Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

Music marketing ideas for DIY artists, managers, promoters and music biz pros

January 30, 2008

Does Business Ruin Art?

An anonymous musician just posted this comment regarding my latest podcast episode:

"Business ruins art. It's unfortunate that most people are reshaping their musical goals to fit their financial ones. All this just makes me want to keep music a hobby instead of a profession so I don't feel like I have to make crappy, watered-down poop music."

Here's my response:

I understand the frustration that mingling art and commerce can create, especially when it comes to music and "big business" -- where quick results and bottom lines rule.

But let me ask you something ...

Does holding a general belief that "business ruins art" empower you? Only you can answer that, but there's no denying a belief like that colors how you feel about music and how you interact with the world.

All mental beliefs -- whether positive, negative, or in between -- are simply perceptions that an individual has chosen to buy into. None of them exist as objective truths in the real world. They only exist in the thoughts of each person who decides to let certain beliefs take up permanent residence in their minds.

Here's the belief I have chosen to give free lifetime room and board in my brain: There's nothing wrong with wanting to be compensated for the value that your music delivers to fans. It's healthy and natural to want to grow and prosper.

But if you can't get over your hang-ups about music and business and money, then do yourself (and the rest of us) a favor ... and play music as a hobby for the best reason of all: the love of it.

That's what I believe. How about you?


Promote Your Music on MySpace
Make the most of the world's biggest social networking web site with this great primer on MySpace Music Marketing. Available in paperback or ebook format. Get more details here.

Did you enjoy this blog post? Subscribe now and get all of my newest ideas delivered by email or RSS feed. Learn how here.
Get more tips like these when you subscribe to my free Buzz Factor ezine — the longest running music career tips email newsletter on the planet. Since 1995. Learn more about the free subscription here.

Or just sign up using this quick and easy form:

Your First Name
Your Primary Email

Your email address will not be shared. Unsubscribe at any time.

Connect with

posted by Bob Baker @ 11:19 AM   17 comments


At Jan 30, 2008, 11:12:00 PM, Blogger poppies said...

I respectfully disagree with your main premise. Maybe this is too technical for this blog, but I think this is an important concept for effective music promotion, so...

Beliefs really *can* be true or false. That my mother is indeed my mother can be genetically proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Now, admittedly, it would be quite difficult to set up some sort of experiment to prove whether or not business ruins art, but true beliefs can be reasonably proven not just by experiments, but also by simple logic.

In this instance, one can define "business" as seeking material gain for services and "ruin" as diluting the evidence of passionate creation, reasonable definitions with which most people could agree, I think. Using these definitions, it seems logically clear: to say that business always ruins art is a non sequitur; the conclusion doesn't necessarily follow from the premise, as no clear causative relationship is shown. Accordingly, business and passionate, resonant art can quite easily coexist.

We come to the same conclusion, so what's the point in all this gab? It's this: beliefs *do* color our perceptions, so it's important to seek to hold true beliefs. Saying that beliefs don't "exist as objective truths in the real world" can easily be a license for a crappy musician to not take in constructive criticism, reasoning that these critics just have a "different" belief about the musician's level of craft, keeping the musician from improving. There's way too many deluded musicians out there thinking that they're commercially viable on a mass market scale who need a healthy pin-prick to their balloon of "positive thinking" in order to find a satisfying and realistic market for their art.

This is not to say that people shouldn't think positively and work incredibly hard, that mass market success is the only kind of success, or that one should respect critique regardless of its source. I simply mean that unrealistic beliefs run counter to satisfaction, and that we can progress further by respecting objective reality. Avoiding the facts in some vain attempt to forge convenient beliefs can cause musicians to be stuck in a depressing and judgmental rut; realistic assessment of the facts can prompt creativity and problem-solving!

At Jan 31, 2008, 4:12:00 AM, Anonymous Tattooine said...

