7.14.2009

Hit Nerves and Bullet Points


In my daily "Myth Of DIY" tracking, I've found two message board threads well worth checking out. One is from Hipinion and the other from a Phish-related board called Phantasy Tour. Both originate from the conceit that my article is worthless on nearly every imaginable level. Now, to the bullet points...

-David Denby: “At a higher level, attack-without-reason works by separating distaste from argument. Nothing needs to be demonstrated or argued. Just attack."

-Both threads are actually started by the same internet entity, “gravalax.” He/she thinks I’m annoying, which is for them (or anyone else) to decide. And I’m a really, really terrible writer. I already knew that, actually. But my article seems to have touched gravalax, angered them, on a deeper level than they’d like to admit. I know, it’s righteous of me. On the other hand, I think I’m reasonably correct regarding my very simple and, yes, obvious argument. In the Phish message board, “gravalax” quickly states that they agree with supporting artists, labels, and shops. Then says they disagree with my arguments, when they’ve already agreed with what I’m arguing for. I don’t see a major problem. They go on to tell someone who “likes” the article to “kys” - kill yourself. Interesting.

-The Hipinion thread is highly recommended. Entertaining and substantial. It takes a few serious turns and, I assume, achieves the direct opposite of gravalax’ original intent.

-Certainly, the pricing of music looks to go through some radical changes. Ones that will take time. This is the inevitable, “digital” effect on the market. But it doesn’t justify leaving artists and labels, or whomever YOU value in the music culture, out in the cold. Whatever slightly new model emerges certainly will lead to lower prices for new music, and perhaps higher prices for vinyl. But stealing is not a sustainable model. It looks to remain a part of the industry, but its proper place is a marginalized one. Putting it there, as a community of consumers and fans, is the first step in the industry evolving into something that actually is made more fair to everyone - at least the DIY crowd I speak of. That’s why I don’t suggest people ought to stop pirating completely, only because it seems an unreasonable demand on my part. On the other hand, I think it’s completely reasonable to ask people to pay for at least some of the music by the artists they love and enjoy. Yeah, it’s obvious.

-Beginning my own path as a musician inspired much of my thinking on this issue, but I have zero immediate possibility of making money from it. I’m not even close to there yet. I write words far more than I write or perform music. I’m primarily approaching this as a concerned consumer, fan, and friend of music. Artists or labels hands’ are tied a bit in this argument, because someone can so easily turn and accuse them of greed or of whining. It’s easy to be condescending and tell someone they deserve their hardship, that they chose it for themselves. It’s much harder (and more humane) to identify with and understand where they’re coming from and put it in the context of your own relationship with art. More voices from artists and label owners are needed on this issue, but readers have to allow them some room to make their points without resorting to attacks and name calling. That is plainly evidenced on the Hipinion thread.

-I am making zero cash from any of this. I could be pitching or writing stories that might minimally profit my bank account, instead I’ve been staying on top of this article and its aftermath every day because I think it’s important. Also, I feel I may have tapped into something significant, if obvious, here and am trying to expand on it, turn it into a bigger project. But whether or not that will be at all successful is another matter. The chances of gaining any profit remain slim to none.

-Someone on Hipinion touches on Jeff Tweedy reportedly taking home somewhere around 100,000 dollars a year over the course of his career. Considering that the band has always had a reasonably wide audience and major label support, you can extrapolate quite a bit from that number. It's not a very big figure, really, considering just how successful his band has been. If I'm not mistaken, they even played a sold out New Year's show at Madison Square Garden a couple of years back. Imagine for a moment what the average artist on Thrill Jockey makes. On this same point, here's a quote from a New York Times Magazine article about another very successful artist in the Indie realm, Neko Case:

Case courts surprises in her music but not in the commerce behind it. She was cast on — and then cast herself on — her own devices for so long that when it comes to business, she has insisted on complete independence. She has recently turned down major-label overtures (“And I’m so glad that Elektra, for example, didn’t come to me early on with an offer,” she says), retains all the rights to her songs and has never made a publishing deal. She does share revenues with Rigby, the guitarist. “Paul really helps me compose my music,” she says, “he always knows which chords to use when.” Otherwise she retains artistic and financial control of her productions. What are those revenues? Well, in her best year, 2006, when “Fox Confessor” was released and she had an extensive tour to go along with it, she had gross revenues of about $360,000. Of that figure, she says, about $320,000 went for professional expenses — equipment, transportation, the band’s pay and so forth.

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