“Money, It’s a Hit”

Food and time off aside, the last week has been exciting on the internet regarding the music industry’s economic realities, particularly surrounding various levels of indie music. (I use “indie” lightly, so don’t waste time getting in touch to nit-pick stylistic differences.) In short: Jack Conte of Pomplamoose wrote a frank article detailing the finances of a recent tour, breaking down how much was spent, how much was earned, and what remained (or, in this case, didn’t remain). I was glad he wrote it, even if I did find some of the expenses suspect. (Boiled down, taking music on the road is a large expense in more ways than just financially, but at least light is being shed somewhere.) Quickly, however, a bevy of critical and informed responses were written, including those by Spencer Lee on Medium, Nick Woods on Noisey, and Will Stevenson on Alternative Press. Each response, like the original article, had its pros and cons, but I must admit that I overall side with the respondents, particularly Stevenson. (And I went in completely ignorant of and agnostic about Pomplamoose’s music. I made a cursory attempt to listen after reading the post, but quickly finding an original tune was like finding a needle in the band’s haystack of covers. So I gave up.)

The above four articles speak for themselves; I needn’t summarize and fisk them all here. I encourage you to read them if you have the time. And if you don’t, at least read Conte’s and Stevenson’s. This blog isn’t a link repository, and regular readers should know that I don’t try to throw out click bait to chase the day’s stories. Also, I’m not a road warrior living life on tour. But, regular readers may know that I’m an advocate for paying for music and musicians getting paid (e.g., here, here, and here), so this discussion very much grabs my attention. Besides, it touches upon a related area that I’ve been meaning to start exploring for some time now.

Before continuing, it’s worth mentioning the recent brief but jam-packed Borghi | Teager East Coast Tour in the above articles’ context. Our completely DIY affair had us on the road in my Honda Fit for one week to perform seven sets over four days (or five, depending on if you count 4:00 AM Sunday to be Saturday night or Sunday morning), bookended by a day of travel (i.e. driving) on each end with a day of partial rest before returning home. We stayed with friends except for one night in a hotel that was redeemed with points, three of our seven sets were radio engagements (i.e., no payment of any sort), and we managed to come home with a net profit. A noteworthy feat, considering we perform a style of music that lacks a thriving live scene (ahem, aforementioned indie musicians). We benefit from being a nimble and easily mobile outfit, but it’s still notable.

I mentioned that this whole mess related to something that’s been gnawing at me for a long while, particularly in recent months, and that’s the role of money in artistic creative work. More specifically, the intersection of:
– The real and necessary costs associated with making art (in my case, music).
– The economy of real “indie” and local/regional music and musicians.
(- The evolution and nurturing of a “scene.”)
– Higher education and work as an adjunct professor.
– What “making it” actually means to me, if it means anything.
– Public and private financial support of the arts.

Answers to these issues and questions certainly won’t be offered or discovered in this quick post. And most questions will remain untyped also. If nothing else, I’ll at least mention what got me fixated on this topic more acutely than before…

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to see the gallery exhibition of Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament at Munich’s Haus der Kunst. (I was unable to see the actual film/opera, but the associated artworks were in a standing show for several months. This is an interesting video about it should you have the time.) Without getting too tangential, I was in awe of the work and would love to someday have the opportunity to see the opera. Some of the sculptures on display in the gallery were a result of the largest non-industrial molten pour on record, engineered by Barney himself. That’s more than just an inspired man or woman in a private studio with marble, hammer, and chisel. Rather, it’s a robust micro-economy and industry functioning to realize one man’s creative vision over years. Barney can of course afford to do this, but there are few others who can. That, in itself, is okay. I was and remain moved by this work. However, in just a few rooms in a gallery in Munich, the financial and time-consuming demands of art were perfectly crystallized.

Yeah, I know…all this coming from a Wagnerian. Good point. But what would’ve come of dear Richard if it weren’t for wealthy patrons?

Barney and Wagner (and all other A-listers) aside, how can local or regional (or internet-equivalent) artists secure the considerable capital needed to positively invest in their work? (And by “positively invest,” I mean walk away from the project’s end in the black, not the red.) Kickstarter and FundAnything are nice, but it’s the digital passing of the hat. I don’t see how that can be predictably sustainable in the long-term, especially when Big Art co-opts them (e.g., Zach Braff and Amanda Palmer). Streaming and the cloud threaten purchased, curated libraries. Exorbitant fees and everyday life interfere with live performances. Hope remains, of course. Louis CK and Thom Yorke have helped lead the economic front lines in their respective fields to chart new territory, among others. (Yorke’s latest album is heaven, by the way…) Comedian Paul F. Tompkins‘s model of crowdsourcing live performances is also novel. Possibilities abound, but we’re still very much in the discovery phase (and will likely always be, to some extent).

More to come…

 

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