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.
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.