A colleague was concerned that my first posts focused too much on the public’s role in why musicians struggle right here in New Orleans, where it is presumed that we are respected most. In emphasizing the huge challenge created by a shrinking audience actually paying for live music, it is certainly not my intent to blame the public and let the musicians off the hook. Indeed, culpability for not being able to parlay the time-tested appreciation for New Orleans music traditions into sustainable careers largely rests with us.
That shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Historically, musicians have been missing opportunities since the naissance of jazz.
Consider New Orleans cornetist Freddie Keppard, who recounted that in 1915 he turned down the opportunity to be the first to record what would become known as jazz. (True, the first recorded “jazz” was by other New Orleans musicians, but I know those records well. My opinion, that the music would likely have been far more interesting if it had been Keppard’s band, certainly more imbued with genuine improvisation, is supported by other well-documented accounts.)
Have things changed much for us? You might not think so if you talk to veteran percussionist Mr. Uganda Roberts, and get him to tell you what he told a friend and me about his compensation for the "Live in London” album with Professor Longhair. Ask Mr. Harold Battiste about why AFO Records was formed and how things played out with that experiment. More recently, I contend that many of us missed opportunities immediately following the “Thing” when the currency of New Orleans culture, as well as demand for our service, was at an all-time high.
But, between the 2010 State of the Music Report by Sweet Home New Orleans, and thesurvey from the Future of Music Coalition, which I referenced in earlier posts, it should be clear that, although 21st century musicians face unique challenges in the current economy, there is evidence of new opportunity. For example, all the bubbles that the Future of Music survey invited musicians to tick was itself a catalog of resources. For myself, a musician who only just started using Facebook and Twitter a few weeks ago, to see a list of no less than 25 Internet-based services that I could be using to promote my music was a revelation. The survey asked musicians if there was income collected from among multiple services for distributing music, most of which were unknown to me. It listed a score of methods for collecting royalties, and nearly as many professional organizations that one can join.
What became apparent to me is that in the digital age, relying as heavily on live performance as many of us do is, quite simply, naive.
We should start taking responsibility for being more entrepreneurial in our thinking by looking closely at some of the newest technologies and resources that are out there, some of them, right under our noses. Hopefully, this will encourage us to move forward, stop missing opportunities, and feel less economic pressure to continue compromising the standards and values that befit our craft.
Click here for an index of the information taken from the Future of Music Coalition's Money from Music Survey (ending today). It's great information for anyone curious about more income streams and services, organizations, and technologies that can help anyone in the business of music.