Why Artists Should Be Compensated for Their Work

While perusing the latest articles on Digital Music News, I came across a new article that discussed why artists should be compensated for their work. Executive director John Simon’s departure from SoundExchange brought up the question of artist compensation. His statement explained public sentiment in regards to artists today:

"I am very concerned about the apparent disrespect shown by many in our culture to those who pursue artistic endeavors… One recent survey showed a surprising number of Americans who believe that artists should have a second job to support themselves – as they should not expect to be paid for their art!  We must educate the public and eradicate these extremely destructive beliefs."  

I would like to bring up the old argument that claims that teachers should make just as much as professional athletes. People think teachers make a difference in other people’s lives and have a hard job, so they should be rewarded for their efforts – athletes, on the other hand, get to have an arguably fun career with many perks and a fat salary. Why should they be rewarded disproportionately?

The reasons athletes get (and even deserve) more is because only a select few make it to the upper echelons of sports stardom. People love watching sports and a small number, that is the best, are rewarded for their abilities, their hard work, and the industry they create around their jobs. The same is true for musicians, although one of the music industry’s primary business models is being destroyed by digital piracy. Therefore, fewer and fewer artists can make it to the elite class of well-paid musicians who are disproportionately compensated for their work. That does not seem fair to the many musicians with talent who are looking just to make a small living, not a seven-figure stipend.

Although my personal stance on the music industry might shift over time, I remember having a discussion about copyright with a former college friend in which I was arguing on the pro-copyright side. I argued that copyright was important to ensure artists get what they deserve, partly because I knew how hard artists worked to create their art. I wanted my favorite artists to spend all their waking hours worrying about their craft rather than worrying about paying rent by working at Walmart or Home Depot.

Regardless of the ethical questions surrounding the consumption of pirated music, I wonder if the quality of music will diminish over time because artists will be spending more time searching for money elsewhere than honing their performing and recording chops. I think it is too early to tell from a macro perspective – there is still good music coming out every day – but I am sure piracy has an effect on the length of a musician’s career as well as the ability to output music in the most effective way possible. The problems are already too pervasive…