Twelve Percent or Less: Robby Is Cashing In.
Last year Citigroup published an 88-page report that generated headlines across various music news outlets and stirred the collective consciousness of musicians worldwide. The report highlighted the lag that the music industry is experiencing when it comes to stream revenue for artists. Of the $43 billion the music industry generated in 2017 musicians received 12 percent, and that was it.
Now before you start feeling sorry, musicians the likes of this year's Super Bowl half time show performers Maroon 5 are still making millions, and streaming revenue will adapt and eventually catch up. Musicians deserve to be paid for their work, for their sacrifices, for their time, this is indisputable. Do musicians know this? That is the question.
As I watched Robert Williams (keys/guitar/vocals) haul his equipment into Hotel Vegas on East Sixth Street on a chilly Sunday night it occurred to me that his midnight set—the last of the evening—would almost certainly lack an audience, the bar was mostly empty, and Monday was looming large. Robert or simply "Robby" played a stripped-down set for the sparse crowd with no regard for the following day, and if you listened carefully to his lyrics, you would know why.
Robby laid out a tapestry of sounds and verses that told the story of the last four years of his life. Lyrics about blood, honey, and magic eventually gave way to less abstract themes laced with more personal feelings about friends and loved ones. The music was glazed over with the velvety vocals of Lolita Lynne, who plays bass for Robby in the full lineup. Altogether there was a shared passion for the music being played on stage, an honest expression of feelings that seemed far distanced from any thoughts of financial gain.
"The longer you do this, the more you start to think about it," Robby replied when I asked him after the set how he felt about compensation for his work. Robby works as a freelance audio engineer so he is no stranger to demanding fair pay for his work and yet he is an artist at heart. "I am taking myself seriously, life has become more serious," Robby said about the stark difference in lyrics from his earlier songs to those he writes now.
"It's a lot of emotional energy," Lolita said about each performance that she puts on and she is no stranger to Robby's commitment either as he plays guitar in her group. Two musicians stepping on stage to weave a story for full display and full pay seems reasonable, and yet there is so much more than just the music—getting people to the shows, social media, equipment, transportation, all these things take a toll.
"This is the only thing that feels right," Lolita said plainly, Robby's approving nod spoke most loudly, and so I realized that musicians cut from this cloth are not easily dissuaded. Each performance is seen as an opportunity to cash in on their unique experiences, to deliver powerful messages and catchy tunes to those willing to listen, in bars, arenas, stadiums, and more—for twelve percent or less.