Guitar Zen: More Thoughts about Creation & Money in Music

I really wish this video had gotten the views I think it deserves. Does that sound egotistical? Yep, but wait, there’s more! It isn’t really about the views, to me it’s about the message.

Perhaps I didn’t package it as well as I could have. I find that talking deadpan to a camera is really disconcerting because you get nothing back. No feedback. Just stillness. That’s why I decided to get better at this kind of speaking and make this Guitar Zen series in part for myself to develop better skills at ‘giving away’. I try my best to strive to be better than I was yesterday, not to be in competition with anyone else, just myself from the other day.

Stay with me on this.

Ultimately? Life is about giving. Art is about giving. Giving of yourself in a profoundly personal way to those around you. If you do it honestly, it hopefully will work out for you, if you do it dishonestly and it works out for you? You’re definitely in for trouble down the road.

Why would you hold onto an album or lifetimes worth of musical material? And in the microcosmic sense, why would you hold onto a song? Art is meant to be shared, truly, as the internet reminds us every day that sharing things has become the absolute norm. You can always try to charge for premium content, and for regular content, but ultimately if people want something they’d rather have it shared or given to them via a free avenue.

This issue of worth in music is unfortunately quite fundamentally broken right now: it’s fantastic that I can listen to the new Obscura record ‘Akroasis’ before buying it, but unless you put in the monetary worth yourself, will you buy it? It comes back to the whole ‘try-before-you-buy’ way of shopping.

We can do that with music now, whereas many years ago you had to perfect singles to get people to listen to the other, usually more meaningful and artistically personal songs on a record. Now, singles are still used in the same way, but they are much more accessible: internet killed the TV, TV killed the radio. You can feature other famous musicians on a single and push it and explode in popularity, forcibly pushing your music into new ready and eager listeners. This is great for marketing, and usually awful for art.

But because of the mass distribution, saturation and the amount of ‘free’ people have, it makes me question why I am in this business. Trying to break through the brutality of the industry is not for the faint of heart. In fact, I believe you have to be extremely masochistic to be a musician in today’s times especially if you wish to actually turn a profit. Here in lies the dilemma.

To be a musician, you must be much more than a musician. You must be able to market yourself, produce yourself, learn how to do simple video and have some skills in editing, be a businessperson, network, organize manufacture and maintain merchandise in (usually) an online shop, get artwork that is cohesive to your vision visually and sonically, and the list keeps going on and on from there. It’s really ten jobs in one. Most people do not realize this.

And to expect to give the most important part of it all away really is bittersweet. Everyone is doing it. And as such, again, cutting through the fat is really difficult for fans too. So why pay for music? Ultimately I believe if you feel moved by a song, it should be given its due payment. It really is pennies for an experience.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote.

People would gladly pay hundreds of dollars in one evening on alcohol and unsavory powders and pills for an experience people sometimes have no recollection of. Usually people do this to have a ‘good time’, to forget their troubles, and to ‘be social’. On the other hand, people will not pay more than $10 for a collection of songs that might move them spiritually, heal them emotionally, or change their world view. Because you can get it for $9.99 on iTunes and they have this sale coming up because it’s winter and blah-blah-blah. Artists have now short-changed themselves to such a degree that it begs the question, why?

Know what your product is worth. Know your value. If you are a musician who is ready to give it all away, realize that the people who made the products you purchase every day do not do that. Your guitar/trombone/cello was made by hard working people who got theirs. Not for exposure, not for anything other than to help you create something.

We as musicians pay to create with time, blood, sweat, tears and money. We give our lives to a noble pursuit in order to uplift our selves and others to new heights of emotional and spiritual peace – damn that sounds romantic, I’m gonna run with that line anyway.

There is the issue, right there in front of you. And I believe it is a deeply philosophical one. Some people have a mindset of lack, and some people have a mindset of richness, of daily improvement – of seeking a better experience. Not sticking to the same old tired and repetitive story of “I got so drunk last nite lol #hangover.”


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