Just been reading everyone’s Emily White reactions and decided to put my neck on the line:
I doubt Tom Ewing meant it as a #shotsfired kind of broadside but this rang in my mind
I think if/when paying for music starts feeling like giving to charity - and sells itself on those terms - then the game’s pretty much up.
after reading about ‘the pride’ Laura Snapes takes in the buying of music. Which, if I’m being a little faceitious, reads like the capitalist/consumerist equivalent of ‘I take care of my kids’; something that, in the face of a lot that’s wrong in how we consume music, ends up making a virture of expected behaviour. Thieves/pirates are supposed to feel shame for not supporting artists; buying things you want, paying for labour, generating profits is what capitalism is - you’re doing it all the time! We take pride in owning things, and maybe some more pride in owning expensive things, but, from my perspective, if you’re feeling pride over handing over money for a good or service, then your attitude towards it is probably more charitable than transactional. I rarely buy music - of late, unemployed, and living with my parents, I rarely buy anything: 75% of ‘my disposable income’ goes on going into town maybe once or twice a week - but when I’m in a bookstore or a record store, I take pleasure from being there, from perusing the aisles, and I’m always kinda excited when I take my purchase to the checkout but that’s because the thing that I want will soon be mine. The handing over of money is a means to an end, not an act of philanthropy.
Some interesting thoughts here. I wonder what happens when we* start to think of being a musician as being, fundamentally, in a service industry (a service rather than a good). It is shitty for you (in the United States) not to tip a waiter, because it is a genuine loss of income for that person, regardless of service. Same goes for cab drivers. Same goes for just about anyone whose tips are the subject of taxes or who rely heavily on tips as a component of their income. Let’s say for the sake of argument that, in creating music, a musician is doing a service, not creating a “good.” That means a few things:
(1) The premium will be on producing, performing, or otherwise participating in the creation of new music, not sales of old music.
(2) There will be some kind of baseline payment, possibly a salary, coming from an institution that is merely augmented by tips, sales, etc. Some musicians will do really well on tips, and some won’t, but the ones who don’t won’t go broke.
(3) A public policy model that values consistent music work will find ways to support artists regardless of the tips they earn — that is, direct conscious donations from patrons that are optional. (Generally I think we can agree that an industry that is ONLY based on tips is at best unpredictable and at worst cruel.)
This pretty accurately describes the models I’m aware of for fine arts, filmmaking, and acting. It’s rare that someone who paints “makes money” off of their old paintings, or that someone who makes films “makes money” off of the old films. This occasionally happens, but what’s more important for filmmakers and fine artists is to know how to find new opportunities for commissioned work, through grants, sponsorship, etc. Or, alternatively, they have a steady “base-line” job (often in academia or some related industry) and then do their work as a component of that institution.
Re: the premium on creating new stuff, I would point out that there are both policy and social concerns here — I think there’s a kind of dual perception that I notice, and perhaps even feel myself, that (1) good art works should be “enough” for artists and (2) artists who don’t work continuously are undeserving of continued support. Both of these are, to some extent, wrong: but very often I’ll find someone, whether it’s me or someone I know, grossly overestimating how much financial or even social-capital reward there is in creating what is believed to be a masterpiece. This happens a lot in academia, as young scholars are sucked into the cult of personality of a big thinker without being able to imagine the administrative and other thankless duties the academic life actually requires. In the music world, there’s some vague idea that if you make your masterpiece, you get untold riches for life. “Surely this band that had that huge song in 1997 must have made enough money off of it to be millionaires forever!”
As for (2), art is a gamble, like lots of things. If the average folding rate of a business after five years is 60%, why shouldn’t investment in a business-of-one be subject to the same kind of variability? The question is how much we want to support art-making throughout failures. For one thing, you can’t get an “artist loan” in the way that you can get a “small business loan.” An artist statement is not comparable to a small business plan. (Personally, I think it should be, and that there should be far more public funding for the arts.) And to reiterate a point I made in the last post, if you operate a business or service as one person, the biggest cost to you (in the U.S.) is going to be finding ways to pay for health care and rent. There are lots of ways to negotiate rent payment, but there are effectively zero ways to negotiate health care payment — it’s one draconian aspect of U.S. welfare that actively discourages “independents” of any kind — business-owners, yoga practitioners, musicians, filmmakers, you name it. Universal health care is one of the best lines of consistent defense in bad times for artists because it takes an enormous financial and psychological toll off the table.
Re: (3), the most obvious public policy initiative I can think of to improve the welfare of artists is a kind of licensing system based on internet use. Kembrew McLeod (and others) talk about this kind of scheme in work on copyright and fair use — if internet access was taxed in a way that directly benefitted artists — from suppliers (Comcast etc.) and consumers — there would be more opportunities to monetize streaming, downloading. Of course, this would probably serve to mostly benefit the most powerful players in the music biz more than artists (but again this may be true in lots of areas of commerce: if artists are in service, music executives are the business-owners).
Anyway, “public policy needs to deal with services and industries that we respect when people for whatever reason aren’t voluntarily supporting them” isn’t a very sexy argument, since it involves public policy. But I don’t see any way around the issue, since at the end of the day, artists are not primarily producing goods; they are providing a service. And to deal with services, you usually need to deal with taxes, grants, licensing policies, unionization of inconsistent labor, and other boring-as-all-hell things that don’t sound nearly as fun to talk about on music blogs.
*One thing that complicates all this from my own perspective is that I’m having these conversations with “the 1%” of music knowledge/obsession/etc. — professionals, semi-professionals, and intense hobbyists who listen to lots of music. None of “our” experiences with music are normative — if you worked at a college radio station, shop at independent record shops, DJ, or write extensively about music, you probably do not represent how most people actually listen to or purchase music. My limited sense of People Who Are Not Like Me is that they download at random (sometimes paying, sometimes not), listen to a lot of YouTube or YouTube rips, listen to the radio or to the bunch of albums and songs they downloaded (often legally) on devices. That is, they consume music in largely the same way as before the “CD Bubble,” during which, as my dad says, “people misunderstood what we meant when we told them to put all their money in CDs.”
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