Thursday, 9 June 2011

Hobby Bands

IMG_0487 by mattstevensguitar
IMG_0487, a photo by mattstevensguitar on Flickr.

A well know figure in the "prog" scene made a statement about how "hobby bands" were ruining the music scene for pro bands.

Yes I know "proper prog" fans, I know I'm not really prog (don't start) .

This is crazy. No one is entitled to earn a living through music. If you can't earn a living through your music its because your business model doesn't work. If you want complete musical freedom get a day job or work out ways of growing your core audience or earning more revenue. Don't blame the brilliant, talented bands out there doing music FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC!! You'd be surprised how many well know bands also have a day job or some other income stream to keep things going. Its just the way it is. It doesn't mean the music isn't as good.

I've seen the old pros heading towards the end of their career doing the last few tours to try and get some money in the pension fund or get a new patio. These aren't happy people, they are just clocking in, doing the job and looking forward to getting home.

If a band is out there doing music for the love of it, with real dignity surely that is a better thing?

I can pay for recording and a proportion of my bills through the support of the listeners. I realise this is a privilege, not a right. My audience constantly amaze me. Their support allows me to keep making records. Ghost wouldn't exist without them.

Nobody is entitled to a career in music, when you put money before music its never going to make for great records.


Tom said...


Excellent post. None of us are entitled to anything, only the opportunity to produce by virtue of our being alive and human.

It is our hope to be able to produce something that enriches someone else's life.

Be well and keep up the work.


Unknown said...

Thanks Tom

If you can get anyone to listen its a result :)

Tom Emmons said...

I think it's pretty snooty to say that just because you don't survive on your stuff means that it doesn't have any value, and, yes, I've seen that conveyed myself. Absolutes bug me to no end, and saying this or that is ruining music is a pathetic plea from the older model of distribution to try to justify their own work.

It's refreshing to hear a voice bringing us back to reality: music is music, whoever produces it. Thanks for posting what many of us were thinking!

srm1138 said...

As a self-professed home hobbyist, if someone ever felt personally or professionally threatened by what I was doing, I would have to question their motivation.

Unknown said...

Totally agree Steve - its all about the love of the music!! :)

Tim (Kalyr) said...

As a music fan, I don't care whether an artist is doing it for a living or as a hobby - all that matters in the end is whether the music is any good.

I know this will sound harsh to some "old pros", but if it's not economically viable for you to keep on making music, perhaps it's because the music you're making just isn't good enough?

Chrissie said...

If 'professionals' are so worried about 'hobbyist's then they should look to their own acts to see what the problem is that THEY have.

In the classical world, most professionals love to work with and encourage the amateurs. They always say how much they value the enthusiasm that often seems lacking when people do it mainly for the money.

The value of music is not monetary - it's in the pleasure it imparts on the audience ... and the performer.

Unknown said...

@ TIM - yup agreed - the trouble is where do these guys go? What else do they do?

Unknown said...

"If 'professionals' are so worried about 'hobbyist's then they should look to their own acts to see what the problem is that THEY have."

Great quote Chrissie :)

Kev Feazey said...

I've come across this very same comment in an engineering forum but from someone else. They asked if things carried on like they are in the industry then would I be happy just recording 'hobby bands'. This was made as a retort to my viewpoint that the net has made things so much more exciting for music.
I personally think the kind of world view that segregates music into the signed/unsigned, professional/hobbyist, bad/good stereotypes will do nothing but put the people who hold that view into a self inflicted ghetto.

Unknown said...

The best guitar player I ever heard wasn't a pro musician, he was a teacher. Being a great player has f all to do with the music industry and "showbiz".

Anonymous said...

We have a saying in Polish which could be translated as 'the ox has forgotten his calf days.' Even the pros started out small one day. I can say even more, I'm more inclined to look to 'hobby' bands for transparency and honesty rather than the 'pro's' whose music is
more often than not designed and engineered with a view to selling as many cds as possible. Who was that who said it?


Anonymous said...

I've heard similar a few times from different places. "Weekend warriors" was the term most commonly used

I've often wondered how these people went from earning nothing off of music, to being professionals in a single bound

Lew Bear

Unknown said...

