Monday, May 14, 2007


volume 1 number 19
here's a question
no one asked:
how does a mid-level artist
(i.e. someone who's not well-known but also not unknown who sells a medium to small amount of records and has the corresponding amount of airplay and/or media exposure)
earn a decent living in today's shrinking music market rife with CD burning (i.e. theft of intellectual property) and sharing of downloads which pay the artist a pittance or nothing?
phew...that's a question?

well, in my case I do two basic things:
a. I do as much of the work myself as I possibly can. I write, produce, sing, and play all the parts as often as I can. I own and pay for my own studio. I create my own artwork and packaging. I run my own eStore* (one of two of the best ways I know to actually receive the money, the other being live performances). I own my own publishing company (robert steven's music) and record label (adrian belew presents), both of which exist only to service my music. I manage myself. I even sell my old musical gear on eBay.
b. I try to work in as many areas of music as possible. I produce records for other artists. I play on other artist's records. I make solo records but play in four bands as well. I perform as many shows per year as the market will allow. I do "guest appearances" and as many interviews as are available. I sell downloads. in fact, I am always looking for new income streams available for the kind of work I do: music. and that is the point of this "I-filled" diatribe: a mid-level artist must DO and TRY a myriad of things in order for them to add up to a decent living.

and so it was with the help of my friend Scott Weinberger** (who works in television) I made my first attempt to break into the business of music for TV. unsuccessfully I might add, but I haven't given up just yet.
spies was a track I did last year for a TV pilot called Spying On Myself which barely got into the airwaves before crashing in the dumpster like so many new programs do. the track was not used. I was hoping spies might become the theme song for a weekly series. that would be called passive income or money you receive over and over for something you did once. passive income is the "gift that keeps on giving" which is why it's so heavily guarded by those in the industry who have it. imagine, for example, how much money accrued for mr. bob seger for his (in my opinion) lame-ass "like a rock" theme which was played over and over and over every commercial break on every channel during every 3-hour football game for what seemed like a thousand years. you can bet bob doesn't sell things on eBay.

stop: before you start thinking I'm ungrateful, unsatisfied with my lot in life, bitter, or complaining let me stop you mid-sentence. I'm none of those things. I love what I'm paid to do and would do spies again for nothing any day.

which is what I earned the first time.

*with a huge dose of help from rob murphree, of course.
**scott also had a hand in the making of the "life in a nutshell" video we feature.

guitar, bass, and v-drums: adrian
engineer: ken latchney
recorded at studiobelew sometime in 2006
length: 4:00


  1. HA! You crack me up Adrian. "Mid-level artist..." Now I know you are not talking about your talent! Naw. That must be about the ladder to suck-cess in the industry.

    So yeah! That's definitely a question that I've thought about and even discussed with others. I'm grateful that there are avenues that allow you to afford your music, hopefully without the industry stripping you of your rightful earning. Thanks and kudos to you and Martha for all you both do.

  2. Adrian,

    This is a fascinating topic. Thanks for giving us some insight.

    As much as I'd hate to suggest it, have you considered charging your fans more directly?

    (Sorry, this got a bit long.)

    I don't think I've paid more than $20 or $25 for tickets to see one of your solo or Bears shows. The Bears show in St. Louis was only $17.50 and the place was packed. It is refreshing as a consumer to go to a show that cheap, but does it work best for you? I don't know when diminishing returns set in with raising ticket prices. I'd go regardless, but you don't want to turn off curious people who could become fans.

    I used to help run a small music festival, and we had so much trouble bringing new people in. We did have a loyal group of attendees and when we gradually increased the price, the same people kept on coming. We also added Patron tickets, which offered no real benefit, but allowed people to help us keep the festival afloat. I don't think fans had a philosophical opposition for paying more, as long as they didn't perceive us as being greedy.

    Looking into my personal situation, my husband and I try to see you on every tour. When you don't make it to St. Louis, that involves hotels, gas, even airfare sometimes. The $20 for the ticket is a drop in the bucket, but it's the only cost that goes to you.

    We bought tickets for the Police and Genesis recently, and concert expenses for these better-known (but not better!) bands has really gotten out of hand... but there might be good ideas to take from them. Something like patron or fan club preferred seating, where you get to enter a general admission concert early and secure a good spot. Or a private fan club only show. That way, we crazy fans could pay more without jeopardizing overall attendance with high priced tickets.

