This Is Not An Attack On Musicians — It's A Wake-Up Call
Sweetheart Pubstack #50
We’re Rachel Hurley and Frank Keith IV, co-owners of Sweetheart Pub. We’re music industry veterans with over 30 years of combined experience in the music business, having worked in licensing, talent buying/booking, label management, tour management, and more. Once a week (hopefully), we’ll publish a new edition of this newsletter, where we’ll share some philosophy and actionable advice on all facets of the music industry.
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This is not an attack on musicians — it's a wake-up call
I can't help but roll my eyes when musicians complain about venues not booking them because their Spotify numbers aren't high enough, because they will be the first ones who say "don't play for free" and "exposure doesn't pay the bills" but also think that more people should just be taking chances on them.
Venues do not exist to help a musician with their career. They need to make enough money to pay their employees, rent, insurance, food costs, etc…and hopefully a profit. Talent buyers need some sort of social proof to determine if they think anyone is actually going to come see a musician / band. They could be the greatest unknown band in the world — but if they don't have a fan base who will pay to see them — what does it matter?
Venues lose real dollars when no one comes to a show. I know because I was a talent buyer for The Poplar Lounge. Venues kind of work the same as labels in that successful shows end up paying for the unsuccessful ones.
But of course, venues want every show to be successful, and so they do their due diligence just like if they were investing in a stock. They check out a musician’s social profiles to see what kind of following, engagement, and streams they have before they decide to "buy" them.
Many musicians want to make money, but they don't run their career like a business. They still believe in this idea that if the right person just discovers them, everything will magically fall into place. Like it or not, your social numbers = your valuation. And that's actually very lucky for musicians — what if the metric was record sales?
Take a deep dive on any successful musician and you'll find that they actually worked their ass off and were willing to go all-in, because they spent more time on developing their skills than complaining about things not being fair.
No one ever said the music business is fair, and it never will be.
We've even had some musicians suggest that our PR fees be run on a sliding scale. How would that work? We'd have to do some kind of deep dive into a musician or band's taxes to make sure they don't make over a certain amount of money? That's how charities are run, not businesses.
We see people complain about how expensive it is to hire a publicist (my rates are right smack dab in the middle) but the way I see it is:
Most musicians don't want to be superstars. They just want to have an audience and make a comfortable living — like a good lawyer or a doctor, $250K or so. But look at what lawyers and doctors do to get to that level. They pay crazy amounts of money for their education, they spend many extra years going to school and studying, they spend years clerking and interning, and their success is based on how many people are "fans" of their work. They know they have to invest in themselves in order to get to the next level.
So, yeah, it sucks that not everyone has access to enough money to hire a publicist, but they also don't have access to purchase a lot of things. Do they ask everyone they purchase something from to lower their prices because they can't afford it?
It doesn't matter how talented a musician is. No one owes them or is obligated to lose money on their behalf. If they want people to want to work with them, it's very important for them to realize it's a two way street: both parties need to get something out of the transaction.
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