$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.

Sera Jey Monks at Loyola!

The Loyola University Department of Music Industry Studies, the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance, and the Office of Mission and Ministry are pleased to host the Tibetan Buddhist monks from the Sera Jey Monastery in Bylakuppe, India, one of the premier leading Buddhist monastic institutes in the world.
November 12 – 14, 2013

The Sera Jey monks are on a U.S. tour to perform sacred music and art. Their aim is to sow the seeds of world harmony and compassion, and to bring attention to their monastic secondary school in India. The monks will create a sand mandala and perform sacred music on Loyola’s campus.

Sand Mandala for Compassion:
November 12, 13, 14
Time: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Location: Loyola University — Danna Student Center, first floor lobby
Opening Ceremony 9:00 – 9:30 a.m. — Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Closing Ceremony 4:30 – 5:00 p.m. — Thursday, November 14, 2013
Sacred Music and Discussion:
Thursday, November 14, 2013
7:30 pm
Nunemaker Auditorium
Monroe Hall
6363 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70118

All events are free and open to the public. Donations to the monks are accepted.
For further information, contact: John Snyder, 504-865-3984; jsnyder@loyno.edu.

Sand Mandala for Compassion:
The Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition of drawing a sacred design with colorful sands. Each mandala symbolically represents the palace of enlightened activities of a specific Buddha and his entourage. Every aspect has a symbolic meaning, nothing is arbitrary. The mandala is used as a base for meditation to spread blessings and inspirations. The mandala will be dissolved with prayers; the dissolution represents the impermanence of life. After the closing ceremony, the monks will distribute sand to attendees as a blessing and pour the sand into a body of water to spread compassion.

Sacred Music Performance:
The Tibetan monastic music and dance tradition originated with the earliest Buddhist practice. The great masters of the Buddhist lineages passed their visions of deities’ movements to their students through sound and music. The sound of the drum represents religion itself. The monks who perform scared dance aim at subduing such negativities as violence, disease, ignorance, jealousy, and hatred.


Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: A Preview | Chicago Music Blog

Pull quote of the day:

Chicago Jazz Festival 2013: A Preview | Chicago Music Blog:

“The way the twinned trombones of former Chicagoan Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert of New Orleans navigate the grooves that Drake lays down with Joshua Abrams and Jeff Parker, you’d think they’d first learned their chops 50 years ago in a Kingston yard rather than in band classes in North Carolina and Louisiana.”

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.

The Jazz Session » The Jazz Session #420: Jeff Albert

The Jazz Session, a jazz podcast produced by Jason Crane, is making a comeback. Back in February of 2012, I recorded an interview with Jason, and it never was released because he ended the show before the CD that we spent much of the interview discussing was released. Well that CD is out now, and the show is returning, and our interview is now available. Follow the link below to hear it.

The Jazz Session » The Jazz Session #420: Jeff Albert

**A couple of notes:

I have since finished the dissertation that we talked about in the interview. If you are having trouble sleeping and would like to read it, it is here: http://research.jeffalbert.com/imp/

The CD order changed a bit since I sent him music before the interview, and one of the tunes he plays in the show, is not actually on the CD. Mixes changed some too, so the bass sounds better on the CD than on the podcast.

August DownBeat was nice to me

The August 2013 issue of DownBeat Magazine was a good issue for my press clippings. For the third year, I was honored to be mentioned in the Rising Star Trombone category of the Critics Poll, and the Instigation Quartet CD got a 4 star review.

Let the CD sales, and festival bookings come rolling in…

Totm db review

Clip from Rising Star section of Critics Poll results:

2013 critics poll db