This is My Music by Me Music no. ME137
I had wanted to put a price of $150,000 on this album, but Bandcamp would only allow up to $1,000. If that price seems outlandish to you, sit back, pour yourself an adult beverage, and let me explain:
In July of 2016, after I had completed this album (and its “remixes” version, “Having Said That Being Said With That Said”), I blurted-out to myself, “This album’s too good to release.” Although the material wasn’t necessarily among that which I consider my most exceptional moments, and some of it resembles other things I have done, there was something about it that set it apart, or off to the side, from everything else I’ve done for the past seven years of my artistic “renaissance.” It might have been certain production techniques I’d discovered, or a defiant levity buoying the “heaviness” of some of the lyrics. That’s what I had supposed at first, anyway.
That to which it really amounted was a double-helical matter that I was surprised to have to recognize and evaluate. It came to my attention from feeling burned-out on all the work that I’ve had to do for and by myself toward representing my music online and “administering” it otherwise. Were I not demonically prolific, this would not have posed such a taxing obligation. The more I’ve generated, the more I’ve complicated such chores. Being reliant upon third-party services for representation, sales and distribution of my recordings, when some developer causes a function of a service to “break,” some Terms of Service change disagreeably or some low-level functionary wrongfully accuses me of being in “violation” thereof, or the proprietors of one distributor after another turn out to be supreme self-important sociopathic a-holes, I am thereby obliged to re-upload the whole of my ever-mounting discography to yet another internetric situation, with an eye on a Plan B in case that might fail. Meanwhile, I’ve been having to learn new web-development skills, which would be a welcome educational adventure if it weren’t in the context of frantically remedying damage caused by someone else, and under the pressure of a deadline that my personal life and its other constraints cannot accommodate.
Recognizing myself to be burned-out on this, as I would on a regular job, I took the analogy literally and tallied-up the monetary value of all the unpaid labor I had been putting-in over the past seven years (having begun making music again in Spring of 2009). At a rate of pay on par with skilled clerical work (and slightly above the hourly starting wage paid by some fast-food franchises in my neck o’ the woods), at at least 20 hours/week, I figured that the wage-value of the work I’d put in toward this (NOT including time involved in producing the music) came to at least $100,000. Factoring-in external administrative costs, most of which I’ve not been able to afford, and costs of equipment and instruments (not as high as might be “heard” in the recordings I have made), and licensing fees to me as a writer, composer and publisher (to be paid by the record company, being also myself), the grand total owed to me would come to about $150,000.
My initial response to this was to “go on strike” and pull most of my music by me from the Internet until I might be compensated for my labor and operating expenses. That amounted to no more than a performance-art stunt, however; I was really trying to call attention (at least my own) to the fact that this is a lot of WORK, and the sort of thing for which people get PAID, and I have not been. This is a concern separate from whether my music by me has sold lucratively – if the reader can distinguish that, this matter will remain clear. I’m not moaning about not enough people’s paying for my music by me – how could I, when I’ve got a work-day’s worth of it live on Spitofy, which pays a bitterly-sarcastic amount per play, just so that it might potentially reach the ears of anyone in the world? It’s simply that I’m tired o’ workin’ for free.
The other strand of the double helix is the value of my own experience and its being a factor in this “rebirth” of mine. It runs a twisted parallel to the value of my labor; they coexist in the context defined by post-millennial technology, online culture, and e-commerce. Computer technology now makes it too easy for any monkey with a laptop to pass for a “musician” – though the more grandiose appellation “producer” is increasingly the norm. Technically speaking, one is a “producer” if one is generating something, making it appear, reifying a commodity of some sort. (I myself am a “producer” of farts, even as I sleep.) The Internet was originally supposed to be this wide-open egaliatarian situation, a level playing-field where musicians could finally be truly “independent,” creating and releasing music on their own terms, beholden to none.
However, the very glut yielded by proliferation of the Internet and laptop-production in turn created the opportunity for “the new gatekeepers” to set-up shop. One may not have to deal with cigar-chomping media moguls nor with hipster A&R reps, but in regard to the people helming the Techover, it’s a case of “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss” (from that 45-year-old song by The Who). The techies running the show (or ruining it, some would say) for musicians now have engendered a sense of learned helplessness among musicians, whereby musicians rely upon techies for issue and permission, while the techies claim to be “helping-out” musicians with their business models, platforms, APIs, and so forth.
This is all stuff which musicians should have realized, circa the year 2000, that they should grab by the horns so that ultimately no one would have them by the balls. Some guru should have proclaimed, “Own your tech - or tech will own you.” (Coulda been the guy who’d told us, “You have to give your music away, now,” but by then he’d been able to make his millions with his own, and he was talking-up a certain a-hole digital distributor, so . . .)
