Think about it. What is your Favorite Song? Does is make you cry? Does it make you laugh? Does it make you pull over to the side of the road and savor every word? Or do you keep driving and sing at the top of your lungs? Whatever it is you do, I'm sure you're thrilled to hear it. Right?
Your Favorite Song was most likely created by someone who started writing songs because of a fire in their heart. The idea that they lived in a time when they were able to go on and make a living from their craft allowed them to continue writing. Had they not been able to do this their art may have fallen by the wayside. In which case, you might never have heard your favorite song because it may not have been written.
If Burt Bacharach hadn’t earned royalties for “Close To You” he might not have written “Walk On By.” If Billy Steinberg hadn’t been compensated for “True Colors” he might not have been able to write “I Touch Myself.” What? No “I Touch Myself?” Impossible. If Adele hadn't prospered from "Chasing Pavements," there might not have been a "Hello." Personally, I can’t imagine living in a world in which Linda Perry’s “Beautiful” never graced my ears.
I know a young man who loves to cook. He’s 14. He finds a recipe, makes a list of the ingredients, and goes to the market with his mom. They come home and he assembles the meal. The pride he feels when he watches his family enjoy that meal is enough to make him want to cook again. He thinks about all the other foodies he can make smile and dreams about opening his own restaurant someday.
I betcha a meal from that boy is going to taste a lot better than the one from a boy who merely wants to get paid. Stay with me…
What if the boy works his way through high school as a dish washer and a waiter, and goes to culinary school only to find, for a reason he couldn’t have fathomed or predicted, he’s unemployable afterwards? What if, instead of a pay check, he’s asked to cook for the Joy? And when he balks, it’s suggested he get back in touch with the feeling that made him want to cook in the first place. Trust me, while a room full of diners savors each bite of his Joy someone is making money.
What about the kid who loves to be behind the camera—makes vines and videos with her friends. Gets a GoPro for Christmas and can’t put it down. Documents the life of a beloved uncle. Develops a knack for telling a story and framing a scene. But when she grows up, after she's put in her 10,000 hours, she can’t figure out why they won’t pay her to do it? If that were the case we might never have seen Zero Dark Thirty.
There will always be those who are willing to work for free…or for less—those who are willing to take the chance that they'll be promoted to pay grade—having no choice but to be patient and fight for changes in the ecosystem. There are those who will be supported indefinitely by parents who can subsidize their dream. And there will always be the lottery winner or the hack who writes the same song, (cooks the same meal or makes the same film) over and over again. They may or may not survive.
Whichever category they fall in, those who go into the business with fortune or fame as their goal will never write a song as good as those who do it for Love. And Love is good. But at some point they must advance and be fairly compensated for their gifts and offerings. Especially, if those who have found a way to administer and distribute those gifts and offerings, are being paid for the service.
For those who share the view that music should be free, please discuss amongst yourselves. But don’t tell it to a songwriter. And remember this: reality is...most musicians have to take a second job to support their habit. The hobby that once had the potential to become a livelihood usually remains just that…a hobby. And if songwriters are unable to spend time developing their craft to the point that they can write you your favorite song, you really may never hear your favorite song. And whose loss would that be? :(