The Starving Artist Syndrome: Artists vs. Businessmen

Artists vs. Businessmen.

I recently had a discussion with someone who went into a rant about artists vs. businessmen.
He had this romanticized notion that a musician who focuses on the business side of things, isn’t really an artist.

Yeah, you could of course never have both: the world is after all that black and white.

Since such utterly “uneducated” (I use this word as a euphemism) opinions piss me off, I responded with some examples.

I Never Heard Back From Him After I Sent This Following Response.

That’s the same as saying that James Brown, who was a hell of a businessman, therefore wasn’t an artist at all. Really?
His self-authored biography “I Feel Good” is an eye-opener in that regard.
James owned a number of strategically purchased radio stations.
He also made many other savvy business moves and investments in his career which contributed to his enormous legacy.

And let me not get started on Prince… Pfff… what an amateur musician he must be in your opinion.
We all know about some of his business moves; including for example the whole TAFKAP period.
Following your logic then: without any doubt, Prince must be a crappy artist.
After all: someone who makes such amazing business decisions is way too sharp a businessman to be an artist.
Totally makes sense.

I guess, J.S. Bach wasn’t really an artist either then.
It’s common course material in conservatory’s music history classes worldwide, that Bach was exceptionally sharp when it came to the business side of music.
Meanwhile: all classical composers and musicologists worldwide ALL also, without any exception, agree that of the top 3 classical composers (Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart), that Bach was the greatest in terms of quality of composition and feel.
Yes, the most business-savvy guy of the 3, was also the most highly regarded composer amongst the top 3 classical composers!
I guess none of these music history experts really know what they are talking about, right?

People who have such narrow ideas on artistry vs. business sense, also just single-handedly dismissed the Rolling Stones.
Mick Jagger obviously isn’t really an artist. The dude has a Degree in Economics, for heaven’s sake.
What an idiot thinking he could possibly ever be regarded as an artist or front The Rolling Stones while also being a business person.

I’m not even going to talk about Bono or U2 here.
Obviously not a band but a business endeavor.

Queen: smart business dudes, and as such of course also, idiot musicians who didn’t really contribute all that much to the art of music with their sub-par songs.

Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant probably knew more about the business side of things than most will in 10 life times.
Jimmy played with the Yardbirds along with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and had been one of the busiest session guys in London, long before he started Led Zeppelin.
Obviously: they aren’t musicians but business people.

And let me not get started on The Beatles.
What were they thinking? Hiring managers, working out their whole Beatles image thing, setting up tours, buying real estate, starting their Apple company, signing contracts, and doing all that business crap?
These guys knew more about the music industry and made more tough business decisions in their lives than one can possibly imagine.
Shame on you Beatles: you could have been really good musicians instead!
Hence by default, following your logic: The Beatles were never really artists. They were business people, who started their own companies.

Jack White, who has his own label, and his own vinyl press, etc. is obviously totally NOT an artist.
He’s a business guy and you can’t be both.

I can name more artists till I turn blue in the face, but I guess you get the picture. 🙂


I feel sorry for the musicians who cling on to their misplaced, romanticized starving artist ideas like it’s a badge of honor they proudly carry riding their high horse.

Being ignorant about the business side of things doesn’t make one a better artist or a better musician. (Even if one thinks so).
It actually makes one a lesser artist.
Here’s how:

All the bands that really meant something, and that you very well might be into, you only really know because… they were smart business people who made smart business decisions and who attracted the right people for their careers, so you now can enjoy their music.

Not only can you be both, you have to be both if you really want to stand out and carve out a name for yourself in the music industry.
Just like in any business or industry: it is the artists who make the most and toughest (business) decisions, who also achieve the greatest successes.

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