A few weeks ago I played a concert in Portland, Oregon which was attended by exactly 18 people. After everyone else got paid, I made exactly $12.50 USD. I know that independent musicians all over the world play to empty rooms all the time. I’ve played to quite a few myself. But the thing about me is that: I’m actually famous.
I’m not hugely famous, most people have never heard of me. But I have fans, amazingly supportive fans, all over the world. I raised $20,000 to record my album, then I raised $17,000 to make an animated music video with my collaborators Molly Crabapple and Jim Batt. So I know there are lots of people out there who like what I do. Which is why playing to an empty room on a Saturday in a town that knows who I am is just really sad. So I took my $12.50 USD and bought myself a few shots of whiskey. Luckily the price of whiskey in Portland is pretty low and I managed to get terrifically, yet lucidly, inebriated. In that state I had an epiphany, one that redefines the concept of touring.
The dilemma: I need to play live to have a real connection to an audience but the expense of touring is debilitating.
My solution: Pre-sell the shows before they are even booked. Get the fans as invested as I am in the creation of the art.
The old music paradigm had us musicians rolling around the world in cars and vans and busses, playing to whatever bar would have us on their dingy stages in the hopes that one day we would “Make It”. But the times have changed. “Making It” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
The problem, as I see it, is that we’re living in THE FUTURE (cue theremin!) with ease of communication, downloadable gratification, large networks, and constant information at our disposal, but we’re still acting like it’s the 1990’s and being a musician driving around in circles is going to help you “Make It”.
There is no “Making It” or rather, this is making it. Right here, where I am, with my small but dedicated fan base holding me aloft while I drift through the detritus of an imploding music industry that never did a thing for me yet still manages to get in my way. I’m a modern musician with modern tools trying to navigate an old broken system; a system which declared that all musicians must work for free until picked up by a record label which would either make or destroy them; a system which drove a wedge between fans and their music, musicians and their audiences; a system that forgot that the entire reason it existed was to facilitate the experience of art.