Hey Bob, i defititely agree with you. L´art pour l´art - as we say in old Europe is ok if you are happy with your day-time-job. But if you want to give something to the people, some part of yourself, there´s no other way than to live with music as a business and use it for your true purpose - to share music with other people... and maybe make a living out of it.

Thanks for your advices, they have already done good favour for me. Stephan (Berlin/GER)

At Jan 31, 2008, 8:34:00 AM, Blogger Darren Nelsen said...

I agree with Bob. Your reality is colored by your thoughts/feelings, attitudes/beliefs, choices/decisions. Not someone else's, but yours. "Business ruins art" does not empower me. In my case, "business enables art" works better. For example, in my last project, without the funds I raised, I wouldn't have been able to produce the music. It took a budget and deadline to get me moving. And I'm happy with the results. Now I'm excited to raise more money to produce more music!

-Darren Nelsen

At Jan 31, 2008, 10:51:00 AM, Blogger Vikki said...

Often, when I'm networking, I hear songwriters make comments that support the view that writing commercially viable music is selling out. They feel that rules are made to be broken, that the "suits" don't know a good song when they hear it, and that successful songwriters are 'just' writing what the market wants & therefore it has no artistry or creativity in it. Yet, at the same time, they are frustrated that the marketplace isn't interested in what they are doing.

I used to think this way too. Imagine how much I grew when my attitude was "me" against "them". When I felt my 'artistry' was more important than communicating something accessible to others. My stagnant thinking held me back.

I slowly came to see... that the real challenge is to put your Artistry into the Form... to write & produce commercially viable work is a labour of love just like any other... and I see my peers who are successful at this have removed emotional attachment from what they are doing... yet come up with beautifully composed & produced music that is commercially viable. That's what I'd like to do, too.

Just my two cents.

At Jan 31, 2008, 1:54:00 PM, Blogger Band-Ad-Review said...

Manipulating your "art" (and we are using that term loosely when speaking about popular music) into a commercially viable form to support a business could be called a "craft" perhaps. And that does take skill; commercial jingles don't write themselves, for example.

It seems that most of the monetary success in that process is NOT in producing music; but convincing amateur musicians that this the way to go, and to pay for the privilege of "guidance".

Some consider this a "healthy and natural way to grow and prosper". But they are usually the ones the ones selling the guidance!

I'm sure that others would think differently about being money-motivated; but, those people are probably not reading this blog.

But if they are, my advice to them is this: do not take your art and mash it around or change it in a manner that you hope will make it approachable or sellable. Take what you have, and promote it in such a way that others who are interested in what you are doing can find you. You'll probably sleep better at night that way. And you won't have to pay for as much "guidance" that way either.

At Jan 31, 2008, 3:26:00 PM, Anonymous Greg R. said...

It is a musician's dream to create the music they want, create a following and be compensated for said music. While I agree that a compromise is need to make a step from a local garage band to a major label artist or a paid songwriter,etc, the business of music is so commercial right now, you can't help but have a say in the business of your music.

Without promotion, your music will never get heard. Whether your goal is to play backyard bbq's or stadiums, you still want your music heard and some sort of recognition. This includes some form of business taking place. Flyers, a Myspace page or website, gigging, etc are all forms of business and whether you like it or not you will need to face off with the business side of music some day in order to grow and spread that message (or art).

Make peace with the business side or just outsource it (but be smart and dont sign your life away).

At Jan 31, 2008, 9:52:00 PM, Blogger Samuel said...

Hey Bob,

You are absolutely right.

The problem is that most people are unwilling to get out of their confort zone. Instead of taking the bulls by the horn to acheive what they desire deep down, they rationalize their lethargy by whatever way suites them. Nothing wrong in being rewarded for your creativity. There is however need to strike a balance between excessive commercialization and drawing the attention of your fans to your artform.


At Jan 31, 2008, 11:37:00 PM, Anonymous Luke Leverett said...

