The 2 Reasons Most DOPE Artists DON'T Make Money!

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Any time and artist comes to me for consulting, the first question I ask them is, “Why are you doing music?” More often than not, I get some existential answer like:

  • To change the world...
  • To bring the real back to the game...
  • To blow up...
  • To represent for my people...
  • To show "them” [enter State/City/Hood] got talent...

The only answer I never seem to get, is the one I’m actually looking for… “TO MAKE SOME G.D. MONEY!” 

After years of asking this question, it finally occurred to me that most artists simply don’t plan on making money. Don’t get me wrong, they would like to make money and often talk about making money (much in the same way regular people talk about winning the lottery), but they don’t PLAN on making money. I believe there are two main reasons for this:

  1. They don’t think they’re good enough - You can ignore all the bravado, most artists are very insecure (and rightfully so). They are creative people who open themselves up to be judged by the world. Every artist assumes that they make good music, but most have never received the external confirmations they seek to validate that assumption (ie. Paid shows, Sales, Radio Play, Real Fans, Groupies, etc). These are the artists constantly sending unrequested music looking for the proverbial pat on the head, longing for someone to tell them they are, in fact, DOPE!
  2. They just don’t think it’s possible - On the flipside, you have artists who have 100% confidence in the fact that they make dope music. They’ve sold CDs, rocked a few shows and consistently get unrequested positive feedback on their songs. Unfortunately, having dope music can be more disheartening than having bad music. Knowing that people love what you do, but not seeing what you deem as real success come from it (ie. BIG Show Money, Huge Digital Sales, Calls from Major Labels), could leave many artists frustrated or bitter. These tend to be the artists that complain about everything… It’s radio’s fault or bloggers, other artists, fans, greed, haters, how “shady” the industry is, the WEATHER! Let them tell it, EVERYTHING but them is what’s holding them back. 

I personally believe any artist is capable of making money. Yes, even artists with BAD music. If you show me someone with bad music… I’ll show you someone with bad taste in music. Its all about marketing and finding your audience.If an artist doesn’t believe he can make money doing music, he will not make money doing music. This disbelief will always prevent him from seeing music as a career and his craft as his profession. Music is a business, and like any other business it takes money to make money. But when you don’t believe in the potential to make money from something, it’s hard to put money into it. Even most of the artists who think they’re “investing” into their careers, really aren’t. 

By definition, Investing is the act of expending money with the expectation of achieving a profit or material result. If an artist doesn’t believe they can make money from their music, they can’t possibly spend money with the expectation of turning a profit. At this point, they’re just spending money, and that’s NOT investing. Every single beat, hour of studio time and flyer design is nothing more than an expense. Subconsciously understanding that, they'll  never spend more money than they are willing to lose (which is less than it takes to be successful), because every dollar is spent with the expectation that it will not return.

This is why artists spend money on what I’d like to call “comfort promo”. Things that produce activity but not necessarily productivity. Artists will spend money on things like followers, flyers, T-Shirts, performances, email blasts, major features and things that make them look/feel like legitimate artists, but won’t spend money on Consulting, Mixing, Mastering, Planning, Marketing, PR, Administration or a number of other things that would put them in a position to actually be a legitimate artist (and by legitimate, I mean profitable). 

Now don’t get me wrong, everything in that first group can be an effective means of promotion, but spending money on those things without spending money in the second group is like buying rims with no car. It looks good but won’t get you anywhere.

So what’s the point?

I DID NOT write this post to discourage artists or belittle their dreams. My primary reason for writing this, was to shine a light on many of the actions, thoughts and frustrations that artists face. My wording is purposefully blunt. If you only take one thing away from this post, I want it to be the fact that IT IS ABSOLUTELY POSSIBLE TO MAKE MONEY INDEPENDENTLY DOING MUSIC. The question that will determine whether you succeed or fail is….

Do you believe that YOU can make a living doing music?

If your answer is YES, then all you have to do is be willing work, invest in yourself and potentially fail. If your answer is NO, and for most it will be if they really do some soul searching, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop doing music. Being an artist is fun. There are plenty of people who paint, hoop, and cook just because it’s something they love to do. There is no reason that music can’t be the same for you. Make songs; perform at open mics; get on mixtapes! Accept that music is your hobby and spend your money accordingly. If you realize that you’re paying for an experience, nobody can ever sell you a dream.

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Kelby Cannick
Makin’ It Magazine

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