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Nobody said they were handsome...

Nobody said they were handsome…

I’ve been a fan of Phish for many years, but I was a HUGE fan back in high school and college. I’ve seen the band live 36 times, and I actually feel like a bit of a noob because that number seems to be so much lower than the average Phan I encounter.

So that means I contributed to these astounding numbers… stats that completely defy the modern assumption of how to make a buck in the music business. Way to go, Phish.


Well… what an interesting twist to the music and commerce discussion. I honestly can’t decide if I’m with Stubblefield or not on this question. If he somehow gets money out of his efforts I’ll be amazed. But if it’s determined that he somehow DESERVES money for this situation… I think there will suddenly be a huge mess in the copyright realm of the music world (as if things there aren’t messy enough already).

All hail Clyde Stubblefield, but I don’t think his campaign is helping anything.

“Capitalism kills art.” – Desdamona, Minneapolis hip hop and spoken word artist (via Facebook)

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Luke 16:13)

Over the years I’ve thought a TON about the correlation between art and commerce, and those of you who read my blog regularly are familiar with my interest in the collision of music and industry. At this point I’m starting to arrive at the conclusion, perhaps better phrased as a question: Could it be that art and commerce, though inseparable in the 21st Century, are actually enemies?

Here’s my thesis: Introducing the possibility that your art will/could produce a financial profit irreversibly changes your headspace in making the art, therefore altering the end product.

Example: this article from Somali poet K’Naan.

Art is all about the headspace – what one is AIMING for. Why create? Why pursue art at all? Most artists will tell you it’s kind of like the combination of birthing a child and speaking your mind. It’s simultaneously something you want to say and need to say, while also being painful and even dangerous if said incorrectly or at the wrong time. What if nobody thinks your offspring is cute? What if speaking your mind leaves you at odds with your friends and loved ones? (Bear with me as I rotate metaphors.)

In the current landscape of music, the motivation to accurately and genuinely convey an artistic message crashes uncomfortably into the desire for approval from one’s audience. But what/who is your audience? What are you aiming for from the outset? This is the crux of the issue, and my theory is that it is more difficult than we might imagine for an artist to intentionally cater to both an artistic audience AND a market audience. In fact, it may be impossible. And I’m not using “artistic audience” to refer to a gathering of people who only listen to indie rock and only wear vintage clothes. I’m talking about speaking your message to those who wish to really hear your message (an artistic audience), as opposed to speaking a message to those who only want a certain kind of message from you (a market audience). Can both targets be simultaneously aimed at?

This is not to say that artistic success doesn’t sell. Many artists have set out to convey a message that they really believe in and found to their surprise that the market also enjoys the message. But that is almost beside the point. What the market is buying has never really been about art. Commerce is based on pleasure and enjoyment – preferring one thing over another and spending your hard earned dollars accordingly. And sometimes the market takes great pleasure and enjoyment from unexpected places.

Sharp-shooting metaphor: One cannot, with the same bullet, hit two separate targets… unless perhaps those targets are directly in line with each other. But then you would have your aim set only on the first target, which would be the only target you could even see, and the second target would be an after-effect. I’d submit that the order of those targets, in order to hit both, MUST be art first, with commerce hiding behind it. The commercial gamble of the artist is to aim toward the artistic goal, not knowing whether commercial success is hiding behind it.

Summary so far: I want to suggest that one does not (maybe even cannot) land on a both commercially successful AND artistically successful statement by directing one’s aim toward both artistic and market audiences simultaneously.

If you replace the word audience with “master” you can see where Jesus was going with the New Testament quote I included at the top of this post. Jesus digs a little deeper into the hearts of human beings by using hard-hitting terms like “hate” and “devoted,” but the point still stands. Jesus says his followers must choose who they will serve, the Kingdom of God OR the Kingdom of Economy. Interestingly, only a few chapters earlier in Luke, Jesus also teaches this:

“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:29-31)

Worrying about wealth/provision isn’t your job, but is rather God’s job. Focusing on serving God’s Kingdom is a better use of time, and God promises to take care of the other department. Could it be that this is also true for the artistic/commercial tension in music? Aim for the artistic target, and the commercial target will be added unto you.

I just read a great article from Mediapocalypse, complete with graphs, stats, and analysis of the graphs/stats. READ IT. DO IT NOW.


– I’m totally fine with a future that has less professional musicians. That just means less competition, right? Especially with the author pointing out that “it doesn’t seem as if the music market is in a downward trend. In fact, more people are listening to more music than ever before.”

“We clearly need shorter copyright terms.” Yes and yes.

“Those with the entrepreneurial skills have more and more opportunities for exposure than those skilled only in composition, performance or recording.” You could probably substitute the phrase “less of an entitlement mentality” for “entrepreneurial skills” and the sentence would make the same point.

Along these lines, this article by Seth Godin on “working for free” is also a good read a makes a compelling argument.

HT: Billy Thommes

Here we are extending the discussion on piracy once again. Earlier this week prominent Jazz bassist and musician’s rights advocate Ben Allison wrote a pretty legit post about how modern commerce affects the arts. Give it a read, and if you’re interested, here are more of my thoughts on the subject…

I appreciate Ben’s points on intellectual property and the need to “raise awareness” among those in our culture who truly want to abide by applicable laws and support the business side of music. I also agree with Ben on the suggestion that musicians will always make music, regardless of the ups and downs within the “industry.”

