How can a poor musician survive such times?

Apple has announced that future computers will not come equipped with a CD drive, because everybody can download or stream anything they want now and the drives are heavy and cumbersome and break and irrelevant.

Though I am painfully sell aware that my opinion and input are neither wanted nor needed, I have some complaints to register, and a problem to lay before the assembled working musicians on this site.

(1) I can't download or stream music, nor movies, nor youtube videos. I can't. Not because I'm a hopeless technophobe -- I'm really not, though I made the mistake of downloading the new version of iTunes and the changes never cease to piss me off -- but because it's impossible where I live. We ask every six months to a year for a solution, and there is none. I don't live at the end of the grid (one might joke that you can see it from the orchard), but I do live in a small place in the folds between media markets, and our home is well off the road. Cable is not an option. Satellite is not an option. The device we have which permits me to type these words is an option -- the only option -- but it is not sufficient to download or Spotify or whatever the hell it is I should be doing.

(2) There are 10,000 CDs in my office, give or take, and I've been trying to shed. Tell me what storage device I'm supposed to employ (if I could afford it) to rip all that music. And then tell me that it's guaranteed to work for my natural life or until my hearing goes. Not to mention asking when the hell I'd have time to do that.

But here's the real problem: What is the poor struggling touring musician to do now?

I'm not a musician, not even close. But I am allowed by Tom Gillam to design the packaging of his CDs (which is what I'm meant to be doing now, truth to tell), and so I have a good notion what a working musician's life is like.

What we have been told in the new impermanence of things is that this is liberating for the musician. No onerous record label (though of course they paid for recording and spent small fortunes to promote some if not all of their artists, and, of course, joyously ripped them off whenever possible), those are historic. Now the artist is allowed to deal directly with his and her audience. To engage them through social media, to fund projects through their kindness, to sleep on their floors.

Some of the bottom rung aspirants to this dream play our little coffeeshop. It's a tough world, and Morehead is a difficult market. Maybe ten people show up, if you lived here. Nobody, otherwise. Maybe you cover gas getting here, and going to the next place. Maybe better than that, but under no circumstance does it resemble a living. Getting by, maybe.

But here's where the money is. You've played your soul raw for a crowd of ten or fifty or five hundred, and maybe they've quaffed a pint or two of good ale and are feeling the love. They liked your music, had a good time, perhaps even understand the economics of your artistic vision. So they line up at the merch table to buy your CD, and maybe a t-shirt, possibly even a well-crafted tour poster. All of which one sits dutifully to sign, sweating and tired and wishing really for a bed rather more even than somebody to warm it.

Oh, wait.

No CD to sell anymore. We all are meant to listen to music (in condensed form, but who cares, it's all disposable and free anyhow, right?) in increasingly tiny electronic devices. The CD is so 1990s. Tangible product is irrelevant.

So how's that supposed to work for my friend Tom? Who's out there busting his ass because he believes in his music and there's not a damn thing else he'd be happy doing. Because trust me (and not to betray any confidences here, nor to tar him with the quickly brandished feather of these words) Tom could use your money.

Then he could even pay me.

Views: 2234

Tags: CD, alden, gillam, goods, intangible, rant, technology, tom

Comment by Tom Weber on December 12, 2012 at 11:31am

Artists should think about putting stuff out on vinyl, with a download code inside, either along with or instead of the CD release. There's a lot to be said about vinyl from a merch standpoint -- it's collectible, the artwork looks great because of the large format, and the kids love it because it's "not digital" and therefore cool. I have no research to back this up, but I go to a lot of shows and there's one question I hear more and more: "Do you have that on vinyl?"

Comment by Will James on December 12, 2012 at 11:42am

Totally agree with Tom (need that "Like" button!).

Comment by Jeff Arthur on December 12, 2012 at 1:19pm

Grant your not the only one out in the internet weeds ,me too I'd love to stream stuff .

What bothers me even more is the lossy low fi quality that the masses accept now .

Comment by Easy Ed on December 12, 2012 at 1:32pm

Regarding Tom's comment about vinyl with a download code, a couple years ago I would have argued with him that nobody cares about plastic anymore but I would have been wrong. Although sales are minimal in the grand scheme of the universe, within the smaller genres and especially among old folks like us and young folks like our kids, it sells just fine to make it worth trying out. You could say that Tom Weber was thinking out of the jewel box with his comment. I'll be here all week folks...

Comment by Will James on December 12, 2012 at 1:34pm

I was about to buy an laptop on sale recently, and I suddenly realized they don't put phone plugs in them anymore for dialup. That may seem like I'm really way out there tech-wise, but, thing is, I am way out there... in the woods, for some parts of late summer when I'm organizing multiple events. It's awful (don't do better than 24k), but good enough for email and basic web with the pictures turned off. I couldn't be up there and work without it unless I spend all day away from my place and in town at the library.

