Internets and Sustainability

Posted by: Dave Douglas on July 4, 2009 @ 2:44 pm
Filed under: Culture, Dave Douglas (Artist Thoughts)

An overdue link to American Music Center’s New Music Box. Wherein one reads Frank Oteri’s recent interview with Gunther Schuller, Molly Sheridan’s discussion with Cenk Ergün and Jason Treuting, and Counterstream Radio’s Make Your Own Rules: Notes on Composition from John Corigliano. These from among many valuable offerings.

Back in the day, musician Ian David Moss used to work up there. He’s now writing about arts and arts management (trust me, a more interesting topic in his hands than it sounds…) at Createquity. Here’s a link to a recent piece that’s stirring the waters:On Arts and Sustainability.

It’s worth a read, though this may give pause:

The Internet, by lowering the costs of distribution to negligible levels, has in fact democratized many aspects of participation in the arts as well as numerous other activities. But in opening up the gates to untold amateurs and semi-pros who had previously been shut out from public attention or supplemental income streams, it has simultaneously fostered an atmosphere of intense competition that makes it nearly impossible to succeed as a full-time professional.

Do you agree? And is that a good or a bad thing?


  1. […] 1 votes vote Internets and Sustainability An overdue link to American Music Center’s New Music Box. Wherein one reads Frank […]

    Pingback by Internets and Sustainability — July 4, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

  2. After reading Ian David Moss’s entire article last week, this passage also stood out to me. I had an interesting conversation with Portland-based guitarist Dan Balmer a couple years ago which stood out in my mind because he made the claim that the future of jazz was among what Ian calls Semi-Pros, that is, people whose income is not wholly gained from their music. He saw this as potentially beneficial, as musicians with other income sources have the option to be very selective and pursue only the music which interests them the most, rather than settling for money-making gigs which they may otherwise not take.

    At the time, I didn’t really have a stance on his theory, but recently I have come to believe that no matter what happens with the viability or lack thereof of being a full-time musician, there will always be a place for those who have really put in their “10,000 hours”, as it were, to be full-time professional musicians. Perhaps I am just a youthful optimist, but in the end, I really think there is a certain edge that the professional musician has (and will always have) over the semi-pro. This edge, I believe, results from the mental focus necessary to sustain such a career and because the type of person with such mental focus, stamina, and patience is also the type that can translate those elements of their personality into their approach to music itself. I would like to believe that the public, music lovers, and those who support the arts will have a certain recognition for and appreciation of this type of person when they see him/her, thus making such a career a possibility in the future, albeit a difficult one.

    All that being said, in the conversation that has been going on on the Createquity blog, someone brought up the point that in this day and age, it is becoming necessary for artists to be able to generate income in an increasingly innovative and self-sufficient way, as perhaps was more the norm in the 17th-19th centuries, what with the prevalence of artists supported by patronage, royalty, etc. This is also an important point, and it is no secret that there are thousands of incredible musicians out there toiling in obscurity as a result of their inability to promote themselves or find innovative ways to support their artistic careers. However, I see this as yet another facet of what the future successful full-time musician will have to deal with to rise above the semi-pro competition. In the end, however, there isn’t really a substitute for exceptional musicianship and the urgency and relevance of the music of someone who is entirely focused and dependent on music for their living.

    Comment by Andrew Oliver — July 6, 2009 @ 9:57 am

  3. Couple thoughts.

    I wouldn’t argue that new artists were previously shut out of the market all together. But it seems that the difference between then and now is that there was a label structure willing to invest in those new artists. Now you have artists doing it all themselves because labels don’t want to invest as much. Before, the label would hire a producer, put them in a studio, and give them a shot. Anyone can record in a bedroom — I do all the time, and it’s great. But maybe those earlier artists wouldn’t have been as cool if they didn’t have that producer/engineer/studio making sure they sounded good.

    Distribution has certainly become easier for emerging artists, whether the tracks sound good or not. The “intense competition” in the market brought on by the insane amount of NEW music that is out there has negatively effected the idea of catalog, though. People seem to be less willing to buy a title that is more than a couple years old. You can hear the echoes of this from any torrenter justifiying their downloads — “I only download old music,” or, “That title’s been out for awhile, they’ve made their money.” Whereas P2P’s arent solely responsible, it is harder for small labels and emerging artists to survive past their first release, or to push their non-new back catalog (boxed set reissues aside).

    Again, good and bad. People want and will pay for good music even if they have to sift through the bad. That’s what’s most exciting for me: finding that diamond in the plentiful rough.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — July 6, 2009 @ 11:04 am

  4. Interesting comments. Thanks.

    Jim, I don’t entirely agree with you about the role of music companies being outmoded, nor with your description the role of a producer, then or now.

    Some new thoughts about this going into a post this afternoon.

    Comment by Dave Douglas — July 6, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  5. Yeah, maybe my producer/recording comment is more applicable for indie rock. I was thinking of a friends label who despite having some great artists writing some great tunes doesn’t have the extra $k’s to make the records sound good enough to compete. And going through myspace certainly yields some great material that could gain more exposure through those new distribution systems if they sounded better.

    Comment by Jim Tuerk — July 6, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  6. Bravo, Andrew! I think you hit the nail on the head on a number of counts.

    It is my experience that there always have been and always will be semi-pro musicians. In all my years of gigging I have encountered the booker who says that I should play the gig for tips and beer because there are plenty of people who will if I won’t. I’m sure we all have. So what I do is say no thanks and go find the folks Andrew talks about who actually appreciate what I do and how I do it. They are out there. But it does take work to find them.

    Which is where the non-musical skills come in. I often say that I’m not the best trumpet player in Seattle. Probably not even the 10th best. But I work more than most. Why? Because I know how to market and promote my services to those that want them. These skills, coupled with my musical skills, have gotten me to a SUSTAINABLE career as a working musician.

    It’s all part-and-parcel of being a working musician in the 21st century. We need the musical skills, of course. But we also need to be band leaders, PR and marketing people, bookers, art directors, IT people, etc. And I find this quite exciting. I’d much rather have my fate in my own hands and control over my own destiny.

    Comment by Jason Parker — July 6, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  7. […] David Moss’s blog. Trombonist Alex Rodriguez has some interesting thoughts on the subject and Dave Douglas has picked up the discussion as well. All this prompted me to reply, which gave rise to this post that has been brewing in my head for […]

    Pingback by Sustainability and the Not-So-Starving Artist — July 7, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  8. Thanks – that’s really cool, Jason.

    Just to jump in with two more cents… the thing that sometimes gets lost in these discussions — and I think you are all saying it in different ways — is that musicianship never goes out of style. Even in this digital revolution, the music that really stands out is made by people who put in a lot of time somewhere along the line. There’s no substitute for that, even as everything else changes.

    Comment by Dave Douglas — July 8, 2009 @ 7:58 am

  9. Yeah, 10,000 hours can’t be replaced with anything else!,000+hours/

    Comment by Andrew Oliver — July 10, 2009 @ 11:55 am

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