Musicians don’t think the same way that techies do, however, though somehow they have let techies’ values corrupt their artistic culture. Techies don’t see “art,” they see “content;” they have no true culture, just an ever-daisy-chaining series of networking events. If musicians were hipper to technological realities, they would put their PayPal addresses on the “tips” jar/bucket, rather than letting some geek come along with a service to “help” tech-unsavvy musicians by offering an electronic tips-collection service to which musicians can subscribe - and which, to “make it sustainable,” takes “only” a 5% cut (in addition to the 3% that PayPal takes). That is, until he “flips” the start-up to a larger company, which will raise the percentage, since so many musicians have come to rely upon it, though trying to justify the hike by “added-value” features such as integration of yet another “social platform,” promotional “boost” options, commercial tie-in potential, and mysteriously-“curated” featured artists on the site’s main page.
Unfortunately, musicians have come to be nickel-and-dimed at every online turn. The developer of one download service (which doubles as yet another “social platform”) justifies its 20% cut with, “It’s better than iTunes (which takes 40%).” Cutting off one finger IS better than taking the whole hand, I suppose - but ideally, one retains as much corporeal integrity as one can as one proceeds in life, not least because a full grasp on something really comes in, well, handy. Looks of shock and horror come to the faces of non-musicians whom I inform that iTunes takes a 40% cut from sales of downloads. Musicians have learned to “eat” that shock and horror, to consider it a necessary evil, part of the miserable landscape of their ghetto. On at least a subtle level, such conditions are demoralizing - but at least musicians can count on do-gooders to come and try to capitalize on that demoralization, and maybe the musicians themselves might get something out of it, this time. We keep lining-up at the trough that techies have installed for us, while knowing that we’re never quite welcome at their dinner parties. They love the work we do out in the field, but never invite us into the house.
Thus is the fundament of the second “helix” of this matter, which is that my own life-experience, what music means to me as a part of my life and of my own essence, and that which I have survived in order to tell about it, have become to me too valuable to just casually or routinely poop-out into the “stream” of online music, to amount to just another disintegrating turd in a numinous sewage system. It’s like how I just can’t bring myself to do that which I can’t tolerate from others: “Hey, be sure to check-out my latest _________, and like me on Fecebook and follow me on Twitter and subscribe and like and comment and hey man how would you like to be part of my virtual steet team and re-tweet and re-post this for me - and . . .”
On a music-licensing site (which doubles as yet another “social platform”) to which I belonged for all of a week, I was dismayed to find that, in such a context, the middle-aged conservatory-trained veteran film-composer was reduced to peerage with a 23-year-old neophyte barely capable of writing a song on Garagband. All the “social” features which the developers believed necessary (because having to manage the expressly-social platforms Fecebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reverbnation, Songkick, et al. doesn’t keep an entire band busy enough aside from working, writing songs, rehearsing, gigging, and sleeping) were anathema to presenting one’s work with dignity and class - that is, professionally. I’m hardly one to talk, but it’s nice to have that option.
I’m not a guy-in-a-band. I’m not a career-track composer. I’m not a singer-songwriter because it’s what’s currently in-vogue. I’m not dabbling in this until I have to “get serious about life.” This IS my life. This isn’t my mid-life crisis, either. It’s what I’ve always been, and could only have realized (that is, made real) once my own experiential wisdom coincided with advances in technology such as I have enjoyed since Spring, 2009. Thanks to such technology, I no longer have to wish that a record label would “sign” me with the largesse necessary to hire musicians and record them in a real studio. It’s not, however, only due to that that I could not have made any of this music back-in-the-day: were I half the age I am now, my mind would not be able to come-up with most of this stuff.
This is the sort of thing which requires passing through the membrane, visible only by hindsight, of age and experience, which much-younger people cannot perceive nor believe exists. Those who are still thinking in terms of “stealing experience” are blind to the fact that experience is earned, and therefore irrevocably one’s very-own, for better or worse. Similarly, past “a certain age,” one is disinclined to, and doesn’t need to, sample and steal for the sake of “material” - because all the “material” one needs is now within oneself. Past “a certain age,” one likewise doesn’t have to look to, nor look-up to, other artists for sources of inspiration or examples of aspiration. Additionally, no longer having time for writer’s block (if one’s job, home life, and so forth aren’t already devouring it) is an ambiguous bonus creative gift.
So, if 150 of you, out there, purchase a download of this album here, I’ll be compensated for my labor and operating expenses incurred over the past seven years. If the music itself has meaning for you - and therefore, “value” - please feel free to pay more. If you like it enough to tell me that you liked it, I’ll send you a download link for the re-mix album.
This is continued, in Part Two, here: