Commission Music

Commission Music
Bespoke Noise!!

Thursday, 20 February 2003

don't quit your day job

Indeed. It doesn't matter if you're so cool that somebody in holland wants to do a festival of your stuff (which is happening for Ellen Fullman. she's in Europe right now talking about it.), you can't quit your day job. So I've spent some time thinking of how to fix this problem. after all, an internationally recognized composer/performer should be past the career point where she has to make sacrifices for art. Those sacrfices should be paying off by now.

there is not enough money allocated for New Music in the USA.

Why not? Modern art museums are popular and enjoy civic support. But comparable music centers, like the opera, while they also get community support, don't tend to perform new works very often. There are no civic music organizations that exist to showcase 20th and 21st century music. what organizations do exist, like Other Minds aren't an institutional part of the region and rely very largely on private donations (although they do get NEA grants). Since they're not "faith-based," nor an offical piece of San Francisco or the region, this is unlikely to change. therefore, capitalism is to blame.

When the proletariat rise up, then artists will be able to persue their art. a person will be a stone mason in the morning, a poet in the afternoon, a composer in the evening and a garmet worker the next day! but in the mean time...

the Other Minds festival is really cool. (christi will be arranging one of the pieces in the festival! Really! It's so cool!) But the Other Minds festival is expensive. so is the opera, which does get a chunk of public money. Classical music is therefore an elitist, burgeouis fetish!

Nope. Operas lose money. Every opera always loses money. When Phillip Glass did einstein on the Beach, he sold out every performance, got rave reviews, and tried t keep ticket prices affordable. IIRC, he ended up being over $100K in debt. Other Minds also loses money. They bleed red ink every year. Ticket sales and public moneys don't come close to matching production costs. Which leads one to wonder why Metalica and The Three Tenors can fill up stadiums and be profitable. Firstly, there are a lot fewer people needed to make The Three Tenors happen than it takes to put ona whole opera. Less costume design. Less stage design. Also, they do it in a stadium, which has very poor acoustical properties (sounds terrible), but holds a whole lot of people who pay $25 and up to get in. Those ticket prices aren't affordable either. Maybe The Three Tenors are a burgeouis fetish! (I think I will refer to them as such from this moment forward). Also, they are not only willing to compromise their art by playing in a stadium, they actually have the draw to fill it up. Metalica is in basically the same situation. Meanwhile, Other Minds won't be able to completely fill the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre every night that they're there. Also, because it's only a single event, rather than a touring group, the travel costs are higher on a per-show sort of basis. One of the guys is coming from Down Under. If he were playing ten shows in an Other Minds tour, his travel expenses could be possibly recouped as the Other Minds tour bus crossed the West coast. But instead, one conert is suppossed to pay for everything.

So why do the Three Tenors and Metalica fill stadiums? why is their audience so much larger? It's name recognition and especially radio play. Metallica gets played on the radio because listeners know their music, like it, want to hear more of it, and will listen to an ad for soda pop while waiting for the songs to come on. new Music doesn't get radio play. Because listeners don't know it. Because it doesn't get radio play.


It may be more complicated than that. In the Bay Area, some college music stations play Noise and some "high art" New Music. Also, until ten or fifteen years ago, KPFA played quite a bit of New Music. so in some radio markets, listeners can and do listen to noise and New Music. Two of the best stations for this, KALX (UC Berkeley) and KFJC (Foothill Community College) often win awards for being the most popular eclectic stations in the area. Since they often give Noise prominent time slots, it seems likely that playing it contributes to their popularity. So if it's popular, it follows that people would be willing to listen to soda pop ads in between songs, which means it would be commercially viable for profit-driven stations to play it. but they don't. why not?

Homogeny is not a term for "lesbian," but homogyny would be.

there are no commercial, eclectic stations in the Bay Area. This is one of the top ten radio markets in the USA. Very few stations are locally owned, if any are. they are owned by Disney, Clear Channel, etc. Gigantic corporations own our airwaves. There used to be rules about how many stations in a market could be owned by one company. Clinton got rid of those. As stations like Live-105 got purchased by corporate giants, their local programming decreased and their coverage of smaller acts also decreased. Now, their playlist is set by folks who may not live here and is the same playlist used by many other stations across the country. the DJs may not live here. things are centralized. The radio stations are paid thousands of dollars by record companies when they pick up a Major-label song and start playing it (this commission is funnelled through folks called "indies" so as to skirt payola laws. But clear channel owns the indies now too, so they get to keep all the money, sicne the indies used to keep half the cash. anyway, it's payola and if it's legal, it's on the barest of technicalities.). It's cheaper to do things centrally and you get to pocket all of that major label money. this creates obstacles for Noise Mucisians and folks into New Music. Very few New Music composers are out on major labels. Also, while noise plays well out in the Bay Area, it might not play so well in other parts of the country and it might not be able to sustain an audience if it plays on a station all day, every day. an eclectic format weakens brand identity. A rock station is a rock station is a rock station. Consistency of product means no surprises for consumers and it's easier for corps to advertise.

there are "high art" classical stations, but they don't play new music either. they play nothing newer than the Romanic period. the local classical station, KDFC (rumored to be Mormon-owned) advertises that it's relaxing. then they play ads for Lexus. They're better than many classical stations in the country, because they play minor-key movements. Many classical stations play only happy, major key movements, so you never hear more than one movement of a work when you listen. Christian groups call this "light classical" and highly endorse it as free from the influence of Satan.

Pablum for the Masses

Almost every commercial station plays music that's soothing or relaxing. Ok, maybe Metallica isn't exactly soothing, but it's certainly not challenging. And KDFC practically brags that their music could put you to sleep! Why is commercial music auditory soma? There's two possible answers that I can think of.

Work Ethic

Americans work more house than anyother country on Earth. We've outpaced the stereo-typically work-a-holic Japanese. (I like the term "work-a-holic." It's rediculous. Like people acually want to work insanely long hours or two jobs and it's not just so they can get by. hahahaha! It's by choise! right! anyway). People work super-long hours, possibly two jobs and they have to commute to these jobs. sice public transit system might inhibit the sales of SUVs, the few areas that have decent public transit often underfund it, so most folks have to commute by car. The news they listen to while they spend maybe two hours a day coming and going from their ten to twelve hours of employment (possibly with unpaid overtime, for "exempt" non-union workers), tells them that terrorists are going to blow up the bridge they're on (while stuck in traffic) and the traffic reports suggest that maybe they should have just stayed at work an extra couple of hours rather than go out in this mess. Injury accidents have killed 15 workers and, well, you get the point. then they need to find food, try to spend time with their families, do chores, clean the house, run errands, etc. At the end of a day like that, do you want to listen to new and challenging music? Or the three tenors?

the Children are our Future

Teenagers still have some free time, though. I keep reading that they have more homework than ever and more scheduled events than ever before, but I'd like to hold out some hope that they still have time to listen to music. MTV still exists, so they must. Also, it seems to me that a lot of folks form musical tastes that will last a lifetime when they're young. If you like the Beattles when you're 15, chances seem to be that you'll like them for the rest of your life. so all we have to do is get teenagers listening to Noise, New Music and Contemporary Classical.

It's a curious thing, though. When I was young and impressionable, advertisements used to tell me that Classical Music was totally uncool. Unhip. I always thought this was an aside as advertisers vainly tried to figure out how to appeal to us young-uns. And this is probably true to a certain extent. If millions of teenagers decided they loved Micheal Nyman and Phillip Glass, the corporate media would bend over backwards to give it to them. The composers would be approached to hawk tennis-shoes and soda pop. and if they were too principled to do it, some now-quite-as-edgy ripoff band would be happy to do it.

Most music is put together by record executives. once in a while, something new emerges from College radio, like Nirvana did, but I think most songs are from established acts. and may of these acts were assembled b industry insiders who know what's popular and how to put together a sure-thing. So as soon as something new comes out, folks are copying it. and those folks sound a bit more mainstream and formulaic. And eventually a formula is developed and a producer can quickly put togther an album by following the formula. this isn't challenging, but it's a garunteed way to make a buck.

More sinister plans?

