Art and Commerce, or No One Owes You Anything

If you put your heart and soul into creating a work of art, whether it be a song or a painting, do you have the right to demand that people appreciate it, take the time to admire it, maybe even spend money on it?


Nobody owes you anything.

You can create whatever kind of music you want. Nobody’s stopping you. But as soon as you want other people to spend their time and/or money on your work, you’ve now entered the world of commerce. And the rules of commerce now apply.

If I want someone to spend money, or perhaps more valuable, their time listening to my music, I have to offer them something in return. My music must do something for them. Make them laugh, make them cry, make them think, or perhaps just be beautiful and allow them to appreciate beauty.

As common sense as that sounds, it took me awhile to figure that out.

If you’re a performer and/or songwriter, put on your music consumer hat for a minute. If I come to you and say, “Dude! You should buy my CD! You should take time out of your evening and pay the cover charge to come see me play!” What are you thinking? What if my music doesn’t do anything for you? Would you spend your time and money on me just because I’m a nice guy? Just because I spent hundreds of hours, much introspection and soul-searching, to write these songs? Maybe. But that means you’re doing it out of sympathy. Or even worse, pity.

Nobody owes me anything. It’s my–and your–job to figure out how our music can serve people. Then people will spend their time and money on us because they benefit from listening to it. And that’s how it should be.


1 thought on “Art and Commerce, or No One Owes You Anything

  1. I don’t think you can know how your music will “serve” people. You can have an intention about your music, but you can’t make it be interpreted a certain way (or liked.) I’m coming to the conclusion that “intentions” are useless other than as a motivator for the creation of the art. Connecting to an audience is mysterious…hopefully you tap into something universal coming straight from your heart…and maybe you can connect with others that way…”intentionally.” That is such a nice thought…a nice wish.

    Check out this interview with Townes Van Zandt about “Pancho and Lefty.”

    I like this because here is an artist admitting he doesn’t really know what his own song was really about or where it came from (it’s “intention.”) Yet…I would argue this is a great great song.

    As far as commerce and music…

    To be blunt, I think a lot of professional musicians are confidence men…not altruistic by any means. How many guys you know got into bands to score “chicks?” How many “pro’s” are drug addicts?

    Be more of a confidence man if you want to make your living from this…no room for nice guys. Treat it like the dog eat dog business it is…and hopefully you still like the music after to you do that. (I overstate things…but you get my point, I hope.)

    I think I’ll stay away from serious attempts at commerce myself…I’m too old, fat, and uncool to pick up chicks anymore…or recording contracts.


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