143: The Moral Imperative to Make Money With Your Music

Have you ever seen someone posting on Facebook about a musical project they’re doing, and they preface it by saying, “I don’t want to make any money from this. I just want people to be exposed to it.”

These people have a lot to learn when it comes to how to promote one’s self, right?

What exactly are they saying when they say they don’t want to make any money off their project? At first glance, it sounds like a good thing. “Good, it’s nice for people to take the commercialism out of music for a change,” you might think.

But let’s really analyze this. When you say you don’t want to make any money on something, you’re really saying it has no value. At least, certainly not the value that it really has.

I don’t publish podcasts, write blog posts, put together information as lead generators “just so that people can be exposed to my ideas.”

That’s crazy. And the same goes for a lot of these so-called “labors of love” where people work themselves to the point of exhaustion “for the children,” or some altruistic, ambiguously defined end game.

The Starving Artist Mentality

There’s certainly no shortage of resistance to the idea of Making Money Making Music. Have you ever noticed a subtle distrust of capitalism in American culture? Perhaps even hearing the slogan Making Money Making Music made you cringe just a little bit inside.

We’re conditioned to believe that altruism must be our primary objective to making music. Making money should be only because we need to eat and have shelter.

Young musicians are taught exactly this from the minute they choose an instrument in school. They’re taught that what they do musically is in the “non-profit” sector. Got a band or choir trip to Spain next year? Let’s sell cookies, or have a fundraiser, a car wash.

Here’s an idea. What if they were to charge admission for their concerts? What if these kids were taught that an outstanding performance = happy patrons in the seats = greater profits = less cars to wash to pay for said trip to Spain.

Let’s really go crazy here. What if these kids actually ran the business? They’re the officers, the supervisors, the employees. They choose the repertoire, the dance moves (should they have them) the concert order. They’re of course monitored by experienced adults to keep things running smoothly.

You say, “James, you’ve read Lord of the Flies one too many times.”

This isn’t going to happen in the public schools any time soon, mind you. But perhaps an entrepreneur somewhere will do exactly this with a youth arts organization. It could happen.

Why Commercialism Isn’t Bad

A few years ago, I was called to sub in a local orchestra called the Carolina Philharmonic. They’re based in the retirement community of Pinehurst, NC. The orchestra is a non-profit, but the founder, David Michael Wolfe, is a real entrepreneur. In just 10 years, the orchestra is a mainstay in the local community. With 6 formal concerts per year, and many children’s concerts at local schools in addition, it’s not the Chicago Symphony, but a respectable gig all things considered.

I was backstage during the intermission and happened to see one of the programs for the concert. The first few pages were advertisements for local businesses and for a moment I thought, “Man, why do we have to see these? Wouldn’t it be nice to just ready about Mendelssohn and Brahms without being inundated with commercialism?”

Thank goodness for my advanced training in MusicPreneurial Values 101 because I immediately caught myself and the error of my thinking.

Let’s look at this in more detail.

Michael, or whoever does community outreach, has cultivated real relationships with the people who own and operate these businesses. These are local real estate agents and dentists. It’s definitely not Monsanto and IBM.

By giving to the orchestra, these businesses are investing in the local arts scene. They’re saying, “We want Brahms and Mendelssohn in our community.” They’re voting with their wallets.

It makes me wish there was a 50 page pamphlet of sponsors for each concert!

It’s really a beautiful thing if you think about it.

Consider the alternative

Perhaps you don’t share that level of enthusiasm for the 50 page pamphlet of sponsors. Perhaps you think I’m viewing the world through rose-colored glasses.

Well, I don’t think that humans are perfect. Any organization that is run by humans (which is all of them – for now) is going to be flawed.

I just believe that the profit motive brings out the best in people. If your project is really worth sharing, if it’s really going to make a positive impact on people, it’s worth charging money for, and more than to just pay the electric bill in your studio apartment located in the projects.

If it’s really that good, it should pay for itself.

The “I just want people to know about this” line is a cop out. What they’re really saying is this: “This does not have sufficient value for me to risk investing my time, energy and bandwidth into it.”

If you’re working yourself to the bone because of some ambiguous idea of “building a better tomorrow,” you’ve been sold a bill of goods. The people you’re working for are exploiting you. There are far better ways to expend your time, energy and talents – and make a comfortable living doing so.

About the author, James Newcomb

I'm a full time MusicPreneur. Every now and then I play music. Send me an email at!

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