Saturday, May 19, 2012

Look, just take whatever they want to give you

Something no one needs,
yet strangely not free.
What better way to welcome a new (he's actually been doing this longer than me) colleague to my blogroll, and thank him for linking to my Playing Quieter post, than to disagree with him vehemently about something else? I came across Steve Goold's blog, and was about to dive into his nice fat list of archive topics-- which includes a lot of substantial pieces about just the sort of stuff we're interested in here-- but I got waylaid on his front page by this post about whether you deserve to get paid:

"Listen, the world doesn’t owe you anything. Just because you practiced and studied and composed doesn’t mean that what you do is valuable to anyone besides you. The worst thing you can do for your music career, from my humble perspective, is to adopt a sense of entitlement. That is the fast track to becoming jaded and burnt out and a failure.

Music is not a business. It’s not a good or a service. It’s an ART. Art expresses, art probes, art challenges, and art entertains. Expression/challenge/entertainment are not things that anybody really NEEDS. The entertainment industry is by definition expendable.

No one NEEDS entertainment, but many people WANT entertainment. And it is from that angle that I humbly suggest to you that your job as a musician is to demonstrate to anyone and everyone that you have what they want." 

Hmmmm. More of this, and my comments after the break:

"'Don’t work for free' is a BS motto for musicians. How about this one instead: “Try your hardest every chance you get.” Musicians spend a LOT of time trying super hard and not getting compensated for it. That’s part of the deal. But it doesn’t suck, because real musicians love music! They love playing their instrument, they love practicing their instrument, they love playing music with others, and they love playing music all by themselves. They love listening to new music and they love going to see other musicians that they’ve never seen before and they love revisiting old familiar records that they haven’t heard in years. Oh, what’s that? You don’t love those things? THEN WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS FOR? Playing music isn’t about making money. It’s about doing what you love, and doing it so much, until you become so good at it, that somehow you manage to cheat the universe and find yourself in situations where people actually give you money to do the thing that you love.
If money is all you want then go get a real job. I’m serious right now. Being a musician is not a real job… it’s a totally awesome privilege, and you don’t deserve that privilege just because you went to music school.
The world doesn’t owe you anything. But you can make them think they do… if you have the opportunity to show them. Take that opportunity wherever and whenever it appears." 

For context: he's writing in response to this post by another blogger. He calls his post a rant, so I'll assume he's not making flawless logic a priority; but I can't respond based on what I'm guessing he would say if he was being a little more measured about it.

It's hard to know where to start with this. He seems to be affronted by the idea of musicians having any say at all about the value of their own work, and about the conditions under which they will perform it. He refers the business, career and job of music, but is apparently defining those words in a very unorthodox way which doesn't necessitate the receipt of money in exchange for services. He does also say that because it is art, music is not a business, good, or service, but does not say why art, then, is different from virtually every single other activity in modern society.

There are also the big non sequiturs in the suggestions that music is literally valueless because of the lack of "need" for it-- a walk through any shopping mall should dispel the idea of a connection between those two things-- and that loving music requires you to operate outside of normal economics, and freely donate your services to, well, anyone who asks for them, apparently.

He outlines the crux of his recommended business model here: "[Do] it ... until you become so good at it, that somehow you manage to cheat the universe and find yourself in situations where people actually give you money to do the thing that you love." Emphasis mine. Frankly, I actually can't figure out how this differs from the underpants gnome model:

1. Collect underpants.
2. ???
3. PROFIT!!! 

His commenters are mostly very enthusiastic about all of this. The idea of "entitlement" seems to resonate with them-- they're against musicians getting the mistaken impression that their time and work are worth anything. It's a pernicious attitude I don't see in many professionals.

I hope how wrong he is on the specifics is obvious to everyone: that music is an art as well as a business, good, and service; that any worker or businessman has the right to set the price of his own services, just as everyone else is free decide how much (or whether) they will pay; that "need" on the societal level has no connection whatever to the cost/value of something in money. I suspect he wouldn't dispute that, and that he's thinking of this more as just the way you build a career in music-- that playing for free is a form of networking which will lead to paying work. Or "work", as I call it.

That is possible, though in my experience setting professional standards leads to professional treatment, and playing for free tends to lead to more playing for free-- or the big success stories I know who use this approach do a lot of poorly-paid work. It is also self-defeating, both for the individual and for the entire community. Why should a bandleader, a venue, or a client begin paying you when you've been giving it away for free? And why should they pay anyone at all when there are people willing to just donate their time? There can be good business reasons for doing it, but only as the result of a rational calculation, not just because you're assuming the premise that musical performances are inherently valueless.

The economy of music in the USA is presently in a dustbowl state, and nearly everyone ends up working for less than than a living wage at one time or another, but that is a choice they make due to severe times, not proof that music operates outside of the normal rules of economics. It is precisely in these situations where there is a stated need-- a band leader needs a drummer for a job, a music venue needs talent, a client needs a wedding band-- that musicians need to understand that there is value not only in their acquired skills, and that they have a basic human right to require compensation for services. It's a matter of basic self-respect.

1 comment:

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