Music as Art, Music for Hire

Many musicians look at their music as a true form of art. They pour their souls into those words and or notes and hopefully someone somewhere will hear those notes or words and be moved in some way.

I remember reading an interview with Ray Davies where he was telling about getting out of a taxi and the driver asked him (not knowing who he was) what he did for a living, Ray answered “I write songs”.

Many musical people write because they want to, or they have to. A true artist creates art as an expression. They are expressing something from inside of them, something they need to get out.

Song writing is an art form.

Telling a story in under 5 minutes takes creativity. Creating a symphony that brings someone to tears takes creativity.

I have found that musicians tend to be creative people for the most part. Even if a concert grade musician has never written a piece of music in her or his life, when a piece of music is set before them, they interpret it, using their various creative gifts to put their own touch on something somebody else has written and maybe hundreds of other musicians have covered.

In a lot of cases a true musical artist is less interested in making money from their music and more interested in having the message or idea correct. Sure it is nice to have the luxury of doing nothing but create music and make a living from it, but for many artists just starting out, the dream of riches or even making a decent living from creating art is just that… A dream.

When someone purchases a musicians work, there is more going on than just being able to avoid having to flip burgers or clean toilets for eight hours each day. When someone purchases that music it is a validation of the musicians mindset when they created the music in the first place.

Somebody was moved in such a way as to exchange their hard earned money for something the musician created. The creator and the listener now share something special. There is a sort of spiritual bond there. Even though money has changed hands, that is still art.

But being even semi successful as a musical artist usually means there is a whole lot more going on than shows at the surface.

Promotion, advertising, managing, booking, transportation and logistics all play a part in the artists ‘to do’ list.

In Terri and my personal case, we had managers early on in our career. We also utilized booking agents from time to time. But being our own record company, we had the luxury of being able to sell our product direct to the consumer at performances or conferences and keep 100 percent of the profit. Minus the cut for the manager and or booking agent.

At the beginning of our career, we sold our music through distributors which sold to independent book stores. (Our genre was not sold through record stores for the most part.) So there was a middle person receiving a percentage of the sale. As time went on, our internet store started to outsell sales made through distributors until at some point all of our sales were through our own web site.

Now creating music for money (music for hire) is a little different. Usually there are parameters that the music creator has to abide by coming from the person purchasing the music. It can still be creative and moving, but the parameters were still there.

My wife and I wrote and recorded jingles for a while. Jingles are the little musical songs that accompany an advertisement. Those of you who are old enough will remember ‘The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup’.

Great jingle. (We did not write that unfortunately)

My wife and I wrote jingles that were predominately played on radio stations. We would go and pitch the idea to a business, and if they liked our pitch, they would pay us to create a custom jingle package for their business.

It would usually be a mixture of 30 and 60 second pieces, because at that time that was the allotted time slots that the radio stations sold to the business. The business might run ten spots a day, and the versions of the 30 and 60 second spots we created would vary.

We usually created jingles as a package. What was in a jingle package was dependent on the clients needs.

In a typical jingle package we would create a 30 and sixty second full sing, which simply means that the spot would have full singing for the full 30 or 60 seconds. Or we would create open front or open backs or ‘donuts’ where we would leave the singing out of certain portions of the spot to allow a ‘voice over’ to be inserted over the music bed.

It’s a lucrative business but in the end you get tired of trying to rhythm something with refrigerator.

At one point we had an advertising company from Kansas use us as their music house. We created all of their jingles and we did not have to deal with sales or customer problems. THAT was nice.

Another project we did for hire was that we wrote, well, my wife wrote and I produced a series of albums for a children’s educational company. We did the whole thing. Ten albums worth on various subjects to go with their products.

When you are creating music for hire, there will always be a certain amount of things you do that the client wants changed. That’s just part of the deal.

And depending on the specifics, you might have to give away certain rights to the music you create.

Sometimes we would stipulate that the music we created for a client would not be used by us for any other project, or in the case of a jingle for a local business, it would not be used within a certain mile range of the business that bought the jingle package.

In the cases like the albums we created for the educational company, we would give the full rights to the company with the understanding they could not use the music for anything else other than the intended purpose.

And obviously we would set the price accordingly.

Many musicians go down the ‘music for hire’ path to make extra income as a side hustle to creating the music they love or they just become musicians who make a career out of creating music for hire.

Sometimes doing a few things for free is a great way to get your name out there and show people what you can do. Terri and I recorded quite a few things for non profit groups that received quite a bit of radio airplay. We did a song for the United Way that we donated our time for that got our foot in a lot of doors.

We also created a song for a radio station, and the station would play the whole song at the beginning of the morning, and I did some edits of the song so the station could use little snippets of it through the day as station ID’s. We actually won an ADDY award for that one, so it was time well spent.

But many musicians will scoff at doing music for hire, that it is somehow demeaning for an ‘artist’ to stoop that low. I’ll never understand that one.

My wife and myself were/are artists at heart, but we had a family to support. We chose to use our musical talents for hire as opposed to maintaining a 40 hour job. It gave us the flexibility to come and go as we needed to be available for our first love, which was our songs and writing and performing them.

That in a big sense is why I started recording other artists. I could make descent money, do what I loved, hone my skills, and recoup some of the investment into the equipment we had purchased.

But it was still work for hire, or ‘service sector’ work in that I did not have any control over certain aspects of the project. But I did have certain controls over things like schedule and I did have a certain creative freedom, and that is very important.

It has always been fun and rewarding, and I learned much about music, people and life.

Author: Chad