How Music Got Free: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy

I recently finished reading How Music Got Free: the end of an industry, the turn of the century, and the patient zero of piracy by Stephen Witt (Penguin Random House).

It is a compelling account of the end of the era of major label largess told through the concurrent tales of a label executive, technology innovator, and early pirate. It doesn’t offer answers to the industry’s current problems, but it does help explain how we ended up where we are. Witt is a skilled story teller and it is an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the inner workings of the music industry, and related technology.


Tour recap and shout outs

I just got back from a lovely two weeks in Europe. The main purpose pf the trip was for a tour in Italy with Marcello Benetti’s Shuffled Quartet, but I worked in a trip to Switzerland for the International Society for Improvised Music 2015 Conference.

Our regular woodwind collaborator, Rex Gregory, could not make the trip because he is busy being a new father, so we had Dan Kinzleman on clarinet, flute, and tenor sax. Dan is an American musician who has lived in Italy for the last ten years or so. He is a wonderful musician, a fun hang, and a great road comrade. We were happy to have him with us. It was also nice to have two people who spoke the language of Italian sound engineers at sound checks.

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We did most of the touring in Marcello’s Toyota Yaris Versa. Somehow we all fit, with the stuff.

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Setting up for soundcheck in Udine, for our performance at Udin&Jazz. The concert space was lovely and the sound was very good. The festival also had great hospitality.

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Sound check selfie.

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The last gig of the tour was in Rovigo for the summer jazz series presented by the conservatory there. We shared the concert with the quartet of Massimo Morganti, who teaches at the conservatory. This pic is Massimo’s band at sound check.

After the gig in Rovigo, Marcello and I drove overnight to Chateau-D’Oex, Switzerland for the ISIM Conference. The over night drive was crazy, but when you arrive to this view from your hotel room, it feels less stupid.

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This tiny alpine village seemed like an odd choice for the location of this year’s conference, but the setting was lovely, and the hosts were great. There were some good conversations about diversity, and community building. I presented on improvisational structures I use with my student laptop orchestra, and I really enjoyed Jeff Morris’s presentation on his project.

I also got the chance to hear a great house concert before I came back home. The band was led by Filippo Vignato, and they did his arrangements of Albert Manglesdorf’s music. The band included Piero Bittolo Bon, who has performed at Open Ears, and a great young bass player named Rosa Brunello.

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It was a great trip. We made some good music, and I met or reconnected with a bunch of great people. I am happy to be home, but a touch sad that I left before I could experience Mirano Baseball Day.

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Breakfast for Dinner Records

I have a new record label called Breakfast for Dinner Records. The music is available in most of the usual digital places and CDs are available from the label’s band camp page.

You can also buy the downloads on Amazon ( Staffa, Duets 2014 ), or iTunes ( Staffa, Duets 2014 ), or listen on Spotify ( Staffa, Duets 2014 ).

Cover baggage

This recent post on DTM (a great blog by Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus) got me thinking again about the baggage that comes with covering well known material. I think it is almost impossible to judge a radical reworking of a very well known song solely on the merits of the new arrangement. There is simply too much baggage for the listener, unless the listener is unfamiliar with the original. In that latter case, the lack of inherent meaning also diminishes the appreciation of the new arrangement.

Ethan’s post mentioned that one of the detrimental comments sometimes laid on Jason Moran’s ALL RISE: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller was that it was too close to smooth jazz at times. I wonder if some of that is about the material. Does the presence of such well known songs as “Ain’t Misbehavin'” or “Honeysuckle Rose” cause us to hear those tracks as more in the smooth jazz/muzak vein than we would if they were originals with similar grooves, arrangements and instrumentations?

Another accusation is that this music is a sellout or commercial grab. I don’t buy that. Jason Moran has enough artist cred that I trust this as a legitimate expression on his part…although the big Fats Waller head does freak me out a little.

A Shocking Exchange on Facebook about Music and Hard Work | The Art of Freedom

How we frame what we do matters.

A Shocking Exchange on Facebook about Music and Hard Work | The Art of Freedom:

“Where is the love of the everyday music-making that we give to ourselves? Yes, music-making can be rewarding, but not just when the performance goes well and as planned! Where is the joy of learning, of experimentation? The spark of curiosity? The excitement of discovery? Where is the delight in making sound for the sake of making sound? Why take the fun out of what we do 90% of the time, which is in the practice room, not onstage? Why make such a harsh division between play and the studied attention we pay to detail in the practice room or in a lesson?”

Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches: I want to stay: Celebrating Ornette in Prospect Park

A great recap of the Celebrating Ornette concert for those of us who missed it.

Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches: I want to stay: Celebrating Ornette in Prospect Park: “Of course you would want to listen to this music. It’s for everybody. It’s not that its once-controversial radical-ness has been tempered; it’s more that the music has been given ample time to disseminate to its true audience, the public, flowing past the gatekeepers/naysayers and eventually submerging and silencing them.”

eMotion gestural control system

A few years ago I met a Chet Udell at a SEAMUS conference. He is a composer/technologist, a nice guy, and he wrote a great piece for trombone, piano and computer stuff. We have kept in touch, mostly via running into each other at conferences and whatnot.

Last fall, I saw him do a demo of a new gesture control system that he has been developing, and the possibilities were pretty exciting.

He is nearing the end of the Kickstarter for it. If you are curious about that sort of thing, check it out.

Visit the page here:

Where does the money come from?

Warning: This post has more questions than answers, because we can’t find the answers until we ask the RIGHT questions.

In recent weeks I have read the complaints of a number of people about the amounts of money that performers are paid in “creative music” situations. I know that I could spend an entire book weeding out meaning from the term “creative music,” so let me just clarify that I mean art music that is outside of the economic mainstream.

One of the people who inspired this post simply thinks that the musicians should “make” the clubs sign a union contract and pay a good wage. If music is part of the club’s business model, in the way that a band on Bourbon St. is there mostly to make the party happen, and making the party happen is how the club makes money, then I agree. The market sets a price for beer, and it should also set a price for the band. Both the beer and the band are part of the formula that the club uses to make money. We should also note, that in these situations, the band plays what the club wants them to play. These are craftsman musicians who are hired to provide a service for an employer. The club takes the risk, the band simply provides a service.

This isn’t really the situation I am thinking about.

What about a situation in which I (the hypothetical artist) have a band and some new music, and we want a place to play this music. This is original music, and it isn’t particularly mainstream. My goal is to find a place to present this music, and in doing so build an audience, and make some money.

Some venues pride themselves on presenting new music. It is part of their business model. Let’s take a “best case scenario” for the artist version of this situation, and assume that our hypothetical venue is dedicated to presenting new music. For our little thought experiment here, the genre of this new music isn’t really important, we just have to stipulate that the new music is made by an artist who is not yet well known.

Where does the money come from?

One version of the “unknown band” plan is to offer free entrance to entice more people in to hear the music. I won’t go into my arguments about why it is a bad idea to present yourself with the implication that your performance has no value. If there is no cover charge, then all of the band’s money must come from the bar. Giving the band 20% of the bar ring is on the generous side of standard. If 50 people come to your gig, and each of them has three drinks, and the drinks average $7 each, then the bar ring is $1,050. 20% of that bar ring is $210.

The cover charge scenario is the other way to go. With a $5 cover that goes entirely to the band (which can be rare), those same 50 people generate $250 for the band. Now, will there still be 50 people there with a $5 cover? Probably a question for another post.

Based on these numbers, when you get to audiences of 200 or so, you get to numbers that can support budget style touring (a van and couches). As cover charges can go up, the numbers change. The math isn’t difficult. The point is that the money for the band either comes directly from the audience (cover charge/ticket sales) or indirectly from the audience (percentage of bar sales). No matter how you look at it, audience size is the determining factor in terms of available money for the artists.

Who is responsible for bringing the audience? That may be another post.

The point is when there are 50 people in the audience to hear my great new music for the first time, and the band makes a total of $300, then we did a pretty good job of converting audience into dollars.

$300 a night for an entire band is not a living wage.

This raises more questions. Am I entitled to a living wage from my art? Do I make art as a financial sustenance or just for psychic sustenance? Do we, as audience members, have a moral obligation to financially support the artists whose work we enjoy? Do we, as artists, have a moral obligation to freely share our art with the world? Are there other places to find money besides the bar and the door? (I consider merchandise sales to be a separate income stream from the performance fee.)

The answers to the above questions can inform our search for answers about how to increase the amount of money performers make for live performances.