Yesterday on the radio, I heard an inspiring conversation about local news coverage, journalism, and democracy. Newspapers were a big part of the conversation.

A little backstory: After Hurricane Katrina, our neighborhood lost our curbside recycling service. Not long after that, I cancelled my newspaper subscription. I was not reading it very often, and since we couldn’t recycle it, I had some tree guilt.

The radio show yesterday made me rethink my newspaper situation. We have curbside recycling again, and I feel like I should aim to be a better informed citizen, so I decided to investigate getting a newspaper subscription. In the time since I cancelled my Times-Picayune subscription, the T-P has gone from a daily to publishing a hard copy only three days a week, and The Advocate has come into the New Orleans market.

I went to the T-P site first. Apparently you have to give all of your personal info and start a website account to find out how much a subscription costs. If the information is there otherwise, it was not easy to find. So I went to The Advocate’s website. They had a page with links to “See Prices.” That link opened a popup in which you enter your zip code, and click the “See Prices” button, and…nothing happens.

I possibly would have subscribed to both papers this morning, ended up with neither. Have they given up on this side of their business? Should I give up too and just commit to paying more attention to local web news?

My thoughts on Cutting Louisiana higher education by $300 million

A note to the apparent morons who run the state in which I live: I WILL PAY MORE TAXES TO SUPPORT HIGHER EDUCATION!!!!!!!!!

The nature of Louisiana’s backwards legal system makes much of the state’s budget protected and very hard to adjust, except for higher education, which is easy for the legislature to cut. Our governor, who pays lip service to a religion that is supposed to be based on helping the poor and caring for our fellow humans, refuses to allow taxes to be raised for any productive reason. I think he (and his fellow lawmakers of similar political ideology) does this not out of a sense that it is really the right thing to do, but out of a loyalty to a political party that places money above all else, and even then, really just the money of people who already have a lot of it. The lawmakers of Louisiana, led by our governor, are cowards, who are afraid of the dogmatists of their own party, to the point that they will do nothing to help the people of our state in any way.

I actually voted for Jindal. I thought he was a smart man, and he made me believe that he would use that intelligence to run our state well. I did not realize at the time that his political aspirations would out weigh all other considerations to the point that he would be incapable of straying one millimeter from republican dogma, even if it is the best thing for our state.

I got both of my graduate degrees from state schools (the University of New Orleans for my M.M., and Louisiana State University for my Ph.D.). The system worked well for me. These degrees helped me learn many things, and led to me getting a great teaching job and staying in our state. I can now afford to pay more in taxes, and I would love to do that if that is what is needed to keep our higher education system alive.


This article offers a good perspective on the amount of the cuts that are being envisioned.

Cutting Louisiana higher education by $300 million, putting it into perspective |

Al Belletto

I just received news that Al Belletto, the great saxophonist from New Orleans, passed away on Friday. Al had been living in Dallas with family for the last few years, but when I first moved to New Orleans, Al was a fixture on the scene. He had a great influence on many young musicians, some of whom aren’t that young any more (myself included). His nickname was Coach, but as the joke goes, that doesn’t make sense, because he was first class all the way.

SLU AlBelletto

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.

Wide listening

One of my go to recordings recently has been Return the Tides by Rob Mazurek and Black Cube SP. I have also recently been on a kick to try to expand my listening to and appreciation of music that is more mainstream or popular than what I usually listen to. This has led me to spend some time with the new D’Angelo record and even check out some Iggy Azalea, in efforts to better understand some of the recent discussions on these topics. I have found that there is more musical commonality across those spaces than I might care to admit.

Growing up musically in a space that was largely influenced by jazz culture, I have some completist tendencies. I like to dig deeply into the music of my favorites. I guess that could be more of a me thing than a jazz thing, because I did that as a kid with my favorite rock bands too. Once I decided I really liked a band, I had to get all of their albums. This habit has made it hard for me to “skim” the music of someone who is new to me, but my recent decision to broaden my horizons has forced me to do just that.

What I have discovered is that even cursory exposure to new music is rewarding and offers insight into old favorites as well. Maybe that has always been obvious to most of you. It just hit me in a new way today.

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?”

$139.00 eBook. Really?

I am on a number of email lists focused on subjects related to music technology. Today a member of one of those lists sent an announcement of her newly published book. The title sounded interesting, so I followed the link to her website, with the idea that I would likely purchase the book, until I saw the prices. The hardcover version is $170 US. The eBook, yes, eBook is $139 US. “How is this rationalized?” was my next thought. Who would pay that?

Then it hit me. Regular people don’t buy these books. Libraries or institutions may buy them. Sometimes students are forced to buy them under the duress of it being a required text for a class. In all of these instances, there is a layer of financial bureaucracy between the user and the book publisher. Even in the case of students, it is often student loan money or some other financial aid that buys their text books, so it doesn’t feel like “real” money.

This is similar in principle to the way healthcare costs have risen because there is a layer of “insurance” companies between the providers and the patients. There are financial transactions between doctors and insurance companies, and between insurance companies and patients, so the cost of each individual transaction gets obfuscated by the layers of financial (insert expletive here) between the doctors and patients. The patients don’t pay directly for the services, so they don’t get outraged at how much it costs.

Similarly, if my university library is paying some outrageous sum of money every year for access to online journal databases, but my colleagues and I are the ones using the databases, no one is in a position to get mad about the cost. The users don’t see the cost, and for the folks who pay the bills, it is just another bill to pay. It’s like financial three card monty. Just keep things confusing enough so that no one notices or thinks about it.

It seems like a very inefficient system for the outsides of the system, and very lucrative one for those who create the layers of obfuscation in the middle.

Why do we let this happen? Is it because we need a super expensive publisher to legitimize our writings to the tenure committee? There has to be a better way.

If that book had been $40, this post wouldn’t have happened, that publisher would have 40 of my dollars, and I would be waiting for what seems to be an interesting book to arrive in my mailbox.

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.

The Future Is Now: 15 Innovations to Watch For – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Future Is Now: 15 Innovations to Watch For – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Why do only half of college students graduate? Noncognitive factors seem pivotal, and social disconnection appears to be a crucial factor. When students feel alone, they withdraw and eventually give up. Conversely, students who feel part of a community persist.”

I saw this in an article this morning, and I think it is an important part of how we can improve recruiting and graduation trends at universities. While it is important that education is priced in a way that students can manage, and it is vitally important that the education is high quality, I agree that the feeling of being part of a community is a big part of student success. We can learn stuff on our own, but it is more rewarding to do it as part of a larger community of like mined people with similar goals and aspirations. Faculty participation in events like award ceremonies, new student convocations, and graduations (all of the rituals of academia) helps the students see themselves as part of a broader community that includes their teachers and mentors. I think that is more important than some of us realize.