Am I going to make a living with music?

No, probably you’re not.
Ok, done! Shortest article ever.

Well, I’m sorry for you but actually it’s a bit more complex than this. And I’m probably going on for a few more lines. I know you’re happy now, aren’t you!?

DSRM (Depressive Suicidal Reality Madness)

Let’s be clear: everything varies with the music genre you’re playing. I mean, if you are a peachy pop singer you’ll probably have way more chances to live with your own music than if you play black metal or ambient music, for example.
Hey, I see you! Now you’re washing away your grim black and white corpse paint, and replacing it with the fanciest of haircuts. Oh, you’re also writing love songs now!
Ok, enough mate. Even if you’re evolving in the new Justin Bieber the chances you’ll make a living with music are still tiny. But since I do not give a fucking damn about bloody pop music, and I’m clearly and genuinely disgusted by much of it I’ll be shifting this piece toward more underground music genres.

fenrizSpeaking of which, would you even believe Fenriz, aka Gylve Fenris Nagell, of Darkthrone works in the postal industry? We’re talking about bloody Darkrthrone, guys, not those lousy teenage band you saw  playing last night. What do you think made Fenriz in need of an extra job? Is he so passionate about parcels and stamps?….I don’t think so!
Will you make enough money with your black metal band to don’t have the need to be employed? Hope you will. But let’s face it, if a band like Darkthrone do not, what will you do then?

Yeah, you could…maybe. Probably in a parallel dimension, where James Hetfield is the guy who sells hotdogs at the corner of the street, you will make it!
Am I telling you to stop? Not at all!
Am I babbling around? Yes I am!
And of course you already knew this brief Fenriz anecdote, so why did you act so surprised when I told you about making a living out of music?

I know it seems like I want you to stop doing what you like, but it’s not. The point is I hate seeing false hopes spreading around like hell. Foolish lies too many people believe in.  Overly freaked out PRs, agencies, music “gurus” and even crooks (sometimes) promising a shit-ton of unbelievable crap anyone would never be able to promise.
Buying Facebook likes will never get you in front of other, more talented, bands.
Paying 1000 bucks to get your name bonded (but “stuck” would be more appropriate) with a pathetic label is a waste of money. When a PR tells you he/she’ll be able to make you stand out from the crowd with their services, well, most probably he/she’s lying. No one can be totally sure to do that, so be more than careful before opening your pocket.

*Please, just bear in mind, exceptions exist. Not every label is shit, as not every contract is bad, but surely some of them are. Just always stare at the bigger picture before making any judgement.*

These things (along with many others) won’t make you famous.
What does really matter, in my humble opinion, is quality in the first place, passion in what you’re doing and a good amount of luck as well! Money does help, but it can’t be the only foundation of your music career. Otherwise you’re gonna crumble to the ground like castle of sands in the wind.

The Boring Story of A Wannabe Loser

I need to tell you a story now, which is about myself. I see how excited you are, but don’t worry, I’ll keep it short! But I have to do it, so you’ll see I’m genuinely talking about something I have to deal with. Also while making a lot of mistakes in the process.
When nobody knows you, and all you have to do is write, play and record in your small bedroom no pain occurs. You feel free to experiment and have all the time in the world to do and enjoy what you like. As long as you’re living this stage everything will be fine. Also, if your music really sucks you aren’t going to have any problem either, and your life will be all shiny and happy.
But what if some approvals start to come?

Suddenly your mind begins to run, change and eventually lose the right (or the original – it’s complicated tell where the actual “right” is!) perspective. This is what happened to me, at least.

At this point I kept on pushing and pushing, trying everything to stand out amongst the crowd. Luckily I’ve never surrendered to false and overly stupid solutions (like the ones listed just above), but not because I’m smarter than you or whatever. It was just because I have this kind of self-defense “device” that suddenly stops me from spending great amount of money and being involved in potential risky situations. It could be both a virtue or a flaw, but it helped me this time around.
Anyway I got to the point where crafting (hopefully) beautiful music became a bloody obsession. And unfortunately I am kind of inclined to get obsessive with things.
Now I understand that it was useless. I mean, how many possibilities I had to do it as my main job? How much money I could have ever make out of black metal-ish crap? Did I really need to be so focused (and tormented) about making music?

I always knew the answers to those questions. I kept on repeating them to myself. But somewhere along the line I possibly forgot ’em. Or I was just pretending. I can’t tell.
What I can do tell now is I was terribly wrong!


