Musicians’ struggle for survival
Danny Michel shines light on challenges facing modern artists in the Spotify era
Picture the classic rock star of the 1970s: decadent, defiant, swathed in scarves, living a life of opulent splendour. Mick Jagger. Elton John. Steven Tyler.
Now picture the classic rock star of the 2010s: destitute, defeated, living in a van, working part-time as a Walmart greeter, unable to raise money to get their teeth fixed.
That’s the harsh reality Kitchener’s Danny Michel describes in a Facebook post that recently went viral, drawing almost 6,000 shares, 1,000 comments and sparking a heated cross-country discussion about the viability of music as a profession in the “pennies per play” Spotify era.
Noting that he himself does OK, the 48-year-old singersongwriter wrote that “Everywhere I go musicians are quietly talking about one thing: how to survive,” in a post that painted a dire portrait of an artistic population in crisis.
“I’ve never worried about it myself until 2018. What I can tell you is my album sales have held steady for the last decade until dropping by 95% this year due to music streaming services.”
What’s notable about Michel’s post — which negates the image of the entitled whining pop star — is its cool, calm equanimity.
In a dispassionate, matterof-fact way, he shines a light on the career Armageddon facing musicians who don’t churn out prefab Top 40 pablum and can no longer rely on record company royalties to bankroll their careers.
“No one needs to feel sorry for me,” he continues. “This is what I do. And I’m not scolding anyone or suggesting people stop using these services. I don’t know what the answer is. But I hope musicians speak up about what’s really happening.”
They have. And by yanking back the curtain on the industry’s
worst-kept secret — that indie musicians may be about to go the way of the dodo and dial-up internet — the personable rabble rouser has sparked a musical #MeToo movement, giving voice to an exploited population whose nonsinging voices have been routinely ignored.
“It’s revealing and concerning,” Michel wrote in a followup. “I’m also getting constant personal notes from musicians (many you know) sharing their stories. Truthfully, they’re heart breaking. Some struggling to pay rent, buy food or see a dentist. It’s worse than I
suspected. And always hidden.”
Not anymore. In the 10 days since Michel posted his Requiem to My Life’s Calling essay, a torrent of both sympathy and discontent has flooded in, along with much head-scratching over possible solutions.
“The most hopeful sign is how many people are saying they had no idea this is how it worked and are unhappy,” emailed Michel.
“Most music fans are asking what is the best way to support an artist they like. It’s very hopeful. People want to do the right thing.”
Danny Michel has heard from many musicians struggling to survive in the age of music streaming services.