The Crossroads… that place where we wake up a little and realize it’s time to face some hard questions.
What am I trying to accomplish as composer & musician, and why?
My goal is to create beautiful, soul-stirring work, and share it with interested listeners.
Why? Artistic work of beauty, substance and depth is something we need; it’s what I need to be engaged with, whether as audient or creative. My idea of fun is joy, beauty, depth, substance, magic, transformative power.
Where’s My Tuning Thing?
If you have any interest in exploring this fairly technical subject, you can’t do better than David Doty’s outstanding book The Just Intonation Primer, which beautifully builds on Partch’s Genesis of a Music and Hermann Helmholtz’s Sensations of Tone. In the late 19 Century, Helmholtz proved that JI is the tuning system best-suited for the human ear, and that any equal-tempered scale is simply out of tune. I am but a messenger…
The learning curve is bound to be quite some time, as I will be learning new ways to tune, write for and play both guitars and synths.
Think Universal, but Work Local
In a world where I feel so small
I can’t stop thinking big
Create work and share it: it sounds simple enough, right? Well … that depends on one’s vantage point – and two recent events have significantly impacted the view from mine.
Composer and musician Don Li’s fantastic interview with Anil Prasad really stopped time for me. Don perfectly articulated the cause of everything that disgusts me about the music industry:
The very sad thing is when we integrate music and art into the world of finance and business, we make the music much smaller.
This great observation demands reflection on its many implications.
I don’t want to travel around in a conventional sense. I don’t want to go around the world and think “I’m so important. I have to spread kerosene around the world and light it on fire because I’m so special.” … I’m not interested in ego pushing or material pursuit … I don’t give a shit about being important, worldwide. That’s an idea founded in the financial world—that everyone has to be big and important…
This is a radical view in this globalized digital culture which, far too much, views music as a mere commodity instead of the incredible gift that it is. Mainstream music, in particular, has devolved from “product” to “content” to “data” and is now little more than a means of gathering data on music consumers. Who cares about joy, beauty, depth, substance, magic, transformative power? Not the bean-counters at Spotify, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and their ilk, I can promise you. Nor the ambitious fresh meat on American Idol, who are just as much part of the problem.
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Avoid ‘Em
[Update Oct 26/19: While these facts have not changed, my response to them has. All albums are available online. Details here.]
There’s one more part of this create-and-share process that I regard as important: fair recognition and payment – which brings us to the other recent event. It’s a bad one: a piece of American legislation called the Music Modernization Act.
How bad could it be? For all practical purposes, when this legislation passes, music creators’ intellectual property rights, including copyright (and the right of recourse to legal action when those rights are violated) will no longer exist in the USA. In other words, entities such as Spotify, Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon will be able to steal our music, but the law won’t protect us anymore – it will protect them.
Does that sound crazy, impossible? Don’t take my word for it. The full text of the MMA (House version; Senate version), the existing copyright law which it modifies, and a lot of outstanding investigative journalism are all available. (EntMediaLaw.com is one great source.)
Like most other musicians, I have tried to get my music out to listeners by working within the corporate music industry (to the extent that I could stomach it). But this treacherous legislation exposes a sickening depth of politico-economic corruption. Agencies which are supposed to be working for the benefit of musicians have betrayed us for their own economic benefit.
After several months of reflection, my course of action is clear.
Thank your stars you’re not that way
Turn your back and walk away
Don’t even pause and ask them why
Turn around and say goodbye
“Bad Career Move” No. 2: I’m done with the financial world. I’m done enabling corporate music thieves. I’m done trying to cultivate a global following. It’s all “trying too hard” to make a big impact – and what need is there?
I will work locally, playing live where I can, pursuing commissions and workshops, and recording.
I will sell discs out of hand. Online sales are discontinued (except for Memory Palace, my album with Chris Russell).
Is this “career suicide?” I’m sure some will think so. But I’ve done the “careerist” thing long enough; it doesn’t work, and it’s time to move on. I think it’s more accurate to describe the music business as “career homicide” for creators.
As for listeners, this is certainly “inconvenient,” which is regrettable but unavoidable. The popular demand for convenience, while carrying some benefits for creatives, also has serious drawbacks, which the MMA exacerbates and exploits.
My only regret is possibly losing the good listeners who have supported me through Bandcamp. I hope they will understand my motivation, and thank them all for their great support.
My blog and newsletter are now my primary means of sharing news. Social media also gets filed under “trying too hard.” If you’d like to keep up on my work, please bookmark my blog and/or subscribe to my newsletter.
I suggest to all musicians that they build their own spaces and stay there. Play for your society. Make something happen. There’s no need to be world famous. That’s just an ego play to feel bigger and important. I want to experience love with people I love. (Don Li)
This decisively closes the first chapter of the eyes cast down project. I’m greatly excited about the prospects for Chapter Two!
It’s just the age, it’s just a stage
We disengage, we turn the page
(Song quotes: Neil Peart)