What if how you do business was part of your art? What if your music was promoted in a way that made people understand your music better? I think that business is not a "neccessary evil" when you do business in such a way that it synergizes and cooperates with your art and your values. Take Ani Difranco. She runs her corporation, Righteous Babe, in a way that reflects well on her music. Her music has a lot to say about her feminist political perspective, and she conducts business with that perspective in mind (paying her female employees the same as her male employess, I'd imagine, donating money from the corporation to feminist causes, etc.) It makes sense. Business and Art are both good, and if you are willing to color outside the lines a bit, you can learn them both.

At Feb 1, 2008, 1:32:00 PM, Blogger Sam Bhattacharya said...

I don't agree that business necessarily ruins art. On the contrary, good art can sometimes lead to good business.

Some people argue that making music for profit always means appealing to the lowest common denominator and selling out. They point to pop music stars as proof of that. But I don't think it's as simple as that. No one really knows for sure what music will catch on and sell well. Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" are examples of songs that do not fit any cookie-cutter pop music mold that I'm aware of. And yet both of those songs have remained enormously popular for decades after they were released.

So, I'm in the camp that believes musicians should primarily make music they are passionate about and which have the potential to communicate with people. And then take the necessarily steps to make a business out of it. In other words, business should follow art. Not the other way around.

At Feb 5, 2008, 7:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the best one can do is to follow their heart musically, serve others the music and open the channels to being served back (often in the form of money). That's some zen level shit with business (money) consciousness right there!

At Feb 5, 2008, 10:17:00 AM, Anonymous Muses said...

I would like to quote this abstract from the Wikipedia-webpage:
"Generally art is a (product of) human activity, made with the intention of stimulating the human senses as well as the human mind; by transmitting emotions and/or ideas. Beyond this description, there is no general agreed-upon definition of art." (from Wikipedia:ART

Picking up the belief-point of view: I truly believe in Art, in the stimulation of the human mind. And I also truly believe that you can find it anywhere!
So how about this: Business can be an art, too! It definately depends on the way you look at it.

Couln't you even turn the whole thing around saying: ART ruins BUSINESS? The stimulation that comes from art actually could ruin the "stale" and "dry" business-methods.
Because I think the b-line of what most people think who say "Business ruins Art" is that it ruins the wonderful mindfilling stimulation that art brings to us. That can only be the case if you close yourself to stimulation. Apart from that there are some aspects of business which are tremendously stimulating.

I think it depends on if you like it or not and if you want to be stimulated by it or not. And if not if you're open enough to change your mind. And that's with everything in life!

At Feb 5, 2008, 2:42:00 PM, Anonymous SonicBoy said...

I'm with you Bob, In 30+ years IN the business, the only ones I've heard complaining are amateurs, who's songs are crap anyway.

Then there are the real artists, (yes even beginners- we all started there) who, along with sucessful experienced teams around them do make the effort, and go on and make careers for themselves (usually independently these days- great!) and get remunerated! and surprise surprise- they're usually really GREAT writers and performers!

You won't achieve that packin burgers for a burger chain...
Do it because you love it first and foremost, but it's also fine to expect something for that- you have worth!!

At Feb 5, 2008, 5:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

woo hoo! looks like I caused quite a stir with my original post. I even got Bob Baker to write about me! ...indirectly. so, when do I get paid for this? ha haaa.. anyways... I have thought about this over the past few days and I've gotten a better grasp on what I feel about business and art. But I have to say that this quote from Bob (in the above article) really is a good point: "Does saying 'business ruins art' empower you?" Thinking about it from that standpoint kind of changes the issue for me... and I suppose that in the end the most important and useful thing is to feel good about what you're doing.

At Feb 5, 2008, 8:21:00 PM, Anonymous Coptic Soldier said...

