Pedestrian Ramblings 4/4
The collective “we” tend to start asking youngsters at a very early age “What do you want to be when you grow up“? As innocent as that question is there is an implication that we need to aspire to become someone beyond where we are or do something of consequence and lasting value.
I suppose this question continues to haunt some free-spirited folks throughout their life.
My friend Mark Freeman and I have taken a few walks and talks around Chapin Forest recently and I starting thinking about the essence of our conversations when I saw these giant chairs outside of the ski center. We were talking about what we want to be when we grow up!
Mark happens to be one of my favorite Ohio songwriters and we have been comparing notes about writing songs, playing, performing, and recording music.
Just like so many other things in our lifetime, there have been many changes in the business of making music. From the glitz and glamour of the global and national recording industry, right down to the open mic nights on the local level, new technology has impacted how we play, perform, record, and listen to music. And this will continue to evolve. Mark and I have been talking about how to set a course to follow and how to navigate to where we would like to take our music.
Neither of us is spring chickens and often find ourselves in a quandary about certain elements of the music business. In our conversations, we consistently avoid the question: “Why are we writing songs and playing music?” I could just imagine some adult from my past overhearing our conversations and saying: “You two just need to grow up!”
Neither of us has delusions of becoming rich playing and singing our songs, or even paying our bills with the dough we are raking in! That being said getting paid to play is certainly an important affirmation for years of practice and the effort we have invested to refine our craft and performance skills.
Between the two of us, Mark and I know many musicians. There are very few who make a living playing music. Those that do, work very hard and often have multiple projects and music-related income streams. That number dwindles dramatically when filtered by those writing and performing original music.
There is a significant challenge in creating songs that are both musically appealing strong and lyrically strong enough to engage and entertain people. This is not a small task.
Oh of course with an original tune there is the tiny possibility of someone picking up a song for a prominent musician to record, but those are pretty slim odds. And there is the potential for income from digital streaming. After all, if a song gets played 229 times on Spotify the artist gets one dollar, so if your song gets streamed 200,000 you get about 850 bucks! Just sayin’...
With the advances in technology, it is possible to make an acceptable recording in a home studio, so recording has gotten much more accessible and affordable! But there are still significant start-up costs associated with good microphones, a powerful computer, and associated editing and recording software. And the learning curve for the software and recording techniques requires a substantial amount of time.
At the end of the day it still costs about four dollars a unit to “commercially” burn and package a small batch of CDs, and with the explosion of internet streaming, no one is sure if there is a viable market for CDs. Some agents say "CD are like business cards, you have to have them." That is a pretty expensive business card!
When you start doing the math, you want to stop doing the math!
So why do we work so hard at these things that don’t fit into a financially productive model?
Is there more to it?
Maybe we just don’t want to grow up, and is there a reward for not “growing up”?
Yes, there is. It comes down to the balance of pursuing and eventually sharing a personal expression, connecting with and enriching the lives of other people, and the recognition that this has value.
On a personal level, there is an indescribable, magical feeling that occurs with the process of finding and arranging the words, that turn an idea into a story, that can somehow be embedded in a melody. When this comes together it's a wonderful experience. And when someone tells you how much a song means to them or how they felt when they first heard it, there is a humbling realization that this is something that is bigger than an individual experience and has to be shared!
Often we are condition to measure success in financial returns, but what a stark world it would be if that matrix was our only driver! How many elements of our lives are enriched by doing things that have limited or negative financial returns? How much joy do these efforts produce for ourselves and others?
This phenomenon isn’t limited to musicians but to all artisans and crafters who work hard at what they do. We make things for the joy of self-expression and we share or give these things to enrich the lives of others.
So maybe, I just don't want to grow up, and I hope you don't either.
Should you want to check mark out:
See you out ramblin' around