In yet another attempt to get beyond the rhetoric that often cripples the debate around musicians livelihoods and the Internet effect on them, I entered into a roughly week long email “interview,” lead bySasha Frere-Jones of the New Yorker that also included the musicians Damon Krukowski and Jace Clayton. If nothing else I am thrilled that Sasha turned me on to Dawn of Midi, whose album Dysnomiais probably the best new music I’ve heard in a very long time. Anyway, I think we all gave it our best, but you can decide. Here’s Sasha’s set up followed by a link to the whole article:
Last month, Damon Krukowski and I discussed Spotify, the public exit of Nigel Godrich and Thom Yorke from that platform, and the various challenges facing musicians who do or don’t want to participate in similar streaming services. Toward the end of the discussion, Damon and I both hinted at the freedom of going free, the moments when giving your music away is more profitable—in the long run—than letting another company sell it inefficiently and unprofitably. Damon expanded on his position in a subsequent article for Pitchfork, but neither of us was advocating that musicians play and record for free, in all scenarios, all the time: nothing of the sort. So before I hand this discussion over to a new panel, one clarification.
My band, Ui, released a clutch of records through Southern Records. These albums are no longer available on Spotify because, according to Southern, the costs of administrating the relationship were not covered by the microscopic amount of revenue generated. I believed them then, and believe them even more now. Because I have no illusions about a horde of people dying to stream instrumental music from the nineties, it occurred to me that offering high-resolution versions of the album for free (through a service like Bandcamp) would allow our music to circulate in the world, and might even sell ten or twenty copies of the vinyl sitting in Southern’s warehouse.
But we’re a defunct band that never experienced much popularity. What about an excellent, working band like Dawn of Midi, whose new album, “Dysnomia,” received a score of 7.9 in Pitchfork this week. (I’d say 8.9 but who’s counting?) This band uses a grand piano, an upright bass, and a drum set to make their music; touring means they either play venues with grand pianos on site (relatively common) or that they rent a very big van (uncommon, if we’re talking about small bands trying to drag around a grand piano). More to the point, their music needs to be recorded in a well-equipped live studio by a skilled engineer; Garageband and other popular home-recording software programs are of no use in properly capturing a mechanically traditional band, that is, despite an advanced aesthetic vision. Some kind of business model needs to remain in place, or we won’t have albums like “Dysnomia.”
To discuss how (mildly) popular musicians (no judgment implied there; simply the acknowledgment that these questions are different for Top 10 artists who can partner with telecommunication and cosmetics companies when releasing albums) are going to survive, I asked Dave Allen, Jace Clayton, and Damon Krukowski to answer a few questions. Dave Allen is Director of Digital Strategy at North, Inc., a bass player, and a founding member of the post-punk band Gang of Four. Jace Clayton is an artist primarily known for his work as DJ /rupture, and is currently writing a book on music at the dawn of the digital century for Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Damon Krukowski is a musician—Damon & Naomi, Galaxie 500—and a writer living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [The full interview]