In the past year alone, the pandemic has claimed thousands of lives, homes and jobs. It has separated friends and families and has ruined spaces of culture, connection and creation. Concert halls have lowered their scaffolding and canceled major tours, neighborhood bar musicians who croon over a weekly Thursday night crowd are left to sing at home and the humble artist of the modern age once again faces the pressures of creation and the need to survive.
If these spaces and realms of culture exist as the connective tissue of our societal body, then the artists and creators who uphold them are its bones. The art itself being the lifeblood and soul. But, like many other bodies across the nation, this body has taken a beating and has been pushed to the brink of death. Just like the miraculous nature of the human body and the power it holds to heal, these realms of culture, art and creation begin to reemerge, but not without some degree of change.
Historically, some of the greatest periods of human struggle have become the inspiration or the immediate source of great artistic innovation. It is no surprise that from pain and suffering comes art. In the late 14th to early 17th century, a massive overhaul in culture and art occurred across Europe. This creation of art exploded and continued to bring us some of the most famous pieces known today.
We face a moment of artistic revolution like this once again. While the world continues to push on and suffer, art will form to fill the cracks. So long as the bars, halls and galleries remain empty, everyday people and creators alike yearn for a return to these seemingly sacred spots. Yet this art we enjoy and will continue to enjoy is not free by any means. We as everyday people drive and command a market of demand for culture. Capitalism has not only managed to put a price on abstract concepts like time, but it has also found a way to market aspects of the human condition such as art and music.
We must realize that art, in all of its forms, has become a commodified subject in the eyes of the capitalist and it is a violent act against the freedom to not only create but to thrive. In our brief history as a capitalistic society and culture, the millennia long existence of the craftsman has been nearly slaughtered in the span of two centuries. The concept of dedicating your entire life to the development and mastering of a specific trade or craft is one that has taken a new meaning in our day and age.
As methods of production became subsidized and rates of consumption intensified, the craftsman has become obsolete when competing against the “efficiency” of the machine. This has created a market for immediate and gratifying objects of culture to be ready at the whim of the consumer. Today, large scale entertainment companies like Spotify offer people across the world immediate access to their favorite artists. However, like all other subsidized industries, this is at the expense of the worker. In this case, the musician.
Spotify has granted the consumer’s wish for immediate satisfaction and became rich while the real harbingers of soulful and passionate music are left to scrounge for literal pennies. According to the Wall Street Journal, the rate at which a musician was paid per stream on Spotify as of August was a measly $0.0003. This is not only a disgusting display of misappropriated wealth but is bleeding proof that the starving musician doesn’t have to starve. Ultimately this wealth should belong to the producers of this “commodity,” not the distributor.
Spotify saw a total revenue growth for 2020 reach over $2 billion, at a 16.5% increase. Over a year where artists across the nation starved, died or stopped their craft (music business worldwide) the owners of these companies saw their pockets deepen. We as consumers must stop solely paying and spending on third-party distributors. We as consumers must redirect these funds to our artists directly.
The starving artist should never even have to starve when their lifeblood and “product” has been so heavily commodified. Buy your friend’s art, get that band tee, order that homemade rug you found on Etsy. Do what you can to make sure our artists can not only survive this capitalist hellscape, but to be able to thrive as the cornerstones of our culture.