The harsh reality of life as a musician: an interview with Miranda Mulholland

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Publications Division, WIPO

Award-winning Canadian musician, record-label owner and festival founder Miranda Mulholland offers a personal account of the realities that artists are facing in the digital era.

What challenges are artists like you facing?

These days, even professionally accomplished musicians are struggling financially. At first, I thought I was alone in this, but when I gave a speech to executives from the Canadian music industry, government officials, lawyers, policymakers and other professional musicians, I realized this was a common challenge. As I spoke of my professional accomplishments and my personal financial struggles, there were nods from the musicians in the audience. Today, artists like me have to spend huge amounts of time updating, marketing, posting, reporting, engaging and connecting. This limits our creative time, and drains our energy and confidence, making it difficult for us to earn a living from our music. Indeed, many (too many) feel being a professional artist is no longer a viable career.

In this age of social media gloss, the shameful reality of a working musician in the digital marketplace is a dirty secret. Being honest about the challenges I face and learning that the peers I admire share the same difficulties was one of the most validating moments of my life. I learned that it wasn’t just me, the situation was affecting all of us. It was also hurting independent labels, major labels, artist entrepreneurs, journalists, writers and more. What many call the “value gap” was putting the entire ecosystem at risk. In fact, an entire creative middle class is under threat.

What lies at the core of the problem?

Although the music market is showing signs of recovery, the revenues that are being returned to artists are at an all-time low. We just aren’t earning enough to pay our bills. There is a huge disparity between the value of creative content that is being consumed and the remuneration received by the artists who create it.

Technology companies tell musicians that if we are not making a living from our work, it is because we are not good enough, or we are not doing it right. They simply blame the victim. However, the fact is our work is good enough; it is the commercial framework in which we operate that is unfair and broken. Overly broad safe harbor provisions are one of the root causes of the problem. These online liability laws, which originally were designed to support the growth of online platforms, are now being (mis)-used by...

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