Is This a Bad Time to Be in Music?

With all of the negative news out there about the Great Recession, unemployment, gas prices, et cetera, it might seem counterproductive to consider pursuing a career in music. Wouldn’t you be inviting disaster? What if you failed? Shouldn’t you consider something “safe” instead?

The fact is that nothing is “safe,” and that any business can fail – music included. But there are a couple of good indicators that suggest there has never been a better time to be in the music business.

The first of these indicators comes in the form of “Why This is a GREAT Time to Be in Music,” a blog post by David Cutler. He notes that the floodgates have been opened by the internet and other media: we have more access to music today than at any other time in history – and in more formats, too. And while the deluge has diminished the role of the uber-mega-superstar, it has created broader musical tastes on the part of the consumer, thus opening the market to more people. Finally, social media has elevated the role of the fan from passive concert attendee to interactive artist marketing participant.

The second indicator is a story from the New York Times that reviewed earnings reports of selected entertainment companies. In general, the news is good: Netflix and Redbox have discovered that people still want to rent movies, and they’ve seen an uptick in profits (Redbox especially so). Viacom and Time Warner have also reported strong earnings from their Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Harry Potter movies, respectively. And Sirius XM Radio, Inc. added over half a million subscribers last quarter. The overall message here is that people are still willing to pay for entertainment.

So, is it a bad time to go into music as a career?

Back in college, when I wanted to be a novelist, I had the good fortune to meet Jessie Hill Ford. I spoke to him of my ambition and asked him if he had it to do all over again, would he follow the same path. “Absolutely,” he said, “and I think you should, too. The sweetest money you’ll ever make will come from writing. And there’s always room for one more good writer, and there’s an audience out there for his work. It may be big, or it may be small. But it’s out there.”

Ford wasn’t speaking of composing or songwriting or performing, but his message is clear, regardless. Creative careers are tough, but no tougher than starting any other business. And at the end of the day, the measure of your success should be the satisfaction you get out of what you do, not the money you make or don’t make. The money will take care of itself.

A bad time for a music career? The time has never been better!


David Cutler balances a varied career as a jazz and classical composer, pianist, educator, arranger, conductor, collaborator, concert producer, author, consultant, speaker and advocate. Dr. Cutler teaches at Duquesne University, where he also serves as Coordinator of Music Entrepreneurship Studies. His book, The Savvy Musician, is available here.


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