Yup exactly - most bands are "semi pro" for at least a while. Often bands tour then temp when they get home to get more cash.

Racing Hippo said...

"when you put money before music its never going to make for great records."
I've been saying it for years, and been villified for it. But it's true.

That doesn't mean "all pro musos are crap"; many still do it for love but are fortunate enough to be able to make their living from it. Lucky buggers :)

Take good ol' Jem Godfrey. There's music he does because he has to and music he creates for fun; it's not hard to tell one from the other. He stopped doing Frost* because it was turning into the former.

Unknown said...

Jem is a cracking example of someone creating amazing music "on the side"

rubken said...

Chrissie makes an excellent point, "If 'professionals' are so worried about 'hobbyist's then they should look to their own acts to see what the problem is that THEY have."

Where I live (SW UK) there are lots of bands who play pub and small gigs for free because they enjoy it. This does make it hard for people trying to make some money from music to get paid.

From the pub/club owner's point of view music is music. They're not bothered with how skilled you are or if you can play Eruption note for note. It's up to bands to show their value if they want paying. "I'll bring in 25 (or 50 or 500) people is a great value proposition.

As soon as you're looking money from music it's a business. Sell yourself!

Jem Godfrey said...

I think I know who you're talking about. ;-)

T'was ever thus mate. These people are so rooted in the past that it's a wonder they're not already fossilised.

The music is what matters as you say, not some farcical financial pecking order.

And besides, don't all bands initially start as "hobby" bands? ;-)

@ Hippo - Thanks for the kudos btw :)

Unknown said...

"The music is what matters as you say, not some farcical financial pecking order."

Some people fear progression :)

Agreed Jem :)

Oli Arditi said...

I'm not sure what a hobbyist is, someone who does something for leisure in their spare time, I guess. An amateur, on the other hand, is someone who does what they do for the pure love of it, irrespective of whether they make their living at it. 'Professional' is a term that has many definitions, some related to the proportion of income the professional activity generates, and some to the level of skill, or complexity of tasks involved. All of these terms are idiotically value laden in common discourse, so I think it's best to avoid them, and talk about the ideas behind them, as follows.

Bitter old musicians sometimes complain about bands that don't make their whole income from their music, on the grounds that they can't be 'serious' about it, or they would be making their whole living from it: the best thing to do with the musicians who make these complaints is to quietly take them out back (wherever that might be) and shoot them in the back of the head, because they are plainly so stupid that reasoned argument won't work on them.

And following that contribution to reasoned debate, I can recall losing out to hobbyists in the past: this was when I was playing covers, and I used to find myself regularly losing out on gigs in favour of a band that played badly, had a shambolic stage act, and was entirely composed of dentists and stockbrokers who didn't need the £200 a man fees they were getting. Trouble was, the events they were playing were all put on by friends of theirs. But on reflection, the situation is identical: it's not about who is most 'deserving' of the work or income. It's about who sells themselves the best, be that by making the best music, having the best marketing, or being the best at networking (preferably a combination of the three). No one deserves anything. Lots of people like making music. Some get money for it. Some don't. Stop crying.

Darren Landrum said...

I've recently learned a new side of what it is to be an amateur. An amateur is someone who loves doing something so much that they'll stick to their guns even when the rest of the world tells them they're no good at it.

This happened to me recently. I won't go into the details, as it's off-topic, but unless you love what you do, you'll never really get good at it. And guess what? You're going to suck at first. Some people understand that, but I've had many others judge my entire current and future capability as a creator of music based upon hearing early works or rough cuts, as if it were physically impossible for me to improve.

It wears me down, it really does. But I keep going, because I want to. I just have to understand that not everyone will appreciate it, and treasure those few people who do.

If you don't love it, you'll be hard-pressed to get better at it.

Sorry if this ended up straying off-topic anyway.

Jester Jay: Jason Goldman said...

I live in a college town, which is chock full of bands. Some are looking to eventually be famous and others are just out to have fun. I regularly hear some of my fellow musicians complain that you can't get a good paying gig here because too many bands will play for cheap or free.

