David Byrne's guide to being a musician in the 21st century

As a companion to David Byrne and Thom Yorke's conversation about the music biz, Wired's published "David Byrne's Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists – and Megastars," a long piece with many illustrative slides and anaecdotes that lays out some surprising, smart and useful visionary material about the way to earn your living with music in the 21st century. Don't miss the audio of David Byrne and Brian Eno and other lumniaries chatting about the subject!

Many who take the cash up front will never know that long-range thinking might have been wiser. Mega pop artists will still need that mighty push and marketing effort for a new release that only traditional record companies can provide. For others, what we now call a record label could be replaced by a small company that funnels income and invoices from the various entities and keeps the accounts in order. A consortium of midlevel artists could make this model work. United Musicians, the company that Hausman founded, is one such example.

I would personally advise artists to hold on to their publishing rights (well, as much of them as they can). Publishing royalties are how you get paid if someone covers, samples, or licenses your song for a movie or commercial. This, for a songwriter, is your pension plan.

Increasingly, it's possible for artists to hold on to the copyrights for their recordings as well. This guarantees them another lucrative piece of the licensing pie and also gives them the right to exploit their work in mediums to be invented in the future – musical brain implants and the like.




  1. Cory, I find it mildly interesting that you appear to support the idea of musicians keeping tight control of all publishing and copyright restrictions regarding their work, given your stance on writing and creative commons. Obviously, music and text have different restrictions associated with their (re)publication and copyrights, but I’m inclined to make a comment regarding goose and gander here….

  2. @biffpow – freely accessible does not imply without obligation. Copyrights are one means to code this above comment. Honor is another.

    Coase won a Nobel for saying that once a right is codified in law, and free to trade, much value and wealth inevitably follow. Thus, the essential nature of copyrights. Instinctively, I like the honor system better, particularly for the artist, but it is a rather significant leap of faith.

    I have several comments about the Wired articles on my blog (pwnership.com)

  3. Biffpow:
    I’m not a musician (IANAM?), but it strikes me that the difference is one of prodution requirements. Programs for making and displaying text files on the web are plentiful and easy to use – I’m using one right now! Anybody who can hit keys can make written work available on the internet.
    Conversely, musicians have a set of skills that are not universal (playing an instrument, singing worth a damn, composition and theory, etc.) and a set of expenses associated with performance and distribution, most notably instruments, which at their cheapest are pretty pricey, and recording software, the best of which is nauseatingly expensive.
    Apologies for any mistaken assumptions or run-on sentences. Hopefully experts will contribute some more substantive insight.

  4. johnnyweird:
    I appreciate production requirements may be a bit less accessible for musicians than writers, but I’m not sure how that entitles one to greater or lesser copyright control than the other. It’s all creative work, right?
    As for your statement that “musicians have a set of skills that are not universal”, I heartily agree, but so do writers.

    tom: I like the honor system too. I just wish I could trust it to work for any given creative offering. Thanks for the blog link.

  5. First, Cory hasn’t explicitly endorsed the article, though it may have been implied we can’t be sure.

    Second, I don’t think Cory has ever meant to go against the idea that artists/writers/musicians and the like should not make money from their work, and other work that couldn’t have worked without them. For example, I don’t think Boing Boing would ever endorse a site that mirrored boingboing but simply removed the ads, this would take away from BB’s traffic and thus income revenue, that is by no means fair.

    On the other hand, with major record labels and book publishers, they are often taking much more money and rights to the artist than they are entitled to, sure if they helped spread their name, it should be considered an investment, and they (the record label/ book publisher) should be rewarded, but this has obviously gone too far in some cases.

    From my understanding, creative commons allows work to keep free, but still gives credit to the author, which would fall apart if things were to be simply pushed under the public domain.

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