It's possible that the giant corporations that control the media don't want kids to think challenging thoughts. I mean, our crazy work schedules and lame corporate art doesn't prevent people from going to Modern Art Museums. The MOMAs are popular. People clearly have an interest in seeing new things. If they want to see new things, it's entirely possible that they want to hear new things too. Classical music, even classical music that's 300 years old is complicated. Old music is still challenging if you've never been exposed to it before. Advertisers, in their quest to sell breakfast cerial, tell kids to stay away from challenging music. It's possible that they don't want kids to expect music to be challenging. Maybe kids that were used to inspired performances of complicated music would lose their patience from corporate schlock-rock and preformulated pop songs. Maybe they would expect more from music. Maybe their tastes would change even more unpredictably. Maybe they would start thinking more about media.

you can argue that it's elitist to say that classical music requires more thinking than other forms. So substitute new jazz for new classical. It's still more thought-provoking than Britney Spears and more visceral and more inspired (when performed well). In any case, classical and new jazz are more complicated than pop tunes. Just like chess is more complicated than connect-4. And chess builds brain-power and critical thinking, and you don't see advertisements for chess sets either. Also, coincidentally, they's not enough money for schools or school art programs and corporations aren't exactly upset about that. but they seem to have definite opinions about whther blowing up Iraq is a good idea.

Critical thinking might make you think critically and critical thinkers aren't as good at being canon fodder

Cutting money from education is an investment in the future. the future of prisons. Seriously, folks in college classes study about social planning and they learn that when you cut money from education, you know that you will have to spend more money on prisons later on. Look at California. the modern prison-boom started 20 years after Regan. and prisons are profitable. You get money for construction. You can get cheap prison labor. The prisoners are captive audince, so you can charge them more than $3/minute to use pay phones (which phone companies do in California prisons). There's corporate profits all the way around!

Would chess and new Music keep kids from eventually going to jail? Um. I have no idea. but you wouldn't want to establish a pattern would you.

We must overthrow the capitalist system!

In the ols days, the government paid for tthe arts. In these old days, the government were feudal lords. the patronage system finaced the composition of New Music. Sicne the patrons were the government, this was a government function. when Alan Smith proposed switchng to a capitalist syetm to do everything, he specifically said that the arts should be exempted from this change because the arts were valuable and might not survive if viewed as just another commodity. This bit of advice apparently didn't make it into the USA edition of The Wealth of Nations or we chose to ignore it. either way, governments are suppossed to support art and ours isn't.

In the thirties, we had the WPA and tons of art was created. Those days are gone. the NEA gets smaller every year because conservatives hate art. Why? Maybe because art isn't conservative by nature. Laura bush cancelled her little poetry thing becuase she suddenly discovered that most good poets are pacafists. (Does being good at persuits like poetry, art and music make you more likely to be leftist? it seems to. why?) Art is challenging! art asks questions! Art makes people think. Conservatives, or rather, reactionaries, don't appeal to people's higher natures. they appeal to gut emotions and unthinking, simplistic responces to complex problems. Well, this is true of all politicians. So we can see where our arts funding went. (Remember too, that corporations, including those that own radio stations and record companies have a tendency towards conservativism.)

Private Patronage

Ever since somebody decided that taxes were a tool of Satan and could only be levied to pay for bombs, private charities ahev assumed responcibility for many public works. Before you know it, your city will be hosting a telethon to pave the roads. In the mean time, we rely on private donors to aid those in pverty and to fund the arts. both of these things are the responcibility of the government by rights. but our government has switched over to supporting corporations only. and corporations are basically feudal and anti-democratic. therefore, the haeds of corporations are functioning as our feudal government. you can see this is true by looking at the white house right now. Anyway, it means those guys should be acting personally as patrons and keeping artists and composers in their employ. And really, since we've decided to run our government through private donations, the middle class should be giving money to arts foundations. and they are, but it's not enough. Too much money is being diverted to build bombs.

Low budjet Patronage

Want to comission me to write a song for you? I'll work for pretty cheap. You're only turnging 50 once, so why not celbrate witha song written especially for the occasion? Your marraige is the begining of a new life for you. It deserves a new song to accompany it. Comissioning music can be surprisingly affordable. come to our website and you can browse through composers in a variety of price ranges and styles. then, we'll help you find performers in your area. What better way to show off your equisite taste than by commissioning a piece of new music.