I agree with Matt on this one. The market will decide what's good music and you get the advantage of playing in a more vibrant environment.

I have a day job. I also get paid to play music on a regular basis and I have no complaints;-)

Anonymous said...

Oh couldn't agree more. Look at Marillion's business model. Direct engagement with their fan base and finally freedom from record companies and not having to go through the motions and replay misplaced childhood and Kayleigh to death.

I dragged my self to the genesis 2007 tour and it was a truly depressing experience for a fan who has loved that band for more than 30 years. The internet has allowed me to make some fabulous new discoveries of bands and musicians that I could never have found before.

Thank goodness for the technology that allows these people to produce music that sounds fabulous and didn't need 3 months in a studio with s hugely expensive producer to touch up.

Its more honest. I get more pleasure from listening to new things like Ghost than slapping a 70's classic on.

Power to the elbows of bedroom musicians!

JinjaBeardy said...

I heard similar arguments when the PortaStudio was launched (yes, I'm that old). 'Bugger, now any band in a bedroom can knock up a demo to hand to promoters, it's all going to hell in a hand basket...'

I think that this is the 'good' side of modern technology's influence on music - it means that so-called 'hobby' musicians (hammer-chewers as we used to be known) can now use the new tools open to them to find a different route to getting their work heard, and whether they then choose to develop that further into pro or semi-pro. It also gives musicians musical freedoms which we wouldn't otherwise have.

The thing for me is that I would never have found about 25% of the music I now listen to regularly if this path wasn't available. This has enabled me to hear new music I would have struggled to find otherwise.

Quite a few of the new musicians ('Hobby' or not) I have found recently either started this way or are going this route. In fact some of them have commented on this blog.

On a closing note, I just have to mention a 'bad' side to all the wonderous new technology, and that is, of course, that there is also a lot of dross out there - but good old word-of-mouth (or text-of-twitter?) helps zero in on the good stuff, so technology helps provide tools to help us locate the stuff worth listening to.

Gregory Spawton said...

Jem is right, almost all bands start as a hobby, including the band of the person you mention in the original post.

Personally speaking, after going through a hobby-stage, then an extremely-expensive-wife-alarming-hobby stage, it now more than pays for itself. We haven't been able to quit the day-jobs, but have been able to go part-time. God bless the internet for that.

As JinjaBeardy says, there is a lot of dross to wade through but, with a bit of promotional effort, the better-quality music will, for the most part, get noticed.

Unknown said...

Blimey you only have to look at all the talented people in the comments :)

Kerry Chicoine said...

Matt, I recall that particular comment on a particular discussion board. The person seemed to have some kind of axe to grind, frankly: "All these part-time bands are ruining it for REAL composers like ME." I respect the person and wouldn't really want to argue the point, but I was wondering, "If your music is so much better because you're a full-time musician, then why aren't you selling any CDs or getting much attention?" What's so funny is the music in question is admittedly pretty out-there and everyone knows that stuff doesn't and hasn't historically sold all that well. I was thinking, "If you wanna sell CDs maybe you should write music more than a handful of people wanna hear." Like, you know, Frost*. :)

Unknown said...

Yup Frost* are the perfect example of a high quality band run alongside people's other lives. Fantastic stuff.

Tim Hunter, Yorkshire Independent said...

Good Post. To be honest, I can't understand how anyone survives without a day job.

The modern digital world has made it virtually impossible to make a living out of music. I think that's where a lot of the so called ‘serious’ semi-pro bands get their ‘bile’ from, they have prematurely and unwisely packed their ‘day job’ in (or they have perhaps never had one) and they know full well it's just not viable. There is no band or artist that has ever made it who would have prematurely packed in a livelihood. They would have firstly got a firm offer of some income as a professional musician from a label.

Music is different now to what it was in the 70s. The problem is now it’s virtually impossible to get a deal. Everyone can and everybody is doing a bit of music and it’s all more fragmented. You have to get used to that. Music will never die, though, because people love it. I run my own prog internet station as a labour of love (and now I run my own festival). I am unashamedly also an artist. I put my own albums out because I like recording and writing songs.

Tim Hunter


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