Games

On my previous blog I was fond of writing up little games. My interest in both game theory as a  mathematical concept, as well as game design as a social concept have fueled my interest in these improvisatory games.

Game #1)

Simple Syrup:

Two musicians sit opposite one another, and trade notes. Literally and figuratively.

Notes:
This would be an example that is more of a conceptual performance exploration than a full piece per se. Stockhausen did lots of these – they can be fun in some sense, but unless they are carefully designed, they can devolve into uncreative wanking.

Game #2)

Subversion:

Two musicians must play as many notes as they can (always changing the notes.) If a unison ever occurs, the player the initiated the unison will lose. Additionally, a low E may be played as a home base hiding spot.

Notes:
This sort of game is a little more complex. It introduces some competition, but does not quantify anything. This is in the gist of the games Xenakis wrote. The game can be interesting, but only insofar that the musicians consent to competing with one another. Despite their business tactics, which are quite the opposite, musicians are simply terrible at competing with each other directly in this way on the stage. I think they may love each other too much.

Game #3):

Sub-Version:

Six musicians sit in a circle. There is an arbiter in a central position who watches over them. The musicians are blindfolded. They cannot speak. The musicians must improvise, but if the arbiter decides that an arbitrary cadence point has been achieved, then he calls out “iteration X” where X is a number starting at 0 and progressing toward 6. There are consequences.

Iteration 0: Nothing.

Iteration 1: Each musician must append an ostinato phrase to his improvisation every once and a while.

Iteration 2: Each musician must occasionally play the highest note on the instrument.

Iteration 3: Each musician must occasionally play the lowest note on the instrument.

Iteration 4: Each musician must breifly play repeated notes.

Iteration 5: Each musician must breifly use silence.

Iteration 6: The game is ending.

If no “cadences” occur – and this is likely – the arbiter will yell “stalling” and each musician must pause for a moment.

At any time, one of the musicians may alter the position of the iterator by calling out “i = ” and a number.

At any time, one of the musicians may start from 0, separately by calling out “branch.” This musician must be iterated separately from the others.

He may be forced to join his friends again if the arbiter calls out “merge.” His iteration becomes the group iteration.

Notes:
This sort of game approaches, but does not achieve the level of complexity found in games like John Zorn’s Cobra. It also introduces a game conductor, as well a mathematical operation. That may be interesting to elaborate on in later games. I imagine that in practice, each of these games will need significant tinkering to be properly used.

Solutions to Our Predicament

Momitization for creative musicians part 2: solutions

But what can we do about the situation?

In these middling economic times, it might be tempting to give up and resign creative music to the space of avocation.  I have seen this argument from a number of highly skilled musicians, who despite their virtuosity, are unable to make a living, or are making a living so meager that it is insulting to their position within the arts.

This is neither helpful, nor necessary, as models both historical and current abound for the funding of the arts. I shall also speculate as to the effectiveness of the some of the existing alternative systems.

Before we go further, I should specify that I am mostly speaking of, and to the legions of “working” musicians who once formed the bulk of professional music. That is to say, not pop music stars. Rather, the strata that once made up the musical “middle class.” There will always be stars, but the “every day” professional and commercial musician seems to be waning concept.

 

Supply and demand in the arts.

Some might give lectures about a supply and demand in the arts. The national endowment of the arts lectures to us that there is in fact a glut of fine art existing now. http://www.azarts.gov/news-resources/news/in-response-to-supply-and-demand-in-the-arts/

In fact this is a specious concept. There has never been a shortage of artists, only a shortage of famous figures. We must not conflate the two.  I would wager that there isn’t much more art per capita than there ever was. You see, many, many, many people attempt to make art. Only a few try to make a living at it, and since making a living in the arts means building an audience, artists must achieve some form of fame.

Just like any reasonably successful business would.  A successful local business will reach thousands if not millions of people. However, it is ever more difficult for artists to achieve even the moderate levels of fame they need just to put food on the table. And it should be easier today!

What we see today, is that while the majority of the music industry becomes more impoverished, more and more consumers are being pushed toward fewer and fewer famous figures. The larger mainstream music industry effectively controls the number of famous figures, and not the market itself.

In the minor leagues of music, the opposite effect prevails and consumers are free to pick from thousands of effectively non-famous artists, who are almost by definition making a meager living from their music.  Effectively supply is infinite, or in some sense zero. For if all artists are disposable artists, is any artist significant at all?

In this state of affairs, musicians are selected for reasons that are less balanced than before. Since nearly all artists below the threshold of fame are fighting for the a slice of a ghostly, almost non existent audience there is no force (fame) that can enforce competitive consequences. Therefore, traditionally trained musicians, and innovative electronic musicians are not able to actually compete with one another, and musicians end up being chosen for careers based on physical appearance, or superficial stylistic choices, or worse personal connections and nepotism.

