The Devaluation of Music

I remember the horrifying sentiments popularized by famous and up-and-coming recording artists in the mid and late 2000's. They jumped on the free music marketing bandwagon and proclaimed music should be free to all! Everyone likes free, right? But those artists sold/sell thousands upon thousands of albums, and/or have/had successful crowd-funding/patronage campaigns. 

What they did, inadvertently and for their own benefit, was injure their own industry. But more specifically, they made it much more difficult for the independent musician to make a living. But like all independent businesses, independent music will survive the greedy, corporate-minded ad campaigns, the brainwashing and the manipulation. 

People know that music has value. And I have spent the last half decade reinforcing this fact by touring the United States and Canada and performing at Renaissance, Medieval, Wild West and fantasy faires for eight to ten months a year. I call it The Eternal Spring Parade. After several years and at the urging of some loyal fans, I recorded an album—fifteen tracks. I spent ninety days, thousands of dollars and 600+ hours producing this piece of art—three months of my life working fifty plus hours a week.

And I loved it!

However, after having decent album sales on tour last year, I need to work a little more than two-and-a-half more years just to break even. Why? Because I'm being paid 1984 prices for my music. And that is the going market price. If I had been paid current inflation-adjusted prices, I would have broken even in September and would be saving to finance my next production.

An album is not $7-15 dollars. It is $39-$59. Here's some math.  

I researched the average historical price for some common goods in 1984 and listed the average 2018 prices. The price of a first class stamp and federal minimum wage are precise and provide easily referenced data. The average annual inflation rate for all goods and services is around 3.50%.

1. A US Postage Stamp in 1984 was $.20. In 2018, $.50—2.73% average annual inflation. 
2. A gallon of gas in 1984 was $.99. In 2018, $2.94—$3.25% AAI. 
3. Federal Minimum Wage in 1984 was $3.35. In 2018, $7.25—3% AAI.  
4. A movie ticket in 1984 was $3.36. In 2018, $9.94—$3.02% AAI.  
5. A loaf of bread in 1984 was $.59. In 2018, $2.50—4.34% AAI.  
6. A pound of potatoes in 1984 was $.26. In 2018, $.88—3.65% AAI.


The Average price of goods and services from 1984 to 2018.

The inflation adjusted price of a music album calculated by using the average annual inflation rate over the past thirty-four years, or 3.5% per year, for a ten song album is $48 (see main graph). This price will vary depending on how many tracks are on the album. Musicians are being paid about a quarter of what we were paid thirty-four years ago for our art!  

The calculated average annual inflation rate for those goods.


The average annual inflation rates of goods listed PLUS music. 


***THANK YOU for the awesome chart-builder! 


I have now gotten my graph-gasmed excitement out of the way. That was fantastic.

But seriously, people know that music has value. Our equipment and instruments are ridiculously expensive as are recording and mastering studios. And as independent musicians, we must demand equitable compensation if we want to continue doing music for a living.

Here's a super interesting fact. When I sold digital music for cheap, only 44% of the people who purchased the music downloaded it. Some could have lost the download card, but it's ONLY $10. A beer at a festival is $7-12! It's nothing. But like my friend Matt, in Utah, said:

"I have a pile of CDs that I've never listened to. I just wanted to support the band."

What we must do as artists is delineate tips from our product. And it's fine if people don't walk away with our albums. They'll probably just end up in a pile anyways.

Michael, et al.

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