Boring Part, Act II – Creepy Math for Loser Metalheads

You might debate I’m doing loser talks, I call it being objective. In case you still don’t believe me, try and give this a look:

  1. Wanna Know How Much Money Black Sabbath, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Death DTA Tours, and Others Earn to Play Shows? (Metal Sucks) [1]
  2.  Wanna Know How Much Money Slash, Mayhem, Coal Chamber and Others Earn to Play Shows? (Metal Sucks) [1]

Let’s leave alone the giant acts, and consider, for example great underground (even if not so) bands like Mayhem, in the live gig with Watain & Revenge (link #2). If you’re just a little bit familiar with extreme metal music you must know then how famous those bands are, especially the first two!
Ok, now look at the gross sales revenue of that gigs: 12.545 $, which makes 11.120 €, more or less.
Intuitively Mayhem (which are more famous than the other two acts) got the biggest slice, let’s say an entire half, while Watain got ¾ of the 2nd half…and yes, Revenge only ¼ .

Please note that these calculations are purely based on common sense. They aren’t exact nor compulsorily true. They might be the wrong percentages, but what we really mind here is getting an average perspective on the earning of mid-size (or large) underground extreme metal bands for playing a gig.

Getting back on track, supposing my calculations were true Watain received a gross sales of 4.170 €. Mind that we’re talking of gross values! Supposedly they bring home like 50-70% of that sum, it sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? (Even though it sounds extremely optimistic to me!).
So now we have 2.500€ for a live show. But of course they had expenses (trips, food, accommodations, instruments and others). I don’t really know here, but I’d like to imagine that the actual net gain of that show could have been near 1.000 € for Watain. Since there are five pieces when they play live it all go down to a little 200€ each!

Ok, now I’m done with math, I swear!
All this madness was just put there to give a perspective on the shit-full life of a musician. I mean, I have to work 3 days in a row to earn 200€ but…Watain are bloody famous, goddammit! I’m a lousy lathe worker, folks!
Did you get the point now?

Also, and I don’t mean to overly scare you, but you might want to give a look at this too:
MONUMENTS Drops Off Tour With THE CONTORTIONIST Due To Finances[2]

I believe there’s not much else to say about it, besides they’re now selling part of their gear to cover some tour debts. Oh, and we’re talking about a band signed to Century Media Records, which is a pretty large label. But they ended up broken anyway. So why is that?

Surely the reasons why they had to drop off the tour could be many, and this won’t never happen to you because you’re smart (of course you are). But I’m just saying. If you think musicians’ life’s all shine-and-happy you might be all terribly wrong.

Boring Part’s Done – Sad But True

Another aspect that needs to be pondered is that the modern music biz is changing everything as well. Once you had a few bands reaching stellar popularity levels, hence earning a lot of money. While today there’s an infinity of bands and small projects out there crowding the scene, and this is true mainly for underground music. Obviously, and very reasonably, you can imagine that all the money from the audience should be approximately distributed equally between those acts. Of course there are largest acts which will get the largest slice, but for the rest, each small band gets a little tiny slice of that cake called audience. A smaller slice means less earnings (in case it wasn’t clear enough). Less earnings mean, way too often, impossibility to be self-sustained with one’s own band activities.

That’s the cruel reality.

It’s A Long Way To the Top If You Wanna Rock and Roll  


Last but not least we look at the bright side of all this shit. Nowadays you may become famous (in your own music genre niche) without doing it as your own job…and this may not seem so bright, but it also results in a smaller effort you need to put in your music project. I mean, hey, that’s only your hobby, isn’t it? You can allow yourself to take it easy! (I.E. Do what I’m telling you, not what I actually did!)
Not to mention that you can be “famous” without being “rich”, means you have way more possibilities to stand out from the crowd than you would ever have back in the good ol’ days. I think the argument is pretty much self-explanatory, right folks!?

Basically this was just a giant mental masturbation. There was no actual “meat”. The aim was presumably to speak out my twisted thoughts and…let’s say, unload some crap and grudge. We may call it a brief pause for thought, as I definitely see too many people playing superstars and acting hilariously awkward.
[1] Appears Courtesy of MetalSucks.Net
Appears Courtesy of MetalInjection.Net

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About Matteo "Teo" Gruppi 120 Articles
TSL co-founder, co-owner, editor, CEO, reviewer, interviewer and writer. Basically I do a lot of stuff and I can’t get anything done well. I was born in 1991 and started loving music since 1981. Got my very first band in high school and now I play as a lonely dumbass in 3 projects: Chiral, Il Vuoto and |||. I listen to every kind of music as long as it is good and intense. Favourite genres include: everything as long as it’s good! (but also folk, black metal, 70-80’s rock and post-rock).

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