$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.

Faculty position in Music Industry Studies at Loyola University New Orleans

We are hiring a faculty member to teach music industry related internet technologies at Loyola University New Orleans.

Primary responsibilities include teaching in the areas of Internet technologies and web development within the context of Music Industry Studies. Must be able to teach usage of HTML 5, CSS, and PHP or other dynamic languages. Emphasis on marketing using social media and other platforms required. Secondary duties may include teaching in other areas of music industry technology including smartphone/tablet apps, new approaches to content delivery, and related areas of expertise, potential for the development of distance learning programs, work in a collaborative manner and fulfill various roles in college and university activities, serve as an academic advisor and mentor to students, assist with departmental websites and student workers, and other duties as assigned.

Other specifics can be found here: http://finance.loyno.edu/human-resources/faculty-employment-opportunities. The full consideration date is June 15, 2013 and the gig starts in August. If you or someone you know want to live in New Orleans and teach aspiring young musicians and entrepreneurs, in a setting with a good bunch of colleagues, please apply. I’d be happy to answer any questions as well.

A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts « Elissa Milne

This is really good. There is deep insight here into how and why audiences exist, and my experience with the Open Ears Music Series affirms these ideas. Click the link to read the whole thing.

A Simple Reason Why Audiences Are So Small For New Music Concerts « Elissa Milne:

“Live concerts (or any live events) are built on a fan-base, so if you have no fans you have a limited chance of attracting an audience. This holds true for a pub band as much as it does for a purveyor of experimental sound art. Any performer needs to build an audience if they want to have an audience.

Now I do appreciate that there has been an aesthetic of writing with no thought for connection with listeners, but seriously people, if you write with no consideration of how you are building your audience you can hardly be surprised when you don’t have one.

And yeah, it’s your audience. It’s not the audience for ‘new music’ or ‘experimental music’ or ‘art music’. It’s the group of people in your neighbourhood, community, workplace, internet forums, facebook groups and twitterfeed who are interested in what you do. That’s what an audience is: it’s a bunch of people who care about your work so much that they want to participate. By being there. By being close to the action. By giving you money so you’ll keep doing what you do.”

(Via @pbailey.)

‘It Can’t Be Done’: The Difficulty Of Growing A Jazz Audience : A Blog Supreme : NPR

I disdain the use of the word “Jazz” as a reference to a monolithic cabal with a singular focus, but the article linked below contains some noteworthy insights, in spite of that J word usage.

‘It Can’t Be Done’: The Difficulty Of Growing A Jazz Audience : A Blog Supreme : NPR: “Jazz simply needs to continue doing what made it great in the first place: engage with popular culture in an intelligent, nuanced and sophisticated manner, as some successful groups are doing today. If there is any hope of audience building, this is where it lies. It must be organic, visceral and culturally relevant, qualities which cannot be consciously conjured by an audience development committee.”

(Via @tedgioia.)

Search & Restore New Orleans

Some of you are probably familiar with the NYC based organization called Search and Restore. It is run by a tireless man named Adam Schatz. Well, Adam is bringing his ever-excited craziness to New Orleans via a three night festival in New Orleans on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Jazz Fest.

Search And Restore: New Orleans is a 3 day festival (April 30th-May 2) celebrating the incredible new jazz musicians, creative composers and improvisers operating in New Orleans today, organized by Adam Schatz (founder of Search & Restore), Justin Peake (founder of the Merged series @ the Dragon’s Den) and Jeff Albert (founder of the Open Ears series @ the Blue Nile)

There is a Kickstarter campaign in place. I know I am always curious about how the Kickstarter money will be used. Your donations will help us guarantee a fair fee for every musician performing in the festival, with equal pay going to every artist in an effort to truly value the work. This financial security will allow us to go above and beyond with promoting the event, so that we can expose bigger and newer audiences to this vital community, and we hope you will be a part of it too!