Significant artists cannot be produced with any quality without a viable “minor league”

Artists are enjoying less and less staying power than they once did. This is for a number of reasons. However, one important detail that is often missed is that is increasingly impossible for artists to build an audience rather than inherit one.

Throughout the classical, Jazz, Rock, and early EDM eras the model for most artists was to tour consistantly, and build up a following among music aficionados across the united states. This provided a space where artists could meaningfully compete with one another, and practice constantly. While artists partaking in “underground” music concerts from the 1920’s to the dawn of this century were certainly not well paid, they were able to eke out an existence that was proportional to their success musically, and work consistently.

Because of this, the artists that made it to the top rungs of music tended to be at least technically competent, and it was possible to speak of a “mill” of song writers, and virtuosos being produced by the system.  This system was a hot bed for creative energy, and without it is very difficult for meaningful technical advancement to occur in music.

The recent artist bankruptcy in the “major leagues” of music is surely do to the loss of this model. Instead of being the best of the minor leagues, artists are selected based on appearance, or other superficial attributes. While top artists are always been more or less beautiful, in past years they could contribute to their musical field far more consistently.

The not for profit model of arts funding

At  a certain point, someone decided that artists could be supported via donations, and these donations would be tax deductible.

This was acceptable for a time, but at a certain point, individual artists lost favor to “arts groups.” that is to say groups purportedly advocating for artists. Many spend hours concocting plans to build sprawling organizations for this reason.

How many of these organizations succeed? Is this a reasonable expectation for artists?

It is hard to say, but the hurdles to producing a successful, tax exempt non profit are significant. What’s more the very notion flies in the face of logic. Artists, as a rule, should not be viewed as non-profits. The goal of most artists is simply to survive, and thrive. This on it’s own isn’t a very good rationale for pushing most creative and academic musicians toward forming their own tax exempt organizations.

To be perfectly straightforward, the idea slightly abuses the intentions for non-for-profits. Artists should be receiving arts funding from organizations. What happens more often is that artists form their own organizations so that they may collect money more or less for themselves.

These organizations create a situation where the organization is surviving on grants, and donations, rather than ticket sales. This means that the organization has much reduced their energy for what is arguably a more important function: building an audience.

Still, this model works very well for some organizations. However, the hard truth is that there is very little arts funding in the United States for organizations like these, and as many young composers and performers attempt to form such organizations that funding may become harder to come by for artists who are lesser known quantities.

Academia

Now some musicians expect that the only possible way for them to make a living in creative music is to become university professors. One can imagine why this is a formula for heart break. Simply put, only a small percentage of even the best students can secure tenured positions in academia. At the same time, adjunct positions in the arts are becoming brutally underfunded, if not completely eliminated.

The direct patronage system
In times of yore, artists were supported directly by wealthy patrons, and some still are to this day. But how many, and by who? Is this practice on the rise or on the fall?

What percentage of the 1% gives ? Is it reasonable to expect patronage?

There isn’t a way that I can think of to quantify this. It is my suspicion that giving directly to artists has  become somewhat less fashionable than it once was. As the United States tightens its belt, this may be of the things that will be harder to come by. Websites are beginning to pop up, allowing for users to give money via the internet.

It could be that, in less challenging economic times, the idea of patronage via the net catches on, and saves a lot of artists from struggling. However, I suspect that this is a method that will work preferentially for artists who are already known quantities.

The software development model for arts funding

now what if we had venture capitalists? What would that take ?

Software developers sure do have things a lot easier don’t they? In case you didn’t know, many companies are given millions of dollars to work on projects that seem a great deal more silly than the average opera. Phone apps that will never see the light of day. It may be more than worth it for artists to begin to think of themselves as start ups looking for investors.

In which case, the question becomes: How do we argue our worth to investors?

Can a modern opera turn a profit? What could Berg do if it was funded almost infinitely?

I think these are questions that we, as a community should be asking ourselves.
The auction system

Looking towards art, the Auction system does in fact work on some level. While most visual artists will never go to auction, and the vast majority of those that do will only go once, the possibility is there to “auctionize” music successfully. Imagine composers auctioning off their works, or performers auctioning private performances. This is an idea that should be tried.

Of course, finding the correct audience for the auction will be critical.

The Union System

Musicians do in fact have unions. However, music unions don’t play the same role in society that they once did. At one time music unions could control the minimum wage for performers across New York City. Musicians could pick up work in union lounges, and easily augment their wages via their connections.

Sadly, this is no longer the case.

Unions mostly serve Orchestra members, Broadway musicians, and cruise ship pit bands.

I wonder what a revitalized, or radicalized music union would look like? Can you imagine if the union set a minimum price paid to bands at a concert?

What do you imagine that price would be? Do you think anyone would be able to pay it? Do you think musicians would be able to enforce this?

