That’s what they say. I’m inclined to agree, although I think the fundamental ways we acquire, exchange, and utilize energy are changing rapidly. Transitions are seldom without friction, however. Rent still must be paid at the end of this month. Somehow.
The astounding response in protest of PIPA/SOPA and internet censorship has awakened me early with thoughts about copyrights and the viability of my line of work. I write songs and sing them in public. I record them and sell the recordings. These are the two main ways I have made money. The cover charge at the venue is dependent on what the region is used to paying; in some places folks are willing to pay $10 or more to see a show, sometimes I’ve seen people balk at $5. If thirty people pay five bucks that’s $150, give 30% ($45) to the venue and you have $105 to split between two people, and you drove 4 hours to get there and bought two sandwiches and an oil change along the way. You can see why we slept in the van for so long. Coyote Grace makes the bulk of its income by – you guessed it – CD sales.
Now, in the early days we highly encouraged CD sharing, burning copies, and even gave a ridiculous amount away assuming that spreading the music around would eventually generate more revenue than the $15 for a CD sold in the moment, and I believe we were right. Ingrid and I also are not numbers people and tend to make decisions on emotional intuition rather than financial pragmatism. To this day we still have an open policy of music sharing with our fans on an unspoken honor system, feeling that dividends will come back to us somehow and knowing that people are broke and will do it anyway. I do it. My personal policy is that I try only to “steal” music from folks whom I deem well established and not needing the money as much as my kind, the self-produced unsigned artists who do everything and pay for everything themselves, who live on food stamps and sleep in the car. “Try” is the operative word however, sometimes the money just isn’t there. The other side of the coin is that after touring with folks I assumed to be well established, I have learned that the era of the sweet ride from the record label is over and many artists really do need the money, now more than ever.
The music industry now mirrors our current economic divide – all the resources are concentrated at the top, and there is an ever widening gap between the corporate world and the independent world. Technological advances have a lot to do with it as well. Back in the 20’s and 30’s, dancers could make a hell of a living and achieve rock star status. With the advent of television, it was no longer novel to see someone dance on a stage from the nosebleed seats, and now almost every dancer I know in the states has a day job. I have often wondered if this is my fate as a folk singer. Home recording and the internet has enabled Coyote Grace’s very existence, though I do wonder if the file sharing and CD burning that make copyright laws porous will require me to at some point to get a real day job. People don’t often seem to be that aware either, stating flat out at the merch table that they are going to burn the CD for everyone they know, or friends who state flat out that they don’t pay for music. I think there is a general assumption that there is some line of success that an artist crosses (like opening for the Indigo Girls) that people think brings them good money, or at least the money they think the artist deserves. That’s what I thought before I jumped into the business. Sadly though, this is not so. Things like massive exposure, fancy videos and photos, bookings at huge venues and mainstream radio play are reserved for the folks at the top who are employed by the folks who own all the venues and radio/TV stations and magazines, not the most talented. That is the way it is, but – necessity is the mother of invention, and I believe that folks naturally tire of the whitewashed formulaic media they see everywhere and go searching for something more human.
So CD sales and performance fees it is, supplemented by teaching and odd jobs. And, as true callings go, we’re going to do it anyway, even if it doesn’t pay. Rent, schment. All the hubbub about PIPA/SOPA is really between the big corporate music and movie industries who lose money on pirated copies of “Twilight” and websites like Wikipedia and Google who make accessible a lot of information that would be ridiculous to try and police. I agree that copyright laws should be protected and enforcement should be updated to reflect current technology, but I feel that any law that gives the government the power to blacklist sites on the internet is veering into extremely dangerous waters. And this law won’t help the independent artist much; there certainly isn’t a surge of international companies racking in millions of dollars by hawking Coyote Grace albums tariff free. We must be extremely careful with laws like these, especially now in our counter-intuitive and volatile political climate. And screw it, things ebb and flow, and there is nothing we are stuck with permanently. If I can write and make music and learn stuff for the rest of my life, I will be content. In any event, I don’t have any desire to live in a house that is bigger than I can clean by myself. Throw in your chips, and hope for the best.
Often times I wonder if I am being too personal and sharing too much. Sometimes I think that the ones who hold their cards close to their chests might have a greater advantage and at least more mystique and intrigue. Evidently though, this is not how I am programmed. I’m all for transparency in many ways, I suppose personal transparency is no exception. Here’s to We, The People for preserving the right to acquire knowledge and keeping the internet sovereign over itself, and for supporting independent artists 🙂 Let’s keep it that way.