This is one solution. the down side is that we wouldn't be lapdogs to the rich, we would be lapdogs to the upper-middle class. It seems worse somehow, but maybe that's classism on my part.

I don't have a better solution aside from socialist revolution. some smart arts advocacy group is putting up billboards that say "Art" Ask for More" and "Art: Are you getting your fair share?" This seems like a good idea, but I don't know how it can compete with the likes of Clear Channel. And since the billboards are often owned by Clear Channel, well, it's putting money in the enemy's pocket.

Three Paths to Art

In the end, I was only able to figure out three methods for musicians to be able to quit their day jobs.

  • Inherit Money It worked for Thomas Buckner and me! Maybe it can work for you!
  • Leave the country Most first-world countries have money for art. Maybe you can get some.
I forgot number three! ack. I should have made notes before wiriting this!

This is not as important as poverty or agressive, imperialist warfare, but it's still important. and these issues may be linked. something must be done about this.

1 comment:

SirGoofigusKid said...

I was intrigued by your inquiries as to why artists tend to be leftists. However, your current theory, that leftist opinion is clearly the end-result of higher-level thinking, and therefore, people who think critically will become leftists, doesn't leave a whole lot of room for critical thinking. Take, for example, a fledgling art student, told by peers that once he/she begins to really think (instead of "being swayed by unthinking/simplistic responses to complex problems") that they will surely take the leftist point of view. If the art community is really as homogenous as you say, then it seems that the gut reaction would be to simply accept the crowd's thoughts as truth without thinking critically. Therefore, it seems to me that claiming that leftists are the only people who truly engage in high-level thinking is self-defeating, not to mention elitist and bigoted.

I have often been tempted to make a similar observation myself, about a stereotype with which I am more familiar with: engineers. Engineering is freakishly challenging. Engineers have to ask questions. Good engineers orgainize what they know and don't know and find out what questions need to be asked. There are whole systems in place to prevent decisions being made based on "gut emotions." So why is it that so many engineers tend to be conservatives? Again, I have met to many intellectuals of various places within the many belief spectrums that it would be a terrible insult to say that people who really think are going to end up thinking like me.

So let's assume for a second that conservatives are capable of rational thought beyond that required to work themselves into a state where 'easy-listening' and 'light-classical' is desired (truly a horrible fate). What might a thinking conservative say to some of the arguments on this post? I happen to consider myself in that camp, and will attempt to answer join you in your musings as rationally as possible.

First, I need clarification as to your claim about the historical funding of the Arts. It seems to me that, in the West, the arts have been supported predominantly by wealthy patrons, some of which happened to be heads of state, so technically, paid for by government money. That's entirely different from the sort of governments we have today, which began when the parliment of England gained power of the purse. Now, government money doesn't belong to a king or duchess to spend as they please. Ideally, as much money as possible would remain in the hands of the people of country, who could then support the arts with their surplusses. Ironically, the non-linear (leftist) tax system of the U.S., which taxes richer people at a higher % rate than poorer people, is taking much of the 'surplus' money away that used to be used to support the arts. The Guggenheim family is one notable example of rich people using their surplus wealth to support the arts. Perhaps what we need is a true capitolist system, not this mock-market interventionist system that is the United States economy.