I don’t believe business is the issue, I think "selling out" is the real problem. I am a Hip Hop artist in Australia and here the genre is a lot different to how to it is in USA. Mainstream rappers in America do not hide the fact that they are only in the scene to "get money". Their measure by success is only by how much money they have and in result, their music/art suffers as they change who they are to achieve their financial goals. This is what I consider selling out and is a HUGE problem when business and art collide in a bad way.
However, if you stay true to yourself, your beliefs and your art then there is no problem with having a business drive. I mean personally, my main motivation for publicity and success in music business is that I know that more people will be exposed and listening to my music. Isn’t that what we all want?

Coptic Soldier


At Feb 6, 2008, 10:35:00 AM, Anonymous Red said...

Here's the issue. It is not whether business always ruins art or if business = selling out or anything else like that. The issue lies in MOTIVE. All of this is entirely dependent upon the motive of the artist. If an artist legitimately attempts to create the highest quality music possible, regardless of the amount of money he/she is making, then I am satisfied. Business does NOT always ruin art. In fact, in some cases it helps it flourish. However, in other cases, it does exactly the opposite. It is entirely dependent upon the motive of the musician.

At Feb 6, 2008, 10:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob - First let me say how very much I respect you and your views on internet marketing - you are the greatest. But regarding your views on whether business ruins art, please note that it is one thing to consider business and commerce in relation to art, but it is quite another when you consider the devastating effect of corporations when it comes to the business of music - and not only business but popular culture itself. When corporate conglomerates, blinded by greed, are permitted to dominate the public airwaves as they have been by the FCC, by buying up powerful stations across the country, they in effect control the commerce and the tone of popular music. Their criteria as to what gets radio play? - whatever makes them the most lucre, not excluding payola. Forget merit and decentcy. Bob, these are not just "chosen perceptions" or hang-ups - these are ''objective truths in the real world.'' You are right , it is healthy to want to grow and prosper. But who can do that, artistically and monetarily under those circumstances? As independent artists our hope is the internet which makes access to the public music marketplace possible again. If ever those same corporate entities take control of the internet, we might as well toss our hopes and our harps away. AMADOR

At Feb 9, 2008, 11:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anne Leighton said...

Business is actually an art, at least the way some of us artists conduct it.

I feel many parallels with goal setting, strategic plans, and follow through as I've felt with writing articles, painting and being on stage. You're being very creative when you brainstorm your plan, and also when you carry it out with all the details. I have fun when I'm talking on the phone and listening to the journalist, industry person, booking agent--I'm thinking up clever ways for them to hear my artist(Jann Klose)'s music. In acting, we do improvisation, where we make up lines in the moment. We do that on the phone, but those lines are relevant to the conversation.

There are many honorable and dishonorable ways of conducting business, but if the goal is to make your music heard by more people, just look at the unlimited avenues your music can travel through.

It is creative to negotiate the right deal with a record company just as it is to plan a tour and see what you can call it. (We noticed that Jann was playing in Hamburg, Germany and Hamburg, New York within a six week period, so we called his tour, "From Hamburg to Hamburg."). Even how we got most of the dates was through inspiration, maybe divine inspiration.

Also, if you're working within the confines of a format, let's say you need to create a 20 second jingle or 120 page script, you can use that challenge for format restrictions to boldly create something incredible. If you've ever taken a poetry writing workshop where the teacher or facilitator had the students call out words, and then had you pick your favorite words, and then stated, "Now write a poem with the words you didn't pick," you're also working within a format--a challenge, that should inspire you to come up with something great, unique and powerful.

There is a book, LENNON: A LIFE by Ray Coleman, and a chapter where Yoko is teaching John about art as a business. It is recommended reading. Henry Rollins paraphrased a Donald Trump title, THE ART OF THE DEAL, when he explained how he went about his business.

There are an unlimited amount of ways you can take care of business as an artist and you can be an artistic business person. Start with a goal--like "getting more gigs this summer" and try and figure out some of the different types of venues you can play, different acts that could fit one or two of those bills, and how to promote them, using community, corporate, eductional institutions, public service, government, and anything but the music business. Try that, and see if you can pump up your artistic business muscles!


Post a Comment

<< Home