Going for Broke

The article below by Clapham Group staff member Kristin Neal was featured in the January/February 2011 issue of Prism Magazine. “There would be no U2 after that second album.  We wouldn’t have the songs.  No ‘Beautiful Day, no ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday,’ no ‘Unforgettable Fire,’ no ‘One,’ no ‘Where the Streets Have No Name,’ no ‘With or Without You.’  I would like to ask the music business to look at itself, to ask itself some hard questions because there would be no U2 the way things are right now.  That’s a fact.” -Bono at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: March 14, 2005.Ten years ago, record companies dictated the rules.  Think Britney Spears or boy band sensation, NSYNC: Just a couple of kids with a little bit of talent and a lot of personality; Enter Jive Records and BMG and after two years of development and thousands of dollars spent on marketing, branding, tours, and airtime, the record companies cash in millions from their new artists’ big “break.”  Today, it is a completely different story.  As record companies struggle financially, they are consequently less willing to sign artists and less likely to guarantee commercial success.  As music critics note, if financial success is what you’re looking for, you need to “operate less like a musician, and more like a corporation.”Radiohead frontman, Thom Yorke, recently spoke out against the music industry and in favor of independent pursuits, saying, “Signing a record deal is like tying yourself to a sinking ship.” He’s got a point.  Since 2000, CD sales have dropped over 48 percent and approximately 2,680 US record stores have gone out of business. In 2007, Radiohead walked away from their longtime label, EMI, and began independently working on their album In Rainbows, which was released exclusively online for donations only.  The pre-release online profit alone for In Rainbows exceeded that of their classic record Hail to the Thief. This model may have worked for the successful British band who has built a loyal fan base for the past 25 years, but what about the emerging independent artists with a much smaller fan following?“Sure, sounds really great to do it by yourself and be independent, but how?” asks Columbia Pictures VP.  “So you go on tour from New York to LA, earning maybe $300/night for 20 shows, but spending $10,000 on gas alone.  Not counting food, tolls, hotels and parking, you’re $4,000 in the hole before you even start.” But it’s worth it if it leads to your big break, right?Herein lies the question, then.  Is it possible for an artist to “break” anymore?  Or, is the music industry entirely broken?  Singer-songwriter Will Gray has been asking this question for nearly five years now.  With over 60 interviews from New York to Los Angeles and more than 200 hours of footage, Will Gray has just completed his documentary, Broke, in pursuit of this very question: Can an artist break?Artists aren’t necessarily after the fame and fortune.  In the documentary, John West, an independent musician in LA, says, “Success for me is just having enough financial stability to be able to continue making music.”For many artists, breaking would mean finally making enough money to put food on the table, take a trip home to visit family, afford health insurance, or pay their bandmates what they deserve.  It’s about being able to pursue a calling, do what you love, and reach the hearts of many through the power of a song.“Great music will find a home and it will find its way into people’s hearts,” says Sam Brooker in Broke.  “The responsibility of the artist is to make an album that’s worth buying.  Somehow music does touch people and that’s what keeps us going.  When [we] look out and see smiles and tears at a show, [we know] we’re doing something right.”When Adjoa Skinner explains what it’s like for her to write a song, she talks about waking up in the middle of the night with a lyric in her head or standing in the grocery store and hearing a melody.  She cannot not make music.  So where can musicians like her turn if the music industry is broken beyond repair?Wedgwood Circle is a faith-informed organization that exists to promote the creation of cultural artifacts that are good, true and beautiful for the common good in the art and entertainment industry.  We believe that investing in culture is of utmost importance.  Culture is undoubtedly consequential in shaping ideas and subsequently, our lives.  With technology that delivers round-the-clock content to individuals everywhere, the impact of the entertainment sector on worldview belief and attitudes is greater than ever.  Wedgwood Circle provides investors and foundations with the necessary network and strategies to wisely invest with a double bottom line: financial return, as well as positive social outcome.  In the words of our namesake, Josiah Wedgwood, we call this “doing well, while doing good.”In 2008, Wedgwood Circle launched the Sapere Fund to support a small cadre of independent music artists, including Will Gray, to assist and equip them in both their professional and personal journeys.  A total of 28 grants (from $2,500 to $25,000) were awarded and a regional music tour was underwritten, encouraging young musicians to continue following their creative calling and impact the culture for good.  The record companies aren’t making the rules anymore, so we should.

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