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RIFFING ON THE TRADITION #04: Beyond the Blue Horizon Pt2
I took a little heat for my last post, which declared over-reliance on live performance “naive.”
I don’t know if I’m ready to completely rescind the statement, but I will qualify it and try to explain it better. The naïveté I was trying to describe was in musicians, myself included, not taking advantage of other resources and income streams besides live performance. Specifically for New Orleans musicians, until the paradigm shifts away from audiences not paying for music, creating sustainable income only from gigs will likely remain a challenge.
This is not to say that we must do other things besides perform live. The point is that we need to engage in other musical activities that can supplement our income from performing, but that also help us avoid destructive compromises.
What is a destructive compromise? Well, I suppose it’s different for each musician. Recent personal compromises in my career, for example, include a performance last spring with a band that ended the program with a medley of spirituals in a raucus “Dixieland” style with a kickline of three neo-burlesque dancers for whom a description of “marginally talented” would be generous. Much more recently, I knowingly accepted a job at a club where the ignominious antics of the venue's proprietress are practically unavoidable.
For others of us? I don’t know. Is performing for tips or for less than a certain fee a compromise some of us bear? Working with musicians one doesn’t really admire or playing music that one doesn’t truly believe in? Well, those things happen often, don’t they? “A gig is a gig,” we tell ourselves.
I suppose I would define a destructive compromise as anything we accept that is counter to our personal vision for the perceived value of our work. Embracing resources like the ones I outlined from that Future of Music Coalition survey can give us more power to proactively elevate our work's perceived value. To ignore them and overlook possibilities in the digital age beyond waiting for the phone to ring is the naïvety I remarked upon last week.
Speaking of the digital age, there’s a very recent article that a colleague in Austin shared with me that I enjoyed very much. I am not much of a social network kind of person. Sometimes I joke that one of the reasons I play jazz is that I don’t like crowds. Nonetheless, this article, by venture capital executive Hany Nada, makes a compelling argument for the increasing importance of fans or followers. I love the title: "Music for Nothing and the Fans for Free." The article explains how and why revenue for live music in our industry is actually increasing.
At first, that may seem contradictory to my enthusiastic cry for not being over-reliant on live performance, but it goes back to that “perceived value” concept. There are ways to look at the trends of how distribution of recorded music is in decline, versus the trend of how listeners are engaging their tastes on a more personal level. It can tell us a good deal about steps we can take to better present and manage our personal brand and make the most of our performance opportunities.
Let’s riff on that next week. Here’s the link.
A weekly dialogue about the music industry and issues pertaining to the cultural workforce.