Thoughts On Sustainability

• I often feel there is an inverse relationship between quality of output and material success in the music business. This is distressing, but not out of line with what I’ve come to expect. Throwing Muses would wander the halls of Warner Brothers back in the day, muttering, “You don’t have to suck in order to work here, but it helps.”

• Now, however, the financial climate and current upheaval in the music business mean that musicians like me are genuinely poor investments for the traditional powers that be. We do not engage in lowest common denominator trendiness, and so don’t warrant the expenses of marketing dollars and company overhead.

• Okay, I get that; this is a business. However, I believe that when you sell toothpaste, you should be selling a goo that helps prevent cavities and when you sell music, you should be selling sound that enriches the listener’s inner life. There is today a twisted kind of natural selection in the entertainment industry — a sort of “survival of the blandest” — the result, I imagine, of mind-fucking marketing techniques, bandwagon appeal, hype. To me this stuff is ugly, not beautiful.

• Given this, I can only assume that record labels are not for me. I’ve said it before — I will always play music — but in the past, it was a record company’s job to make sure you heard that music. They sold their product; they had funded it, it was theirs to sell. How to sell music without them? I liken our situation to that of the family farmer’s — how can we keep from going under without going corporate?

• This is what I think: we specialize — we offer an organic product. It is lumpy and expensive and made with love and it can save you. It’s the right thing to do. It isn’t shiny or poisonous, which can be disconcerting to people who’ve been raised on shiny poison, but it’s natural, it’s high-end and we want you to eat it.

• To that end, I think I need to engage in a grassroots kind of capitalism, choosing principles over profits, values over image, ideals over marketing. I have to create a permeable membrane between artist and listener — I’m a craftsperson, after all. The church of the rock star that the music industry televangelists hawk has always been anathema to me anyway. This is about songs and sounds, nothing else.

• Music is a tenuous profession in good times, hard times mean some of us disappear. I’m not looking for pity, but collaboration. Coming to you is the best way I can think of to continue being a musician.

• The model is not new, it’s akin to public radio’s listener supported programming and Community Supported Agriculture’s subscriptions to underwrite crops. In other words, music grows on trees, but money doesn’t and I’m unwilling to suck in order to work here. Therein lies the value proposition. This little business will be interactive and intelligent; you will not be lied to, no shiny poison, no middle man.

• The idea of relying on listeners, treating music as a cooperative, is humbling, yet interesting to me. This is a bit of a manifesto, I’m sorry, and now I’ll shut up, but I wonder if we might be able to do this together.

More soon…


Posted in: words on August 30, 2007