As a professional organist I always wanted to earn a living from what I do. This is probably very common thread among most musicians. I suspect if you are a professional, you would rather be living off your art than working side jobs.
The truth is that for most organists traditionally they need to do at least 3 things at the same time to survive - play church services, teach and play recitals. There are of course people who specialise in just one area but chances to make it are greater when you combine the 3 activities. Add to this mix selling your CD's and often you can make a living. Of course not many people choose to buy CD's anymore but that's another question.
The age of the Internet has opened new possibilities too. You can get paid for teaching organ playing online, sell your scores, or stream your music.
Traditionally music streaming is done on platforms like streaming giants as Spotify, Apple Music and many smaller ones. These services are a real paradise for listeners. While paying a low monthly subscription fee you get to choose from their enormous catalogue of tenths of millions of tracks. Literally anything you can think of, you will find on Spotify or Apple Music.
However, for musicians this arrangement is not very appealing because you would get paid for each stream only a fraction of a penny. If your music is distributed through a label, it also takes a cut, if you are performing with a group of people, then each of you would get even a smaller percentage of revenue.
Of course, for big names and big labels this arrangement works very well because they get the majority of streams. For independent or up-and-coming musicians this means most of them will never make it.
Based on the stats below from my Artist page on Spotify, I have 677 streams in the last 28 days. According to Streaming Royalty Calculator website, my revenue should be $2.71 USD. Probably less than that because Spotify earnings vary from country to country.
YouTube also pays content creators, such as musicians a portion of their ad revenue. However, today the requirement to be admitted into their Partner Program has a rather high bar - the most prominent being 1000 subscribers and 4000 watch hours in the last 12 months.
Of course, every YouTuber can make some additional money from affiliate revenue or selling courses and merchandise but for this to happen, you have to have a rather large and engaged audience.
My Secrets of Organ Playing channel luckily is monetised but the amount of money I receive from the ads is not something I can rely on. It varies between 30 and 35 USD a month at the moment. It comes into my bank account ones it reaches 70 EUR threshold, in this case, every 2 months or so.
So I hope you can see that in this system clearly something is broken for average musician. Yes, you will make some money from your music but are you being compensated fairly?
The good news is that recent technological developments in the blockchain area tries to fix this disconnect. In the last 3 years quite a few platforms have been springing up which offer direct, faster and bigger returns for musicians. Some of them are less successful than others when it comes to user adoption. Some of them are already absolete. But some have been doing great progress. One of them is Emanate.
It's too early to tell if Emanate will be a success story but the start is really promising. I first heard about it at the end of 2019 but it was in the early development stage and music upload was limited to invited artists only.
The promise of Emanate which is based in Australia, is that they offer instant, direct and fair compensation for musicians for every second their music is listened.
When they opened the gates to the public, in the middle of September I created my profile and started uploading the audios of some of my videos from YouTube. At first I wouldn't pay much attention to it because my tracks would get very few streams.
Right now there are almost no classical musicians on Emanate yet (most of them create electronic music) so I have been sharing my tracks with some friends to see if they like it. When yesterday one such friend was listening to my Sarabande by Louis Couperin (a 2 minute piece) I kept refreshing my earning stats on the dashboard in my profile. Here's what I saw as he kept listening over those 2 minutes:
That's right. One stream of a 2 minute piece earned me 3 ct. That's not a lot as a whole but on Spotify I would get 0.004 USD (probably less) for such stream (provided the listener kept on playing the track for at least 30 seconds). 0.004 USD on Spotify versus 0.03 USD on Emanate. That's 7.5 times more! Probably closer to 10 times in reality.
Oh and by the way, I would have to wait for those 0.004 USD from Spotify for about 2 months to be transferred to my account and on Emanate I could instantly convert the native MNX tokens to EMT in my wallet, from there to EOS (because Emanate runs on EOSIO blockchain) and use that EOS any way I want, like convert it to other currencies such as Bitcoin, USD or EUR.
Run the math. If there are 10 people listening to your 2 minute track, you would earn 0.30 USD. 100 listens give 3 USD and so on. What if the piece is 4 minutes long? That's right, if people listen twice as long, you would get twice as revenue. Of course, this is what Emanate pays currently and in the future the payout rates might fluctuate.
