How bizarre that at the end of a musician’s long day – of practicing and perfecting their craft – they might have to suit up for their support job as, perhaps, a waitress or bartender in some popular coffee shop or watering hole, where happy, casual customers with various music players can listen to an endless stream of “free” music composed, perhaps, by the very person who serves up their drinks, hamburgers and fries…because that musician makes so little money off their own music that they can’t afford to survive on the output of their own talent.

“In certain types of music, like classical or jazz, we are condemning them to poverty if this is going to be the only way people consume music,” Ms. Keating said. – NY Times, Streaming Shakes Up Music Industry’s Model for Royalties

As a writer, designer, and person who has spent her life in the arts, and as someone who worked in the music industry for years, this article is deeply upsetting to me. I buy music in CD form and from iTunes. I do not use Spotify (even though I have an account at the request of a friend who works there). And I buy books and theatre tickets. I don’t believe in getting my entertainment for free.

Artists work like dogs, often for years and years and years, often at “alternate” jobs (like bar tending and waitressing) to their preferred professions of being dancers, musicians, artists and writers, and then when they finally get the break of being recognized and picked up most of the profit goes to the companies that hold their contracts and give them the dubious privilege of exposure. Now with the endless supply of music that is available “for free,” artists, with the exception of huge stars like Adele, are having a hard time surviving.

In our quest to have everything “be free,” we are not thinking about the domino effect it is having on the underlying structure of our economy. I have never believed that all art and information should be free. When I go out to dinner, I have to pay for it. When I take a trip, I have to pay for it. If I want to meet a friend after work for a glass of wine, I have to pay for it. If I want a new pair of shoes, I have to pay for them. But years ago this thing, this philosophy, this belief, took root in our culture that we should be able to listen to the fruit of a musician’s labor for free, or for such a small amount of money that our pocket books barely wince at the output for endless hours of entertainment pleasure.

What an odd philosophy we have when it comes to justifying our belief that music should be “free.” People tend to devalue that which is free. It makes it easy to distance themselves from the difficulty of creating it. It makes it easy to deny the work, commitment, talent, effort, time, creativity and money invested by the person who created it.

“Spotify, Pandora and others like them pay fractions of a cent to record companies and publishers each time a song is played, some portion of which goes to performers and songwriters as royalties…The question dogging the music industry is whether these micropayments can add up to anything substantial.” – NY Times

It’s not hard to make a living off of someone else’s talent. Having talent to begin with is the hard part. Giving artists exposure should not be the only focus. Making sure they can survive should be as well.