The Taylor Swift Spotify story has been lighting up the news all week, for assorted reasons, but it has reignited the debate about the earnings of the creative community.
For many, especially those outside of the creative community, Taylor Swift is perceived as someone who has enough money already. Even worse there are many who ‘think’ (a term I use loosely) that all music should be free, By free they mean that they should not have to pay for it, not stopping to consider that making music is a costly business and music is not just created magically out of thin air by the MP3 fairy. Swift and others are regarded as the creative super rich.
At the other end of the scale are the creative poor, and I use that term correctly. Their creative efforts do not create enough income to be able to sustain them and their families. So they work one, two, three or more jobs to support the family, none of which they really love but it keeps the cash rolling in until the dream of just making money from their creative efforts becomes a reality.
The first thing to note about this scenario is that it is not new, this has been happening for decades, the idea of doing other jobs to support the creative dream has always been part of the landscape. For some it is nothing more than a dream, they lack both the talent and the work ethic to make a real living from it. But I’m not talking about them, that’s an easy cliche to peddle by those who think that the arts are just a way to avoid getting a ‘real’ job. I’m talking about those who have the talent and who work damned hard.
What the current debates about earnings, royalties, and fair rewards highlight even more than ever, is that the model of super-rich and poor is unworkable for most. Even when most creatives start to make a modest income it is unlikely to be enough to give them the security of sick pay now and pensions in their old age.
Surely what we should be striving for is the creation of a creative middle class? Don’t think 2.4 children, home in the suburbs and nice car. I simply mean the ability to provide for your family now and in the future when you can longer work - it is what most other professions have the potential to offer, but it seems less likely for those of us in the creative community. If you are reading this and are making a modest living out of your creative efforts, then you are the exception and not the rule.
As long as we concentrate on the stars in this scandal we miss the critical issue; that for most hardworking and talented professionals working in the creative industry, it is never going to provide the income they need for now and when they can no longer work, that’s the real scandal.