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 Bill Nork on December 9, 2012 at 4:56pm

Relax, Apple sells a USB CD drive for $79.00. 

Comment by Grant Alden on December 9, 2012 at 7:15pm

Of course they do. Not my point.

Comment by Jack on December 9, 2012 at 7:18pm

Nice to see you back, Grant.  

For me the issue will be when cars lack CD players.  Recently sold our '02 Camry, it had a cassette deck and 6 disc changer.  New(er) car has 6 disc changer and a port for an iPod.  Guessing life will eventually come full circle when I'll be buying an under dash CD player to match the old under dash cassette deck of yore.

Comment by Will James on December 9, 2012 at 9:12pm

Hey Grant, I just realized I drove right by your place via I-64 returning from Nashville. Would have been a good stopping place rather than the long drive to that cesspool called Morgantown. I totally agree with your frustration (too many points to cover, but you did). I'm glad the bands I book have new freedoms, but does it really make a difference? Makes a lot of things tougher from what I've seen. I know things sucked in the old days, but perhaps there was some reason to some of that fascist structure. Anyway, glad you still have the small venue going; maybe next time. Best, Will

Comment by Joseph Filippazzo on December 9, 2012 at 9:22pm
I can understand this thing to do-I think-for artists -and I don't know how much this is gonna cost-but get scratch off cards with a code to redeem so and so artists album(s) because I think CDs dont have long to go..
Comment by Easy Ed on December 10, 2012 at 9:19am

Really? It took NARAS not to give Justin Bieber a Grammy nomination to induce you to post something here for the first time since February 28th? Or is dial-up just that slow out there on the edge of the grid? I'm guessing you're posting your thoughts somewhere, perhaps at the Daily Kos, but I've been too lazy to look and beside I think you use a psueudonym.

Well I don't know about you, but I'm still mourning the loss of my 3.5" floppy disc drive. I had a lot of files on those things, including my 1974-1988 income taxes, AOL passwords, several years worth of resumes, and lyrics and poems I've written. Bill took the words right out of my head, but you shut him down. What's the matter with externals? Jack...your next new(er) car is guaranteed not to have a CD player. 

So what to sell at the gigs? Here's your answer: You sell a CD package, with the same artwork and same information and same liner notes and same packaging that you do now. And inside of it, instead of a round piece of plastic you have something like this sitting on the tray:

Take it home and either punch the numbers into a website and download the track or scan the UPC with your phone and it goes right into your library. I assume you do have cell towers, right? 

Shoot...this doesn't solve anything for you guys. Never mind. I'll think of something else. Happy holidays to you and the family...I do miss you being here. I'd say welcome back, but I know better.

Comment by Grant Alden on December 10, 2012 at 12:46pm

The point I seek to make with my usual inelegance is that the musician seeking to build an audience, the travelling troubadour dependent on the sale of physical product to tippling hipsters is about -- with the demise of the disc drive -- to be left few funding options. There is little substitute (Easy Ed's theory notwithstanding) for the emotional impulse purchase. There is no substitute, for me, for the physical product. The physical product CAN have long-term value. There is no after-market trading in MP3 files. Therefore the music in the MP3 file is inherently of less intrinsic value than is the music on a CD or hunk of vinyl.

And, on, I've not been writing elsewhere, not even on kos. I've been writing here, at home, for my own amusement. I can't guess what prompted me to have 15 minutes to spend typing the blog above, but only rarely do I have time to visit this place and think about music, and then there's the matter of remembering my password ...

Comment by Hal Bogerd on December 10, 2012 at 1:34pm

I upgraded from 8-track to cassette when I bought my new car (1993 Nissan) now you guys are telling me I'm about to miss the golden age of CD car players?  What next rectal blue tooth woofers? 

Comment by Sue Rarick on December 10, 2012 at 5:47pm

I have a friend that just graduated from Belmont and his dad's comment was that it would have been a heck of a lot cheaper to send him off to work at Target to learn how to sell T-shirts.

Without CD's Easy Ed is right, a musician can use a download code that allows someone to download an album. It's also cheaper to print up what amounts to a business card with a code on it. There is also the advantage of not having to worry about quality. An MP3 has about 1/10th the quality of a CD which has about 1/10th the quality of a 24/96 recording. So a person listening to even a quality MP3 is just getting around 1/100th of what has actually been recorded. By the time a song gets reduced to an MP3 you'd be hard pressed to tell if it were recorded at 24/48 or 24/192.



Comment by Hal Bogerd on December 11, 2012 at 8:04pm

I just realized how badly Apple screwed up the "upgrade" to iTUNES. I'd really hate Apple if Steve Jobs hadn't donated so much of his money to solve global health issues!


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