On another front, I used to be in charge of content for a 5,000+ page website for a healthcare institution. Our VP one day came up with the driving idea (she had a new focus every couple weeks) to market to Hispanics. I had been on a mission to convince I.T. and Marketing how "heavy" our site was compared to the competition. She had no idea that the majority of these people, and others in rural areas we were going for, didn't have high speed connections. Country for the country?

Comment by Easy Ed on December 12, 2012 at 1:40pm

@Will:

Comment by Will James on December 12, 2012 at 1:43pm

Ahhhhh.

Comment by Kim Ruehl on December 12, 2012 at 2:33pm

I'm gonna get cynical and maybe even a little negative for a moment here. Hold onto your hat, Ed.

Two things, mainly.

(1) Since when does business care about artists? I think this is a complaint that will never go away, and artists will never be on the minds of people making and selling products (except for "How much money can an artist make me?"). 

(2) And here's my most cynical response to this: with labels not really developing artists anymore, with anyone who can so much as strum six strings able to make, record, distribute, and sell recorded music...maybe it's a good thing if some of those folks fall off the bus. And I'm not talking about brilliant artists giving up on making art because they can't afford the lifestyle. As long as music is something humans do (and it always will be), there will be brilliant artists with dayjobs who will mostly go unheard. It's a Thing, and it'll always be a Thing. I'm talking about filters, which is something I believe you've sounded off about here before, Grant. Perhaps with the labels dwindling and great critics becoming fewer and farther between, the filter becomes the fans. Fans will always spend money on their favorite musicians - whether a t-shirt or a download card or a poster or a Kickstarter prize or something that doesn't exist yet that'll be something like a 3-D poster with a booklet that slips inside and if you turn the 3-D poster upside down, you get a code that you scan into your smartphone...people want to touch music. They want to touch something that makes them think of their guitar heroes and their dreamboat lead singers and the intensely personal lyrics which make them want to cry. They want to touch it not because they're used to it in a commercial sense, but because we are - biologically - social creatures who crave connection. Artists - the real ones with the can't-shut-off creative minds; not the ones who just know how to pair catchy words with catchy melodies, but can't imagine what to do WITH their creation - will figure it out. Until that happens, there's lag time. And maybe it's fine with me to see some starving artists give up and do the other thing they could see themselves doing for a living. There are always plenty of bands who have other skills and training, and the rule continues to be true: If you're an artist who can imagine doing anything else with your life...you should save yourself some time and grief, and just do that other thing. Because being an artist is not a lucrative path, especially in this field of music. You're not going to make an awesome living, so you better be in it for the right reasons. 

Also, @Hal - Rectal Blue Tooth Woofers is a stringband waiting to happen.

Comment by Easy Ed on December 12, 2012 at 3:05pm

Sorry Kim, you're going to need to work on your cynicism and negativity a bit more to rise up to the level of some of us older folks here in the community. You sound downright upbeat to me. 

It's interesting that many of us regulars say the same things over time, but in such different ways. The accessibility and lack of filters seemed to be such a good thing in the beginning, so much fairer and democratic than the business model we'd been operating on. But they outsmarted us again, because we're left with more of less, and less of more. So just as an example, maybe it's ok that one of the best blues guitarist in the world is a 22 year old shoe salesman from Iowa who plays one night a week at a local bar gig and has uploaded 23 videos of his band up on You Tube and sells stupid tees with a goofy picture of himself to his friends and some crazy fans from India who discovered him on a website from New Zealand. He doesn't have to be signed to Universal with a 360 deal for merchandising and publishing, a tour subsidy from Budweiser and endorsements from Gibson and Nike. 

Carry on. Hal...you're up.

Comment by Hal Bogerd on December 12, 2012 at 4:34pm


Comment by Hal Bogerd just nowDelete Comment

"Some of us older folks"   and then "Carry on, Hal"!   Damn it Easy Ed you're old enough to be my older brother or maybe you're old enough to be my younger brother. I get confused sometimes.

@Kim@EasyEd-You've both shared some thoughts I've had and hesitated posting. I get music through a friend's music site (ReviewShine-remove the plug if it is inappropriate) mostly unknown artists but a few "names" at least names in this circle.  I've discovered, enjoyed and reviewed a handful of bands and made some new friends.  But many times this hobby feels like a job checking out band after band with the sole reason being they scraped together enough money to record a disc (or at buy a computer). It takes time even if I I listen to just one track from every artist who submits a disc.  Yes, sometimes less is more and when I realize that  I tie myself to a chair and force myself to listen to some music I know I love! 

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.