Conclusions

Musicians aren’t without hope. There are many paths for the future. However, musicians should be careful, and more importantly, somewhat unified in their quest to recover their lunches. I think the wider solution to the crisis of musical dollars is for greater awareness and activism in the music world.

Musicians, stand up. Claim your living.

Monetization for Creative Musicians

part 1: How bad is it? 

This started with a Facebook post:”Let me ask a loaded question: Is it the artists responsibility to create his own audience, or to serve an theoretically pre-existing audience? As an addendum, is it the artists responsibility to monetize his or her art (music), or should there be a useful societal scaffolding for that already in place?”

It is interesting to note that, the ensuing conversation over facebook did not seek to answer either of these questions. The question itself provoked strong feeling for everyone, and as usual  the conversation spun toward “Should creative musicians care about money?”

The reason I asked the questions, is that I have been doing my best to keep my head above water with both a rigorous artistic life, and a day job that can pay my bills. I’m doing well enough, but many of my friends aren’t. I want to develop an awareness that things don’t have to be this way. That if we band together and develop superior business practices, a higher number of can lead a successful life in the arts.

However, to be able to do that, we must ask some tough questions about the current paradigm, and make some quick definitions about what it means to be a professional musician. For the purposes of this discussion, I will assume that it is in the best interest of an artist to have free time to pursue his or her art, and that some amount of funding also helps just about anyone’s artistic life. Short story: Money should be good for artists.

In the old paradigm, artists sought to exploit an existing market via an existing societal scaffolding. That is to say, a jazz musician knew there was a Jazz public, and would ply his trade at a Jazz venue, receiving funds for his work because “what else would you do?” Artists expected payment, and while some were reticent to pay them, society knew it was expected that they pay. There was little question that being a “working” musician was an attainable vocation, just a risky low paying one.

This is why, to this very day, musicians are taught a very special set of vocational skills in music schools. They are (generally) taught things about being on time to gigs, hanging out with musicians after the gig, and working on “doubling” instruments. The idea being to collect valuable “pick up” and studio gigs. If you are good enough, the system will reward and sustain you via word of mouth in the musical elite.

Meanwhile, “popular” musicians learn a totally different set of skills related to touring, self promotion, and releasing albums. If a pop act is popular enough, the act will be able to make enough money on ticket sales to survive, and sustain the popularity through album releases. The idea was to exploit popular sentiment, sustaining your sales through widespread knowledge of your music.

Notice that neither of these groups receives training regarding being an business person or entrepreneur.

The question is, should musicians expect to sustain either or these into the future? If the answer is yes, then musicians should be doing everything they can to fix these systems and the attitudes that drive both of them. This is because both are undeniably broken.

Of course, given the attitudes, and status of our industry this is hard to demonstrate with concrete numbers. Since musicians make money in such a variety of ways, and since the fortunes of  musicians working in the “underground” and “working” music industry are so vastly different than the pop stars we know, it is difficult to get meaningful numbers. I did some searching around for a few things, which sadly I was not able to find. Those of you who read this are welcomed to fill in the details:

  • Wages of Orchestra musicians over the last 100 years
  • Record sales over the history of the recording industry
  • Average album price over the history of the recording industry
  • Wages of Unionized studio musicians over the history of music unions.
  • Wages of T.V and film composers over the history of T.V and film.

Another thing that stands in the way of our understanding is hope. You see, very many of us would like to see hope in the numbers that are published. Hope that we too can make a living plying our craft (and what a humble hope that is.) The sad fact is that we accept numbers that are frankly, not so good, with inappropriate  joy.

Take a gander at this site: http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2013/12/23/full-time-musicians

It is a list of several professional musicians, and how they are making a living at their music. While on the surface, the fact that these musicians are making a living is hopeful, we should not jump to conclusions so fast. Young musicians might be excited by a “salary” of $35-50k, but we should not jump to conclusions so fast. Look at how many things these musicians are doing with their time. They are doing what could be 3 middle class jobs worth of work to receive compensation that is on the cusp of poverty. With $35k you would be making less than a NYC school teacher. The more horrifying idea, is that it is likely that most musicians would not be able to sustain the level of popularity that these artist show. Some of the folks on this blog have thousands of dedicated fans. This might very well be the upper 1% of “underground” musicians, making their $50k. If the best of us are riding the poverty line, what about the rest of us?

Worse yet, the value of $35k is rapidly degrading, while these “wages” are not increasing. In my fathers time $35k might have been able to sustain a family. Many musicians I know have chosen to forgo family life because they simply cannot afford children.

Well, what about orchestra musicians?

http://www.musicianwages.com/average-income-of-a-musician/ lists some wages.

