Luke Sharkey sets out to investigate why becoming a full time musician in Ireland in 2016 can be so difficult.
ONE of the things worthiest of celebration in Irish culture is our music. For a relatively small nation, we have managed to produce unprecedented amounts of tremendous artists, some of which have been amongst the biggest bands in the world.
That being said, not all of our best groups have an easy time making rent. Recently, much loved alternative-indie band Fight Like Apes released a statement announcing the disbanding of the group. The band cited “massive challenges” of a financial nature, sparking another wave of outcry from Irish musicians and industry spokespeople about the urgent need to support our musicians financially. This is not the first time we have heard such an outcry.
So why is it so hard to make a career in music in Ireland? We are certainly a culture that loves live performance. A trip to any packed pub in the city centre of a Friday night is proof enough; crowded around any small stage are groups of fifty and sixty people, urgently cheering on bands they hadn’t heard of thirty minutes beforehand.
We are certainly a culture that loves live performance. A trip to any packed pub in the city centre of a Friday night is proof enough; crowded around any small stage are groups of fifty and sixty people, urgently cheering on bands they hadn’t heard of thirty minutes beforehand.
While it’s all too easy to become starry eyed about Irish culture, in light of truths like this we must also remain critical of it. If pubs are packing out three nights a week and drawing a decent crowd the other four, then surely there’s enough money to go around for everyone involved? The answer, sadly, is no.
A quick check of ticket prices for venues that host up and coming bands offers an answer. It’s easy to understand why bands struggle to make their time worthwhile at €5-€8 a ticket. Even if a band were then to sell one hundred tickets, they might only make a couple of hundred quid between the lot of them after venue costs for an entire evenings work. This is also assuming that you don’t have to pay a support band, which is the case a lot of the time.
So why are ticket prices so low? The answer is, of course, because of the consumer.
A quick look at sales generated from recorded music paints an even bleaker picture. People tend to have some notion that streaming services rarely mange to provide a decent pay cheque for musicians but a look at the actual numbers can be a harrowing experience. Figures do vary depending on a number of circumstances, including what kind of deal an artist’s label has agreed to with Spotify.
Typically, a stream will earn an artist between €0.0056 and €0.0079. Bear in mind this does not include any other writing royalties to be paid out on the music. While this system may work for artists with streaming figures in the millions, for the up-and-coming musician this kind of raw deal can be a fatal blow.
Major labels have instead focused their marketing on re-issues of vinyl generation classics.
The re-emergence of vinyl and, with it, the birth of the next generation of audiophiles is certainly a promising sign. Unfortunately, consumer trends have not thus far reached out to the purchasing of new music. Major labels have instead focused their marketing on re-issues of vinyl generation classics. After all, every new vinyl collection needs a copy of Sgt. Pepper or Blonde on Blonde. These are no doubt universally loved albums, but this shift in focus away from contemporary and towards classic is a serious blow to the economic viability of vinyl sales.
A new vinyl can sometimes be priced as high as €25, taking a leap of faith with a new artist can be risky. €25 is, after all, more than two months of a Spotify Premium subscription and with it access to one of the largest collections of music currently available.
The Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) are providing a vital service for musicians across the country. IMRO work to help artists collect royalties and to support creators’ rights, all in a non-profit setting. IMRO CEO Victor Finn has stressed that “it is important that government, the business community and industry work together to recast perceptions of music as a career and to ensure that the right supports and structures are in place to assist musicians.”
The Arts Council of Ireland was allocated €58.59 million in grants last year, a figure which must be split between all of the arts. A report recently published by Deloitte states that Irish music alone contributes €470 million to the economy. Perhaps it isn’t unfair to ask our government to step up in light of these figures. All eyes on Heather Humphreys, our minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.
That responsibility cannot just be on one person, though. We obviously love music in this country. For many students, nights out can revolve around going to listen to a certain DJ in a nightclub or a specific band in somewhere like Whelan’s. The appetite is there.
We must ensure that we do whatever we can in supporting our favourite Irish artists in the here and now.
We must ensure that we do whatever we can in supporting our favourite Irish artists in the here and now. Whether that be turning up, buying merchandise, paying for downloads or giving Hunky Dory a miss and picking up a new Irish LP on your next trip to the record store. After all, Bowie is always going to be there.