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We Are All In The Music Business Now, Apparently

Anthony Dean-Harris
anthony.deanharris[at]nextbop[dot]com / @retronius

I’ve been writing a lot about Kickstarter projects lately. It all started in a trickle that seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d see these calls to action from time to time from folks like Neal Pollack to help with his book on his experiences in yoga, Stretch. I saw my good friends, the post-punk/soul band, Tendaberry, use it to fund the recording of their upcoming EP. So when jazz folks started to show up and use this system, which seems to have worked for projects like these, it made more than logical sense. Then they all seemed to start rolling in rather quickly, to the point where it has started to feel a little overwhelming. So now, I’m starting to wonder a couple of things about the jazz community using this rather handy tool: what does this all mean and what do we do next?

What got me thinking about all this rang in after a post Jason Parker made the other day on his blog concerning his Kickstarter project to record his cover album of Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left (21 days left to pitch in, y’all). As he thanks all those who donated (I would if I could but let’s just say I’m juggling to make ends meet, but I’ll give it the attention this project deserves.) so far, he noted, “…you have become an active participant in the process…in effect YOU are my record label! How cool is that?!?!?” For a second, I thought that sentiment came out of nowhere. I’m part of a record label? Or really, if I weren’t hella broke right now, I would be part of a record label? When did that happen? But more and more it started to make sense.

A direct outreach to the fans seems like the logical next move. This isn’t exactly something unforeseen. Artisans have always looked for patrons to create their work. The idea of the record label is technically in that same line of thinking. Artists, like any other laborer, needs backing to make their work for the world. Sometimes it’s some rich dude for his own benefit; sometimes it’s an arts foundation; sometimes it’s the public at large. Kickstarter is the Internet Age’s version of patronage. It’s time to hit up your Ecclesiastes, folks, because we’ve been here before.

It’s also rather poetic, in a way. We’re a public of constant consumers, many downloading whatever we can free. The torrent and the ever increasing hard drive space (and probably a little bit of peer pressure) drives our need for more and more music. (Although, it seems I’m legally obtaining most of my jazz albums lately because the community at large doesn’t torrent many jazz albums. It’s sort of the same rationale behind why Macs don’t get viruses, there aren’t enough people using them for it to be worth the effort. Bam!) Now the tables have turned and the outstretched hands requesting funds for the beginnings of projects instead of the end products are coming our way now that the record label business model is sputtering. It only seemed natural that something like this would happen-- and in such public view as everything else is on the internet.

Though now that it seems so many folks have caught on to this website, it’s gotten to feel a bit overwhelming. Maybe it would help to think about choosing between putting twenty bucks toward Jason Parker’s Nick Drake project, Search and Restore’s operating budget (3 days left), and/or the debut ERIMAJ album (29 days left, we’ll remind you again with a post of its own soon) as akin to shopping on Etsy with the added pressure of Ebay and the feeling of accomplishment of TOMS Shoes. When there was just an author you’ve read some short pieces of or your friends’ punk band, it was one thing to chip in to help. Seeing a whole community swarm on this thing is, as Texans tend to say, a whole ‘nother matter.

So this moves us on the other question: what do we do next? More specifically, can this last? It wouldn’t be a bad thing if this kind of backing of jazz albums and associated projects continued for quite a while. True, it was rather jarring to see so many projects crop up at once (from the same website, this isn’t also counting Darcy James Argue’s recent call to his fans for support), but this is the upswell of a good idea. The idea of crowd sourcing the funding for arts projects has always been pretty cool in a kitschy kind of way. For if this same sort of quirky energy that can surround the feeling of independent films that’ll put folks’ names in the credits can carry over to the always rather quirky jazz genre, it wouldn’t exactly be a bad banner to bear. That sort of vibe may be part of this next state of jazz.

Ah yes, dear reader, this discussion of the state of our genre continues to roll along. Do you remember the last time I mentioned that we’ve been asking these questions? We’re moving along from how do we present it, promote it, and sell it in the 21st Century to the broader, more general, but still very necessary question of how to support it. Of course, we’re not leaving these other questions behind but we’re moving on (at a seemingly quick pace, it seems) to ask new questions. If anything, this seems a testimony to jazz not being dead if those in the genre are continuing to try new inventive methods not only in the music but also on the business end. Jazz may be fighting to survive and stay relevant, but efforts like these show it’s fighting hard. And it would seem all of us, artists, writers, publicists, and music fan alike, are in this fight together.