New York Philharmonic: $134,940
Kansas City Symphony: $45,822
Louisville Orchestra: $34,225
San Francisco Opera: $78,445 – See more at: http://www.musicianwages.com/average-income-of-a-musician/#sthash.c2LOsOHx.dpuf
While 80k a year might seem decent enough, one must remember something about this numbers. Only the upper 1% of all musicians ever get the chance to work in an orchestra. Orchestra members are often employed for life, and orchestra sizes are actively shrinking. This means that the most elite musicians on earth can expect payment similar to a middling computer programmer.
http://www.indeed.com/salary/q-Software-Engineer-l-New-York,-NY.html
In NYC the middle income for a software Engineer is $117,000. These guys are not the best software engineers in the world. I have heard of recent graduates being paid far in excess of that.

 

Well, What about a music teacher?

http://www.indeed.com/salary/Music-Teacher.html

The average income for a music teacher is about $27,000 a year. In NYC this is significantly below the poverty line. A music teacher might even be able to collect food stamp benefits. This is a little galling for someone who might have spent 4-6 years in the conservatory honing their skills.

 

Well, What about album sales?

Of course, everyone knows album sales have been tricky since the dawn of the napster age, but let me show just how scary things are. Don’t get me wrong, I would never encourage you to be negative, but the numbers are intimidating.

The standard price for a .mp3 is 0.99 USD. Let us round that up to a dollar for simplicity, and ignore the fact that most merchants (like i-Tunes, and Amazon.com) will take a cut of your earnings. What would it take to make a living selling .mp3s? Easy! You’d have to sell about 30,000 of them a year (at least) to survive well. If you wanted to cut things down to the U.S minimum wage you could sell as few as 16,000 of them, but let’s assume that you’d like to make enough money to have your own place, and to invest back into your music business. I think 30,000 is a reasonable goal. This ignores taxes, and the cut that your merchant will take, and operating expenses of course.

How many folks would we have to reach to get that done? Most marketing folks say that a good “conversion rate” (the number of people who you reach who actually buy the product) is about 30%. I would suspect that in music situations it is far, far lower.

If somehow 90,000 folks see your album you might conceivably maybe break the poverty line.  I hope your shows are packed.

This brings up a good point. What about albums? Shouldn’t some folks be buying my music $10 at a time.  How does that affect the numbers? (and ignore the fact that most people buy singles these days.)

Sure. You’d have to sell a paltry 3,000 albums (or so) to make a living, reaching only 9,000 folks. That’s like, just one show at the palladium. You are so set.

 

What about touring?

Now, a lot of people will say that touring is the answer, and that live music will fix the ills of the piracy laden online music market. Let us examine that for a moment.

If you are musician, I want you to take a moment to remember how many dollars you make on a show each time you play one. How much did you make? Your band? There aren’t useful averages for this sort of thing, but we can do some careful thinking to see exactly what it would take to make a living at this.

Let us imagine, that we are running a band of 3 people. This is a sensible minimum, and is common for rock groups. How many shows would we have to play in order to make a living off the door? How much would we have to charge? How many people would show up?

If we are to provide a good living for our three folks, we need to rake in $90,000 a year in concert revenue. How many concerts can we play a year? Let us assume that we are super human, and can play concerts 365 days a year. In that situation, we would need to only pull about $250 a concert. If concert tickets are the (very common) price of $10, we would only need to attract 25 people to a concert. Every night of the year.

In reality, a concert series of 100 shows a year is considered to be somewhat extreme. In that case we need to make $900 a show, convincing 90 people to throw us $10. That means we need to sell these tickets to 9,000 people, and reach at least 27,000 people in our ad campaign. This all assumes that we are receiving 100% of our revenue, and are paying no taxes.

Now some of you might say that “well, that’s doable at least”, but to me this sounds like a ridiculous level of success to be having to only be just making ends meet. You might want to meditate on whether $10 is a fair price for a concert these days, or whether or not concerts are even a viable institution any more.

How many concerts do you go to a week?

How much did you pay?

How many other people were there?

I am willing to bet the answers to those questions were “less than 10″, “less than 10″, and “less than 10.”

There’s more

This time we gave a realistic indication of how bad things are, next time we will talk about what it would mean for us to create our own audience, or rectify the behavior of the current music audience / music industry system.





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New Website is Up

Welcome! I’ve finally upgraded my web presence from 1998. I will slowly be adding all of the old material, as well as new stuff.
I’ve been working on several new projects, including more video game based music, the text piece collection and an Opera. I will be appearing in concert in the near future:
– I will be playing Open Tangents (by fellow Florida composer Luke Schwartz at the Electro-Acoustic Barn Dance this November 9th
– I will be playing at the Freedom Garden November 3rd.

Stay tuned for more content as the future rolls on.

 

As a bonus  for reading my rather dry opening day of the website, here is a recording of my last performance at ABC No Rio:

Enjoy!