How can you break through as a band in the Netherlands? Rick Everts' (Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication) dissertation shows how difficult that is. With the advent of Spotify, CD sales have completely collapsed. Scoring lots of gigs has therefore become even more important. On the other hand, the internet also offers new opportunities for some artists. "The bands that rise to the top are not always the pure musicians," he says.
What band on the rise doesn't dream of it? Performing for sold-out venues and preferably a world tour as well. And what about the frenzied fans and wild parties? In short: sex, drugs and rock and roll. Being an artist is highly romanticised, doctoral student Rick Everts opens his thesis. But the reality is often a lot more unruly, his research shows. "Most bands simply fail or earn very little. Against Goldband, you have about 50 to 100 bands that don't make it."
Spotify as gamechanger
For his thesis, he spoke to up-and-coming musicians, walked along on pop courses and investigated how bands fared after they performed at Eurosonic Noorderslag in Groningen. The music industry has changed completely over the past decades, with Spotify being the biggest gamechanger. But how has this been responded to by musicians? Everts wondered. "CDs were the main source of income for a long time, but now a gigantic music library is available digitally almost for free. Spotify only slightly compensates for this for artists. Previous research showed that you need 1 million streams a month to make a good monthly salary from that."
The once-mighty record companies have lost relevance and no longer have the sky-high budgets of yesteryear, with the result that much more falls on the artists' own shoulders. This was evident in the diaries he had 20 artists keep for a week to get a picture of their activities. "They record their own music, do their own PR and social media, and artists have become their own managers. For some artists, this presents an opportunity. I spoke to a Dutch-language singer-songwriter who suddenly had a hit on Spotify in Java. He went to Indonesia for a small tour."
Live performances increasingly important
While the internet has reduced dependence on 'traditional gatekeepers' such as record labels and radio, that does not mean it has become easier to get in. "The reality is that you have to be really clever. Therefore, the bands that come out on top are not always the pure musicians," says the PhD student. The internet caused another drastic change: live performances have become much more important. Yet 50 per cent of bands earn less than 2,000 euros gross per gig, he found out. "You still have to divide that among yourselves and arrange a van from that. Success then means you play about 60 gigs a year. The number of festivals and pop stages is limited in the Netherlands, so you don't get that easily."
"The bands that rise to the top are not always the pure musicians"
Eurosonic Noorderslag decisive
Eurosonic Noorderslag is an important momentum, many artists also know. Almost all bands that break through do so after this music festival, and those who don't get picked up usually fall into oblivion. Everts investigated how the bands fared after five editions of Eurosonic Noorderslag. Among others, De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig and Miss Montreal broke through to the general public during that period. "You want to get picked up on that and get as many new shows as possible. If that doesn't happen, it becomes difficult. My research shows that after five years only half of the bands are still performing and after eight years only a quarter."
The researcher also looked at the factors that determine success. Attention from traditional media such as a performance at tv show ‘De Wereld Draait Door’ or a rave review in newspaper ‘de Volkskrant’ appear to be important predictors. Being connected to a major record label over a booker like Mojo also helps. Interviews showed that artists realise this all too well. "For example, they actively work on building their reputation with journalists. Also, traditional gatekeepers are still seen as the main avenue to make it. A record deal is still the goal. I found that quite remarkable."
Music study programmes realistic
Students at music study programmes are aware of the slim chance of success, interviews he conducted revealed. The programmes are honest about this in the brochures. Teachers also see it as their responsibility to be honest, and they make a striking appeal: above all, do not put in your bio that you are taking the study programme, because that will hurt your rock star image and reduce your chances. They also urge students to broaden their activities by, for example, teaching music or playing at weddings as well. "They say, 'don't expect to be the new Miss Montreal'. They pierce that dream and students really struggle with that."
The differences are huge. One band performs at a major festival for two beer papers, another gets a tonne. Everts thinks that pay should be fairer and sees it almost as exploitation when bands perform in the support act without compensation, for example. At the same time, financial success is not the only motive, the scientist stresses. "I also spoke to artists who just want to make beautiful things. Or someone who, in addition to his work with his punk band, wants to perform and party as much as possible. He wants to quit when he is ready to settle down. You can do that too. There are other ways to be active in music and that too can be fulfilling. You don't have to be a superstar for that."