    Also, you have been giving us a great amount of personal access with this blog. I've been enjoying it so much, thank you for that. You joked about charging us $5 for answering questions, but you probably could get away with only letting paying members leave comments and be involved with this blog interactively.

    Thanks for reading all this!

  3. I certainly agree with Tickle 100%!

    Adrian,I have never understood why you have not attained the 'star' status that your undeniably incredible talent so rightfully deserves!

    Is this the price you have to pay for not selling yourself out to the 'industry' big-wigs?

    Brent and I wholeheartedly support you in all of your various creative endeavours, in whatever way we can, albeit small pickings in the overall scheme of things. We purchase your recordings from your store whenever it is possible; we religiously download your Dust particles each week, knowing full well that in the end we will also purchase the definitive final CD version whenever it becomes available, again from you. And given the sparse opportunities available to us up here in Canada, we will certainly go out of our way to attend any of your performances - in any construct they may be (i.e. KC, The Bears, ABPT, whatever) that may come our way.

    And we will continue to support you, and spread the word to whoever will listen, about your varied and vast array of music et al.

    I know that the world is a better place for your being in it, and sharing with us all your glorious gift. We thank you for that, and all that it has taken from you to present your gifts to us; and for the unending joy that your music provides us each and every day.

    Oh, and I really liked the 'Spies' piece. I constantly amazes me how you can invoke a particular sense or idea in a piece of music. It certainly seemed fitting for a 'spy' type of show to me.

  4. rheayes said: "You joked about charging us $5 for answering questions, but you probably could get away with only letting paying members leave comments and be involved with this blog interactively."

    That would be sad, indeed...
    for myself, this very interesting blog has led me directly to purchasing the songs Adrian writes about and also in time purchasing all albums I'm missing from his extensive collection - because of this warm, open, friendly place.
    It is wise to have some atmosphere of trust in people, I think.


  5. well THANK YOU ladies!
    it's nice to read your thoughts and know my work is appreciated. I have the best fans anywhere.
    I wouldn't think of charging for my blog, I enjoy telling my story.
    but maybe someday I'll make it into a book and charge for that.

  6. Thanks very much for this post, Adrian. For me, this information is reassuring.
    I think that many people assume that someone such as yourself might have lots of money and offers for work coming in all the time. And I doubt that most fans realize just how much work is involved in being a musician. Making a living in the Arts is not an easy task.
    I make a living at a regular job (draftsman). But my job eats up so much of my time and energy that it is hard to fit music in too. Someday I hope to make a living playing music. I have been working away at different things... drumming for dance classes, facilitating drum circles, playing gigs with bands. None of these things bring in much money. But each of these things is a foot in the door.
    I'm not giving up. I play music because I absolutely need to do so. It is who I am. If I were stranded alone on an island, I would still find a way to make music.
    So it gives me hope to see that you too need to work hard at spreading your talents around, seeking out work and income wherever you can.
    I think going independent is the way to go nowadays.
    Here's hoping you get lots of calls for guest spots and soundtracks. Bring on the passive income!


  7. Bloggin' is good PR for a musician too! I've been re-visiting your music ever since being routed here via C&L.
    Amazing to get interactivity from such an esteemed member of the music (guitar) world. Blows this mind. These internets are something else.

    I'm looking for a new amp. If the 20 questions aren't over[?], and without telling you the guitar I play, do you have any thoughts/wisdom/anecdotes on amplification?

  8. Hi Adrian - Is your fourth band ProjeKct Six?

  9. Bob Seger never accepted money for the Chevy commercials with "Like A Rock". Now he's done a 180 and isn't letting them use it for any price:

  10. I read the article which indeed mentions his shift from chevys to porches, hardly a bold move for a very rich man. but it makes no mention of his "never accepting money" for his decade of commercial overexposure with "like a rock" ads. where did you find this information?

  11. I heard some radio DJs talking about it. They were making fun saying "I should be that guy's agent." Seger is a Michigan guy and he wanted to give back, so the story went. It rang true to me. Why else would that campaign run soooo long if not a free, recognizable song. It didn't hurt Seger's career either.

    After your question I did some more digging, it looks like the story was some sort of urban legend:

    Sorry for the misinformation.