Everyone knows we're living in economically tough and unpredictable times. In the music industry, record companies are taking some of the same actions that many other companies are exploring, trying to improve service to customers while employing fewer and fewer staff.
How are musicians responding to these hard times? How can entrepreneurial musicians build their careers at a time when record companies have less to spend on recording budgets and development deals? Can musicians earn a living without having a 9-to-5 "day job"?
I found some answers to these questions a few weeks ago, when Myke Flaherty, a 2005 graduate of the State University College at Oneonta music program, dropped into my office to say "hello" and to give me an update on his music. He had made the trip to Oneonta from his home in Indiana to record a new album with local audio engineer and SUNY Oneonta faculty member Andris Balins. "Andris has good ears," Flaherty said. Although Flaherty doesn't have steady employment with one company, he is very happy to be making a living with music, and he shared many of his techniques for doing so.
Flaherty's career goal in college was to be involved with music production, including recording, performing and composing music.
As part of his degree requirements, he served an internship at Eyeball Records, a small label in Kearney, N.J., and learned a lot about how a band gets a record deal.
After graduation, he got a job as director of tour marketing, working as a liaison between bands, venues and a label. He realized after being at the company two years that it was a "sinking ship," due to loss of album sales from illegal downloading.
In a bold move, he decided to resign his position and use his education and work experience to run his own career. He moved to Buffalo and recorded an album at his home there. He promoted the album on Myspace.com, booked his own tour and sold copies of the album throughout the country.
"Did you make a living by selling albums on tour? How did you find venues that would allow you to perform?" I asked.
He said, "I went on the Internet and found out who ran venues. I acted as my own booking agent, using a different name, and booked myself. I sent them an electronic press kit and said I was willing to promote the show on the Internet. I sent out tour marketing materials, made posters and sent them to clubs. I don't sell music. Anyone can download my entire catalog for free from Myspace.com. I sell merchandise and the CD with the artwork. I try to get paid $250 per show. I didn't spend money at hotels because I found places to stay at Couchsurfing.org, a website where people put their couch up for travelers. There are `gold levels' of verification to know someone is safe."
During one of his travels, his car broke down in Terre Haute, Ind. "It's a pretty small city," he said. "I went to every museum, and the third day, I walked into the coffee shop and hit it off with the waitress, who is also an artist. We kept in touch, and I eventually went back there and stayed. She and I share an apartment and art studio."
Flaherty now makes a living by telecommuting as an operations manager for a fashion consulting firm in New York. He also does freelance graphic design for local businesses and he generates beats on a computer for live improvisation at local venues.
"I take whatever freelance jobs I can get, and this combination of work pays the rent," he said.
"I'm 27 years old. My plans are to keep on working with music and recording and getting a couple hundred songs finished. I'm organizing my music geographically according to the place I recorded it or wrote it, a site specific audio project if you will. I'm not really a good singer, but I can play anything that makes noise. I go on Craigslist.com and get people living in that city to do the vocals. There might be three people on a song who never met each other. I don't do a lot of shows but when I do, I promote them two to three months prior to the party. I don't tell people to come to my shows, I tell them to come to a party. If they want to sit there and listen, that's fine. If not, there's other stuff going on at the party. I give parties in Indiana and New York City."
He said some of the promotion for his work can be found at Audio/Production: www.myspace.com/2012industries; Radio: www.facebook.com/WMHDFutureMusic; and Voiceover: www.myspace.com/2012voiceartistrydivision.
"I like this life. I am constantly creating some output, music or art. I travel, and I'm here doing another album. In this economic climate, musicians need to work hard and be creative in finding ways to make a living," he said. "I've found the life that works for me."
Dr. Janet Nepkie is a member of the music industry faculty in the music department of the State University College at Oneonta. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/musicbeat.