The two-time grammy winning jazz composer Maria Schneider is a friend, and in conversations we have had she expressed an interesting take on the stereotypical starving artist. She theorizes that part of the reason record companies are able to make huge profits while the artists often make so little, is because many musicians have the idea that being a starving artist somehow raises the value of their art. Some have the attitude that commercial success equates to selling out, and the minute something is popular it’s devalued. This becomes a “badge of honor” that some artists like to wear. That attitude has played right into the hands of the business world. Think about other occupations or professions. Can you imagine a baker saying “I don’t really want to make money selling my cakes. I do it because I just love to see people appreciate how good my food is. I don’t care if I lose money.” Nobody would ever do that in any business other than the arts! The business world says, “Wow, we’ve got this commodity here, and we don’t have to pay much for it. And as a matter of fact, they are happier if we don’t pay them for it!” This may be a little extreme, but you get the point.
Maria goes on to say that it’s important to instill in people’s minds the idea that it’s possible to do incredible high-value work and be paid for it. Music shouldn’t be free. Yes, as musicians we are smart and lucky. We do what we love, and get paid for it. It shouldn’t mean that because we love doing what we do we should do it for free or for less than its worth. We work very hard and we should be paid well for it.