John Bartus

Bruce Springsteen recently sold his songs and recordings for $500 million. Bob Dylan sold his publishing rights and recordings for a combined $500 million. Katy Perry sold her catalog for $225 million. Justin Bieber sold his for $200 million. (Bieber?!?) Sting sold his for $300 million. David Bowie’s estate sold his for $225 million. Neil Young sold his for $150 million.

And the musical juggernaut known as Taylor Swift has become a billionaire from her songs and concerts, with an estimated net worth of somewhere between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion. And she still owns most of her rights and recordings.

It’s worth noting that none of these artists were hurting for cash at the time they made their deals. I will concede that artists, musicians and songwriters who create mega-popular songs or timeless classics certainly deserve to profit from their work. All this goes to show how much additional money the record labels, streaming services and rights peddlers make on selling music, large amounts of money that don’t go to the artists. For these industry types, music is a cash cow.

Meanwhile, in our island communities, as well as cities and towns throughout the world, the artists who are most responsible for bringing live music directly to the people often struggle just to make ends meet. While artists like the more famous ones listed here charge hundreds of thousands or millions to book for one show, local musicians earn significantly less. Solo musicians usually earn a little more than band players, and it’s really difficult for a musician to earn a living on the wages of a four- or five-piece band. Virtually nobody is buying CDs anymore, so an income stream that musicians used to have is gone. Don’t get me started on how much streaming doesn’t pay.

On the other side of the local music scene, it’s often hard for restaurant and club owners to pay all their bills and still pay for live music. It gets even harder when performing rights organizations like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC hit establishments with music licensing fees on top of the cost of the musicians. As someone who does make a living playing music, I truly appreciate the establishments that make live music possible.

While live music is prevalent down here in the islands (thanks in part to our tourism economy), a lot of people take it for granted. Music has been devalued to the point where way too many folks think that it all should be free. Why pay for music when it’s all out there, free of charge, on the internet?

Most everyone who plays music does so out of the sheer love of music. Musicians devote an incredible amount of time and effort learning an instrument, working on their vocals, creating new songs and new recordings — they do it even though the financial rewards may be less than that of other professions. There is a saying that goes, “If you can imagine doing anything other than music for a living, do that.” Most musicians do it because they have to, and would do it regardless of how much it pays.

That’s evident even in those who are financially secure beyond their wildest dreams. People like Springsteen, McCartney and Dylan don’t have to hit the road and play live to earn a buck. Most of these so-called “legacy acts” go out and play because that’s what they do. 

If you are someone who values live music, someone who appreciates the talent of local musicians who put themselves out there every day, it’s very easy to show your support by buying a CD if they have one, leaving a tip, or simply listening and showing appreciation at the end of a song. 

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I’ll be playing at a great event this Saturday at the Key West Tropical Forest and Botanical Garden. It’s the Rum Infused Adult Scavenger Hunt, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Garden on Stock Island. It’s one of their big fundraisers, and 100% of the funds will go to providing free bus transportation for Monroe County students to visit the Garden. Hope to see you at this fun and festive event!

– Catch John live Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, Saturday at the Key West Botanical Garden, Sundays at Skipjack Tiki Bar, and Monday at Boardwalk on Big Pine. Find his music anywhere you download or stream your music. •

John Bartus
Very few towns or cities could ever claim that their Mayor was a smokin' hot guitar player. The island city of Marathon in the Florida Keys is one of those towns. While politics is a temporary call to service, music is a life sentence. John Bartus, a more-than-four-decade full-time professional musician, singer, and songwriter, continues to raise the bar with his groundbreaking solo acoustic show. It’s easy to catch John on one of his more than 200 shows a year throughout the Keys on his Perpetual Island Tour. His CD releases include After The Storm, Keys Disease 10th Anniversary Remaster, and Live From the Florida Keys Vol. 2. John’s music is available wherever you download or stream your music.