Please pledge at the $600 level. It is the only way my wife will let me have my favorite summer hair style…

The Jazz Session podcast needs (your?) support

Wow, two posts in row pointing out friends who are asking for money. I guess such is the world in which we live. The truth of the matter is that the old system of media/entertainment/art/whatever is dying. It no longer does any sort of good job at producing interesting and fulfilling material. The job of producing good stuff has fallen to the artists themselves, and other people who are personally vested in quality. That is why we have artists making and funding their own records now, and that is why some of our best music journalism is done by independent bloggers and podcasters.

This stuff has to be paid for in one way or another. With artists making CDs, the answer is fairly easy: buy their CDs. Jason Crane, who produces the fabulous music interview podcast called The Jazz Session, has adopted a somewhat public radio style way of trying to make his show economically feasible. He is seeking members, people who will make an ongoing commitment to financially support the show. We do these things (produce podcasts, run music series, etc) because we love to do them, but it does cost money to make them happen. Sometimes we can subsidize it from our personal lives, and sometimes we have to ask the people who enjoy this work to step up and help pay for it.

I love Jason’s show. I listen to it regularly and have learned a lot from the interviews. Jason has a wide ranging aesthetic and does a great job of giving exposure and forum to artists whose work falls left of the mainstream. I am a member.

I would recommend that you go to the website and listen to a show or two. There is a long list of artists from which to choose. I particularly enjoyed the Ken Filiano and David Weiss interviews. If you like what you hear and feel it deserves your support, you can join here: http://thejazzsession.com/join/

The show needs about 15 more members by the end of Thursday August 11 for it to continue.

You gotta pay the band

I have produced a few CDs over the years that were solely funded by me, and had no chance of being big sellers. This situation makes budgeting the project difficult, especially when it comes to paying the musicians. In some instances, I have just built a modest (but hopefully respectful) amount of money for each musician into the budget, and paid them for the recording. This makes the gamble mine alone, and makes the bookkeeping much easier, in the unlikely event that the CD actually makes money. We did do the first Lucky 7s CD with the understanding that once the initial investment was made back, we would share equally in the proceeds. No one was paid for the recording on the front end. Happily that CD has made a little money, and every once in a while I get to send each of the guys a check (a small check, but a check none the less).

Recently Kickstarter, and similar sites, have become a popular way of trying to finance recording projects. It is not difficult to see how this could seem more appealing than the personal savings method of financing. There has been a good bit of reaction to this trend, both positive and negative, and some insight as well.

All of this brings me to a new Kickstarter project I was recently asked to support. It is Steve Swell’s Nation of We. Steve has taken the curious angle of running the campaign to pay his band. It is not uncommon for artists to make a recording on their own, and then have a label pick it up. It is also not uncommon for the label to pay the musicians in product, i.e. the musicians provide the master, the label pays for pressing and distribution, and the musicians get paid in product (CDs they can sell themselves to make their money). Unless the CD really sells a lot, there is often no exchange of cash between the label and the musicians. NB: I don’t know that this is Steve’s deal on this CD, I just know it is common practice.

Part of me wants to complain about what a shame it is that we have to resort to organized begging to pay musicians for their creative work. The other part of me thinks it is cool that Steve wants to do right by his band, and that using Kickstarter to offer what amounts to CD pre-orders is a great idea. I’ll save the long form rant for a time when my thoughts on the matter or better organized.

I supported this project, and recommend that you check it out and see if it is something you would like to support as well.

New Orleans gets Downbeat Critics Poll love

I just received the August 2011 issue of Downbeat Magazine, which contains their Critics Poll results. I have long been ambivalent about magazine polls. There is no doubt that being listing in these polls is a good thing, but there are always so many good musicians who deserve to be listed and are not. Of course there are the usual silly results, like people appearing in the main category and the rising star version, such as Nicole Mitchell who won both categories on flute this year. Then there is Julian Priester appearing in the Rising Star Trombone category. Mr. Priester is near 70 years old, and is on some truly classic recordings. His star has been risen for some time now. In spite of these peculiarities, it is still an honor to make one of these lists. I write all of this to set up this post about how much love New Orleans musicians got in this year’s Downbeat Critics Poll.

