollars while lounging in a gold swimming pool with Playboy bunnies is over. This isn't 1985 anymore. Bands, far and large, are struggling to make end's meet just like you and me. They have to compensate for lack of music revenue by jacking up prices on limited edition pressings of albums, tour-exclusive band merch, and other various material offerings. They have to take gigs they don't want to play and talk to interviewers that grate on their nerves and deal with strangers getting in their faces demanding more and more from them when there's only so much they're able to give. Reality for music artists means playing before hundreds or thousands of people each night before retiring in a sad Motel 6 near the airport. Many of them are extremely homesick for their families and use alcohol or drugs to cope with loneliness because love in itself doesn't pay the bills.
When I said that not everything should be for profit, I meant it - but most musicians don't have that luxury. Once again, the "real world" for them is different than my "real world". Touring musicians are repeatedly pushed close to the edge and then have to pretend that the cliff isn't even there. That is why I care about the artists I support and do what little I can to support them financially - they absolutely need that support. If I am contributing to a musician's livelihood by spending $31 on a concert ticket, then that is not a waste of money even if I wind up not being able to attend the show at all. The artists I love are hardly millionaires. Most of them are doing what you and I are doing - crying from their debts.
“She Said, She Said” is a music column written exclusively by women. If you’re a fellow female fan who is interested in contributing, than head on up to the top of the page, and under the “About” tab, click “contribute your talent” and let us know!