Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Where does the nurturing come from?

If you were at my quartet's concert Sunday, you heard me mention Jeff Albert, as I've done a couple other times on this blog. I won't go into his whole bio here. Suffice to say we're friends, and he's a successful musician, based in New Orleans, in the fields of adventurously improvised and electro-acoustic musics.
There's more about Jeff and his projects at jeffalbert.com and openearsmusic.org.

Jeff has a blog, Scratch My Brain, where he recently posted about the compensation of practitioners of creative music as opposed to service music intended to bring the party (in whatever form the party may be). "Where does the money come from?" is a thought-provoking post with no real answers, per se, but it gets the ball rolling. Couple thoughts I have.

Firstly, as to how this translates to our small-town, southern college scene. You can probably replace "creative music" with "not rock or country covers" and have the same conversation.

Secondly, in a closing barrage of unanswered questions, he invokes morality:
"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?"
For the first question, I lean toward yes.

I've never heard of audience members knowing how much a band is getting paid. For them to make some determination on how they can support the music beyond a cover charge, they would need to be let behind the curtain, which is inelegant at best. I can imagine a band saying on the mic, "We'll probably make about $300 tonight, and there are five of us, so if you like the music and want to support us..." Something like that may reveal--or at best infer, since it can be complicated--more about a club owner than he or she is willing to put out there.


A business savvy artist gets into selling recordings and other merchandise. Some artists will be discovered, as it were, and get bankrolled. Depending on many things, an artist may qualify for grants. They might also be able to apply for nonprofit status (or join some nonprofit arts co-op) and solicit donations. These sources can bring more money in, for sure, but I daresay many artists are emotionally and financially overwhelmed with the prospect of stepping into any of that. Many do, of course, to varying degrees, and here's where I think some consideration needs to be made.

In this US consumerist and capitalistic culture, we are rewarded for pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. Some great artists will have business and administrative skills or will know how to collaborate with people who have them. Others won't. My fear is that a great artist who is unable to develop and execute a successful business model, whether due to a reclusive temperament, self-destructive tendencies, cultural misunderstanding, an inability to play with others, or nothing more than pure lack of motivation, will be ignored either forever or only revealed posthumously.

When that happens, my belief is that the fault is on the community as a whole, and not the individual artist. Business acumen should not have to be a prerequisite to a successful art career.

I'll plant my own forest of questions. Is this simply the nature of the business? Can presenters and audience alike be trained to nurture good art by socially awkward and organizationally challenged artists? And if so, who's going to do the training? For the purpose of audience support, can financial compensation become an accepted and expected part of an artist's public persona without alienating presenters?

As far as an artist's moral obligation to share art freely, I lean toward no, but that will have to be for another post.

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