time to change the way we view music and the arts

(Music as a) charity starts at home: A response letter to David Greenwald


Sounds like a plan but are we skipping a step or two?
“Charity”, Online Image, “Charity Begins at Home”, 20 November 2014
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Given the many holidays, winter months and an inevitable slew of charitable requests coming in the near future, why not see where the conversation of “music as charity” leads. This letter was inspired by a recent piece from veteran music critic David Greenwald, who’s insight I admire and whom I have referenced here before, on the topic of music and media consumption

Dear David,

It was neat to see you contemplate, then write, and ultimately, publish a piece via The Oregonian gravitating around the prospect of buying music as an act of charity, in order to keep the making of said art alive and well. I took it upon myself to favorite your initial tweet juggling this concept because the thought felt like a topic destined to have decent meat and substance to it –which it in fact does.

I wonder a lot if there is a future in labels operating as non-profits and record sales being charity. Because they kind of are in 2014.
David Greenwald (@davidegreenwald) November 3, 2014

You make many brief but crucial and accurate points about the state of music consumerism and the appeal of convenience. You are candid about the partial penny payment nature of streaming plays and the way you yourself keep a foot in both camps of paying in full for a single album while turning to Rdio while you catch up on backlogged material in need of library syncing. This is all very appreciated within a field of talk that comes with an innately large amount of potential for writer bias and or complete one-sidedness in pertinent conversations.
Where I’m having some trouble simply embracing what, at its core, sounds like you communicating a positive and loving advocacy for music (making), is not your sentiments but rather, in how they are framed. This isn’t to say I believe your concept of viewing music as a charity is a bad or wrong one. What I feel is that suit does not fit the non-streaming parts of this industry and, instead, runs just slightly small –constricting what are an otherwise amazingly simple but perfect set of ideals for boosting music’s monetary turnout. This portion of your piece is probably my favorite, as well as being somewhat reflective of my own music consumerism habits:

You can do whatever you want with your [music] purchase: listen to it, delete it, display it in a bookshelf, toss it in a closet. You can keep listening to the music in the cloud, guilt-free — this is actually the best thing to do, since it means the band will be payed both ways. Some buyers already understand this: a study by ICM Research found that 15 percent of physical media purchasers don’t listen to them. They bought them to collect them — or, perhaps, to offer their support, to tell an artist that recorded music matters as something more than the soundtrack to a car commercial or background noise at the office.”

Where I have been coming from for a long time, and where my own corner of the internet continues to stand on, is a podium vying for a bridge between the commercial mainstream music business and that of the remaining “performing arts” –in which music of the traditional classical repertoires often gets placed. Connected to the camp of the latter is the 501(c)3 non-profit label, under which so many of the world’s arts organizations are classified as and within the boundaries of which they work. While I am in absolutely agreement and will hold up a glass to second your motion that music fans show their support in as many ways as they can for the music they love, I think coloring that choice as charity and simply as a “way to keep the music going,” somewhat dismisses the fact that plenty of organizations, that employ plenty of people who love and make music, have already long been running on the potential of this message –both because they stand behind the sentiment and because that sentiment is connected to the very essence of how their organization(s) operate and bond with at least some of their fans (or should I say patrons).
If only the world were as motivated to get onboard the train of thought you, myself and others who love music as much as we do –in the way we do– as well, perhaps the music industry would have evolved past the heyday of the CD to yes, develop streaming and YouTube and iTunes and such but for that future to come along with more leeway for balanced coexistence. I emphasize balance because all those methods for purchase and access do currently coexist but as you point out, the sizes of the slices of the different pies vary–from far more than needed, to fractions of pennies, so, equal they are not.

I do think there’s a great deal of merit in the idea of non-profit record labels and the idea of fans remembering and relating to the purchase of music as the fuel that goes right back into the machine. The thing is, instead of just chaining the two thoughts together and hoping more of the everyday people catch on, I think the music industry needs to first have these ideas implemented more from among its many participants. Returning to the mention of my particular soap box, when I see relatable points being made from one corner of the industry about people or things in another corner –especially the non-profit arts– I cannot help but wonder why more ubiquity, in at least so far as artistic empathy, has not spread more among all of those of us who proclaim ourselves to be part of the gears that turn the music world’s wheels. 

Sometimes, it feels as though the only thing a person can ask, without an ensuing bit of complication or confusion, and expect a fairly consistent set of possible answers, is if one “is in the business that involves music” and or “if a person likes music.” These queries are safe enough to pose to a lifelong national orchestra pit performer or a small town local band booker. Any less general and disconnects shall cometh in plenty.
When Nick Norton and New Music Box published a piece this week that shot right to the idea that musicians should listen to as much and as many different kinds of music as they can, part of me was internally shouting “Yes! A call for a small but super significant ounce of universality among people in music!” Sometimes it surprises me that platforms running on the power of music can get as big as Spotify and others do, when really, the only thing we can come to agree on is the idea of instantaneousness and infinity in music –so long as you can fence yourself off in the “section of infinity” that you like or to which you most relate or in which you work.
I suppose, since I am all to aware of musically powered non-profits that are working constantly to stress the benefits, importance and enjoyment of music, art and creativity and often coming up short, to the chagrin of many, I’m thinking this mindset is good but should start with the people on the inside over the fans on the outside. Then, maybe the guys over “on the non-profit side” could put forth some sage advice and then maybe the reach of the commercial camp could help compensate for where the non-profits sometimes fall short…and…and…everyone wins? Then all of us can tell fans of ALL music to show their love via multi-reach relationships and, well, might the music industry come to be the more balanced and empathetic place I described?

 In an effort to part from this letter on as much of an agreeing, universal thought as the industry I am aspiring to see, I’d like to join in with you in saying that we need to remember if you like music and wants it in your life, you should “let it know.” If the way you need to let it know today is by compensating more than just what you can get away with, (zero often being the case) then that’s the part of the relationship that needs bolstering. People will shout to the rooftops all day long and until they are blue in the face, how much they love music. All the same, music provided in all of its modern, flexible and technologically altered ways only exists once outside the minds of those who dream it and, only after a slew of complex steps and the people who make those steps happen –many times DIY musicians themselves– deserve that same notice, as much as their melodic outpourings do.

If nothing else, let’s keep plugging away at stressing that message: Music is important. As we emphasize, we as a business just have to make sure the simplicity of that three word statement does not get muddled among extremes entangled in motives or money, lest that ruin any tenuous balance we might attain along the way.

Until next topic,

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