My friend, Marco Frucht, shared a quote from an interview with Buffy Sainte-Marie t’other day:
Oh my gosh. Just play. Don’t wait for some kind of mythological businessman to come along and recognize you. You’re already great. If you’re writing songs and playing music, play for your friends, then play for some more friends. Then play for their friends. Play every place that you can and write and don’t worry about the music business. I mean, it’s almost nonexistent right now. Now is the time to create your works and put them on the internet. It’s almost like the sixties. It used to be a very welcoming place for musicians and artists and songwriters in the sixties, and then it closed up and you couldn’t get into a gallery, you couldn’t get a concert, you couldn’t get a record company. All of that is falling away, and it’s back in the hands of the people. So, look at each other’s music, enjoy each other, put yours out there too. It’s a free world.
It really got me thinking. As those who follow along here know, I walk a fine line between being accepting of what is for the modern musician and railing at the sky for the challenges of making music in this world. And that conflict of opinion is present in my reaction to the quote above.
I confess that I haven’t yet read the full interview from which the quote is lifted, though it’s on my ‘to-read’ list, so I’m not going to pick apart her answer or even put up a counter-point.
The part of me that agrees whole-heartedly with her is increasingly seeing how music is love, community and care, a wider purpose in this thing we call humanity. That part of me is feeling and seeing that there is no art-form so intuitive and open to sharing as music. It is a transcendent moment to walk the tight-rope of musical collaboration. Maybe improv comedy comes close… Maybe. Though there’s something in the harmonics and resonance of song that transcends even that. So yes, sing to anyone and everyone. Sing and be damned. Sing and bring this fractured, isolating world together.
There is a baked-in assumption that those friends mentioned above want to listen, will be part of the sharing. And, sometimes
[no, scratch that… often]
that’s the case. And we get to sing for those people. However… Many of our friends, those who we can reach, are captured in the conformity of this lock-down, isolating culture; glued to reality television and search-for-a-star inanity, where number of notes sung replaces authentic emotion as the marker of success.
This is a recommendation-driven world; as yet I remain to be convinced that natural human reciprocity is alive and well, as opposed to corroded and unhealthy.
I don’t think independent musicians are clinging on to the mythological businessman concept – it’s very clear that the music business model that really only existed for about 40-50 years at the end of the 20th century is gone. I’ve not come across any local musician who aspires to global super-stardom; or at least admits to that. What I hear continually is
I just want people to listen
Or, in other words, an audience. Yet I see great musicians playing to empty rooms. I see venues that treat artists as living-breathing background muzak.
The challenge is that next step beyond good friends – it’s easy to talk about generating true fans
[those who will recommend]
but when venues demand cover tunes or karaoke, when streaming replaces locally held copies, when internet radio replaces the care and concern of the perfect mix tape, that next step is a high hurdle.
So, I don’t think it’s right, fair or just, to equate a local musician’s frustration with getting enough attention to be heard, with an expectation of super-star status – leave that to reality television and the dying beast that is the corporate music industry.
Maybe the best we can hope for is one pair of ears every so often
[and the rest of the time singing to ourselves and the void]
If those ears are on your head, please know that we love you for listening, we pay to do this
[in love, sweat and dollars]
and all we ask in return is, if you like what you hear, please tell someone that you think they should listen to us too.
It’s not much to ask. Not really.
It’s as simple as turning yourself into Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “welcoming place”.