Of course this post about New Orleans musicians in the poll is just an excuse to mention that I am listed in the Rising Star Trombone category this year. While I could name a number of other trombone players whose work I admire greatly who are not on the list, it does feel good to know that people are noticing what I am doing. And apparently some other New Orleans musicians are getting noticed as well.

Critics poll

We have our already world renowned musicians who still live in New Orleans, like Terence Blanchard, Herlin Riley, and Nicholas Payton, who got their expected mentions in the Jazz Group, Drums, and Trumpets lists. Our clarinet scene is well represented by Evan Christopher, Dr. Michael White, and Tim Laughlin. NOLA placed 3 trombonists in 4 spots on the Trombone and Rising Star Trombone lists. Delfeayo Marsalis and Trombone Shorty made the grown-ups tableTrombone list, and Trombone Shorty and I were at the kid’s table on the Rising Star Trombone list. It was also nice to see Kidd Jordan get some critic’s love, along with Jason Marsalis on vibes, John Boutté (Rising Star Male Vocalist), and Matt Perrine on sousaphone. I was especially pleased to see Jonathan Freilich on the Rising Star Guitar list and Aurora Nealand on the Rising Star Soprano Saxophone list, both well deserved.

The magazine lists the critics who vote in the poll, and I believe that only two of the voters in this year’s poll are New Orleans residents. The way the scoring works, one must appear on the ballots of at least three critics to make the list, so it is nice to know that critics from outside of New Orleans are aware of what we are doing here, and not just the stereotypical “New Orleans Music” version of what we are doing here, but some of the more creative aspects as well. I got 32 points, which means that at least six critics had my name on their ballot. To those of you who have noticed what I have been doing, thank you, I deeply appreciate the attention.

I hope I can handle the huge influx of CD orders. That is what happens after one makes one of these lists, right?

Why I de-faced or “This corporate Facebook obsession will be dangerous”

Sometime ago, I deleted my Facebook account. Then a few months ago, I had to start another one, because a professor of mine wanted to do some of the class online discussion on Facebook. That class ends soon, and I will de-face again. Here is why:

I don’t want to be forced into a system that is controlled by a single entity. I think it becomes dangerous. The world wide web was built on the premise of open standards and open access. Sir Tim Berners-Lee recently wrote a great article for Scientific American on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the world wide web. The whole thing is a worthy read, but I will quote only a few paragraphs here:

The Web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles and because thousands of individuals, universities and companies have worked, both independently and together as part of the World Wide Web Consortium, to expand its capabilities based on those principles.

The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.

If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want. The ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.

The idea that I can link to any site on the web, and any site can link here, and any user can follow those links is foundational.

From Hypebot:

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg used last week’s Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco to share his most sweeping vision yet of how Facebook will fundamentally change the music, film, TV and media industries within the next five years. Zuckerberg believes strongly that insurgent entrepreneurs will “reform” the music, film, TV, news, e-commerce and perhaps many other industries using Facebook as a platform. Facebook will then profit from the value that it has added to the new landscape through advertising and, perhaps, other partnerships.

I saw a billboard today (along I10 in Baton Rouge) for a well known brand of vodka. The website listed on the billboard was the company’s Facebook page. I don’t get it. It’s not like this company doesn’t have its own web presence. I have been told that companies like Facebook, because it has “all those users”, but “all those users” are also available on the open web, plus many more.

Have we forgotten about the last days of AOL, when they were trying to control our internet experience? We should heed the warnings of Sir Berners-Lee and be vigilant for the open web. We will be in trouble if it slips away while we aren’t paying attention, and the curmudgeon in me wants to say that that is exactly what Facebook would like to happen.