But I smell a sense of entitlement in his perspective on the career of music. He asks, “Will choosing to become a professional musician continue to be a viable career choice in the future?” Um… I don’t know the answer to that, but one doesn’t get to CHOOSE whatever career one wants to have and expect that it will be viable. At one point manufacturing horseshoes was a more viable “choice” for career than it is now. Then technology transitioned a little and all of a sudden manufacturing tires became more viable. And in the near future it is certainly possible that tires will be replaced by another option for transportation. It is, in fact, entirely possible that teleportation becomes not only feasible but commonplace, rendering the entirety of the automobile, airline, shipping, and hotel industries completely obsolete and therefore not viable “choices” for a career. One industry thrives, another suffers. That is the way of things.

Indulge me in some imagination. Digital media developers (software, etc) have made a lot of money in recent years, and most of that money used to be made by the music industry. What if record labels had seen that coming and refused to sign on to distributing music in a digital form? What if musicians had opted to not allow record labels to be their only option for overseeing the production of their art?

Another example: You know who doesn’t make HALF the money they used to make on music sales? Best Buy and Sam Goody. But I don’t hear those companies whining about needing more protection for their industry. They just changed products a little – more washers/dryers and less compact discs. Just learn to change with the times. That doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

Ben ends his post by saying that “we should work to strengthen those laws and institutions that help to protect and enable us to sell our music in a fair way.” The way I see it, if music retains its commercial value it will be because musicians continue to provide something valuable to society, not because we erect laws and institutions to protect our industry. I’m not saying that there is no place at all for regulations within the complex world of free market capitalism. Rather, I’m simply suggesting that musicians, in their efforts to be compensated for their art, look first to THEMSELVES as music creators/providers for their job security, not to laws and regulations.

In other words, I want to see musicians try as hard as possible to be as good as they can be. Let your desire for job security be one of your motivations to get better. Now, many musicians do just this, but find that “as good as they can be” doesn’t cut it. Well, bummer. My version of “as good as I could be” in basketball never cut it either. Other kids were ALWAYS better than I was, and without trying as hard as I did. So I changed fields. It turns out that music is a field that I’ve been able to find success in.

Listen, I don’t want to sound prideful or overly confident here. I’m nothing but grateful that music continues to be a field that I can make a buck in. But the fact is that the music industry is a place where some are successful and some are not, and I don’t think the credit/blame lies with the music industry or with game-changing technological developments. I know that the piracy issue isn’t cut and dry, but that whole discussion really only affects certain aspects of the music world. Live performance may in fact be the new way for musicians to make the bulk of their profits, as opposed to recordings. Or maybe you can be the guy who invents a new format for music listening that is piracy-proof. Either way, I have a gig this weekend and I have to do some prep for it. And I need to work more on mastering that 4-limb single stroke exercise.

This list is pretty interesting. A fb friend of mine noted that there are no session drummers on this list. That is true, but there are also no bar band or cover band drummers either, so I’m not sure what his point was.

Music is music. Money is money. As noted in the video I posted last night, the two are somewhat related as regards economics, but they are still different things.


Some friends hipped me to this article. It’s well written, insightful, and an enjoyable read. Here are a few observations/comments off the top of my head:

1. The article’s author is not a musician. I would put a pretty heavy wager on this.

2. I made a straight-faced comparison of Led Zeppelin and a modern band not 2 months ago.

3. I hold no allegiance to “Rock and Roll” music. I have always enjoyed it, but no more than jazz or classical or electronica or anything else that is done well. The idea that Rock music might die (or has already) doesn’t bother me, mainly because I know I will probably enjoy whatever it is that rises in its place.

4. Regarding the previous point, Jazz music also “died” back in the 60’s. Since it’s alleged death the Jazz world has produced artists like Keith Jarrett, Branford Marsalis, and Bill Frisell. 

5. Music has not always been the “product” that it was in the 20th century, but music has always existed. While products may come and go, music itself is not in any danger.

I’ll maybe have some more comments tomorrow after I think about it more.

HT: Teichroew/Selness

It’s difficult to get a handle on the ever-changing landscape of the music industry. I’m always trying to stay informed on the topic, and I came across a couple of cool articles recently. First, regarding the mega-hit-fm-radio side of things, NPR gives an inside look at the business world behind hit singles. In contrast, the always controversial Derek Webb gives his opinion on Spotify and the rest of the digital/streaming revolution. Both are worth the reads.

My cousin and dear friend Paul Stewart is a good dude.  I enjoy reading his blog, and the other day he had this to say about leadership and momentum…

“Momentum is created. It does not randomly occur. A leader’s number one job is to build, harness, maintain and restore momentum.”

Insert “band” or “artist” in place of “leader” and you’ve got the business side of being a musician pretty well figured out.  I suppose you’d need to fit “networking” in there somewhere too…

I had the pleasure of playing drums on Vicky’s recent album.  Vicky is a really great person and a talented artist, but in this interview you get to see her real gift in the music world: her ability to understand the times.  The old model of record labels and big box distribution has definitely ended, and Vicky knows it.  That knowledge is probably the main reason for her success in the industry so far.

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