Emanate is also really good for collaborations because you can specify the exact percentage for each member of your team. If you play in a trio, you can split your revenue 3 ways in whatever proportion you want. In fact, you can split your revenue with up to 50 people. This opens up many ideas for choirs, ensembles, orchestras and even fans. By the way, your fans who create playlists would also get rewarded in the future.
As I said, right now there are very few classical musicians on Emanate so this is a good time to sign up. If you do, check out the FAQ section of Emanate which has a growing collection of answers to various questions. You can also visit my profile there (emanate.live/vidaspinkevicius), say hello, upload a few tracks and send me the link to listen to.
Making a choice
How much time do you spend taking action as opposed to reaction in organ playing? This question can also be put this way: How often do you work towards your own goals as opposed to the goals of others?
How often do you give yourself the freedom of making a choice to play what you want as opposed to letting others decide it for you?
Here's the thing - we sure need to think a little about others when we play organ. We need to take into consideration our employer, our congregation, our listeners. But we also need to find some time in our practice when we are free to experiment, to ponder, to do research, to sight-read, to improvise something seemingly entirely useless, or similarly waste time.
Because you know what? If you only play what's required of you, you will miss an opportunity to be unique and remarkable, you will miss an opportunity to find your edge. You will miss an opportunity to matter.
This will make you into an average organist. An average organist who is easily replaceable with the one who's just a little cheaper and faster than you.
And in today's economy it turns out not a very productive strategy.
Instead, you should search for things that you hold dear, the things that are exciting to you alone, the things that only you can provide, the things which you would be missed for if you were gone.
The weirder the better.
Currently I'm in the middle of composing my Fantasia, Op. 35 in which I'm doing my experiments with melodies, rhythms, harmonies, textures, and form. However, ever since starting the work on this Fantasia I felt stuck. Even before, actually.
A was facing two choices in my mind - the one which seemed like a revelation to me and I was very eager to experiment with it and the one which I was more reluctant to try because it felt like a lot of work. Choice No. 1 seemed so fast and quick and yet creative and innovative enough. But deep inside my musical instincts told me it won't work. Choice No. 2 might not work either but provided I added more effort into it, the end result would be far more artistically pleasing. It wont' be quick and easy, though.
To be quite frank, I felt rather lost - one part of me wanted to try Option No. 1 because I sort of came up with its concept in a way that seemed totally fresh and creative. On the other side, because I haven't tried it before, I didn't know if it will work.
Sometimes when I face a similar situation with 2 unclear paths I tend to freeze and do nothing until I figured out the best solution in my mind. I would torment myself for days without actually doing it - only thinking about it.
As you can feel, only thinking about the problem won't solve it. You are not the problem. The problem is the problem. You have to do it. So this time, I chose action. Since I didn't know what's the best option is for me, I chose to do them both.
I started working on choice No. 1 two weeks ago. For two weeks I did my melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, textural, and formal experiments without knowing if they would work. Sure, I would try them out on my home practice organ from time to time, although my main work was with paper and pencil. When I played the fragments of this Fantasia on my practice organ, I had a feeling that it's not the right choice - No. 2 would work better. However, I chose to continue my work on it until I would have a chance to play it on a larger instrument with reverberant acoustics.
Yesterday, I was invited to play for the mass on New Year's Day at my church where I provided improvised prelude and postlude. After the mass, I tried my experiment with this Fantasia.
I didn't like it. It didn't work. Although the idea seemed nice, but from the musical and listener's point of view it didn't work. My gut feeling was true and now I'm ready to try choice No. 2.
It was not a mistake that I didn't choose No. 2 right away and started working on No. 1 which proved incorrect. It was not a failure. I just found one more way which wouldn't work. This too, kept me moving towards my goal.
Who knows, maybe No. 2 won't work either. I won't know it, unless I try it out. One thing I know for sure - choices No. 3 and 4 and 5 will present themselves at the right time but only when I'm ready for them - when I've done my work.
So when you, like me, feel stuck in front of 2 choices and you don't know which one is right for you, pick any one and do it, at least long enough to feel whether or not it's the correct choice. If during this process you will start to feel that it's better to switch to the other choice, do it right away.
The worst thing you can do is to freeze in front of your choices and do nothing. Or worse, decide that it's not for you and move on to the next thing.
The right choice is often the one you are most afraid of.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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