Incidentally, why is it that so many people credit Adam Smith with coming up with the market systems, simultaneously letting his words define it? The US was never so close to pure capitolism as the mid-1800's, and became very close to being as socialist a country as many european nations during WW2 (and during the Carter admin). So maybe, for the sake of argument, we should clarify what we both mean by "capitolist system." Capitolism, as I understand it to be defined, is the free and peaceful exchange of goods and services. This mandates some sort of justice system so that con-men and highway robbers are restrained (stealing is not a peaceful exchange), but other than that, every intervention by an outside force makes that exchange less free (I get to sell you my mild for exactly $2 a gallon and no more). Under the marxist system, everything people make is taken from them, and in return they receive whatever the planners have deemed necessary and fair for them to have. Obviously, someone who produces a 'non-practical' good (like art) is going to be more pleased with this system than someone who produces a 'practical' good (like wheat or toaster ovens). This begs the question, is life really full if only the practical is taken provided for? On the other hand, is life really full if every detail is controlled by some gov. bigshot? You dream of the socialist utopia where people will be free from the toils and daily grind of work. I'm sure everyone would love to switch from occupation to occupation, but, please, explain to me, rationally, how this would work. Can you point to one example of a community (or nation) where this ever happened without the system going bankrupt? One cannot, lacking experience, just pick up a sewing machine and produce anything wearable any better than they can pick up a brush and produce something viewable. You have to work at things to become better at them. This creates a surplus. When people are able to exchange their surplus goods, wealth is created, because now those extra shirts are good for more than just wearing; they can now be exchanged for intricate artwork and bread and a new sewing machine and and all sorts of other good things.

People actually achieve freedom to do what they want without being oppressed by the demand of life (gotta-work to eat, gotta eat to live) in the pseudo-free-enterprise system of America and other countries. They do it by sucking it up, putting in some hours into providing services that feeds people's bellies, then cutting back their expenses to what is really necessary (which isn't much, considering that most of the world makes it by on less), and then pouring their energies into services which feed people's souls (like the arts), or whatever they feel like. Besides, people who spend too much time in one discipline often get lost in it, and lose the ability to relate to other people (and the rest of life). This is an ever-present danger to specialists, like scientists, engineers, artists, and the like.

As to roads, I think corporations who run extremly-high tonnage trucks should be made to pay for fixing roads, since they're the ones wrecking them. As an engineer I can assure you that sedans really don't do any damage to asphalt. But I don't forsee the road system becoming privatized anytime soon (postal roads are mandated by the constitution). When you say that the "government has switched to suppporting corporations only," what exactly do you mean? Are you talking about government regulation of certain industries, or the confusing code of tax breaks and price fixes for other particular corporations (not a capitolist policy), or are you referring to 'tax cuts for the rich?'

Explain what you mean when you say that "corporations are basically feudal and anti-democratic." I'm fascinated by the comparison.

$13.5 billion in 2005 to arts groups in America. Exactly how much would be "enough?" What are artists in India doing? What about the poor Chinese farmer? How is he going to express himself artistically when he hasn't the luck to have inherited a wad from some stuffy old capitolist workaholic? I mean, at some point you're going to have to quantify exactly how much money should be put towards the arts and why exactly people should be supported full time to express themselves artistically? What makes art students deserve special treatment? There's a lot of talent that never gets tapped into by a lot of those "unthinking" corporate feudal tyrants and "cannon-fodder." Incidentally, as malicious invadors have been responsible for the vast majority of art destruction in the world, from Alexandria to Paris, it seems to me that there's something to be said for a well-trained, well-equipped defensive army. It's that "free and peaceful) part of capitolism. I'm not talking about Iraq (that's another discussion).

The prisons are full because there are more criminals than ever before (and a well-funded police force to put them into a forced wellfare state). This is indeed due to a lack of education, but not of the sort that can be fixed by an increase in federal education spending. The education deficiency is one of morals, not one of knowledge (although some criminals are getting quite clever, and moving to high positions in corporations and government). And moral education cannot be achieved by a federal government who's policy is to advocate that there are no moral absolutes. "Do not steal" works for some people, but perhaps not for you and me. Also, I really don't think the expanding prison system is doing well as a corporation. It cost an incredible amount of money to support people who are now contributing very little to society (slightly offset by prison-labor programs). Ask China: they're considering raising the retirement age so workers won't be 'non-producing consumers.' They'd do it too if the old people weren't keeping the younger generation from getting jobs (30% unemployment for college grads). The exhorbitant prices charged by the lucky phone company (who probably got the gig through some government deal, this is why government control of the economy creates monopolies) would be substantially less if other competitors were allowed in to offer thier payment plans. Maybe we should mail inmates phone-card catelogues.

I know that this post is several years old, but if you happen to find my rantings, I'd be delighted to engage in enlightened conversation with one who, like myself, dislikes the swallowing sound-bites and likes to think things through.

~ Stephen, a conservative who loves art.