Some time ago one of my friends and one of the owners of a local record shop/venue, Modern Cult Records, posed a question (friends only post, unfortunately) on Facebook:
Why do so many bands tour directly around Louisville? How can we change this frustrating f**king trend? Do I need to open my own damn venue?
While a number of folks piped in with their explanations and suggestions for how that might be changed, anyone who’s been in any local scene outside of the big music meccas like New York, Chicago, and Nashville has probably felt this way at some point. Indeed, a few (including me) brought that point up–namely, that it’s a pretty regular scenario in most cities. This comment by Syd Bishop, musician and music writer for the LEO (Louisville Eccentric Observer) Weekly, sums up the sentiment nicely:
It seems a little absurd to assume that whatever sort of cliques may occur in Louisville are either unique to our city, or of such widespread knowledge that they would make it out of town. I doubt very much that anyone in, say, Des Moines, is sitting around bemoaning how clique-ish the Louisville scene is when they are booking a tour. This is all about logistics and money and nothing more.
The other day, I was thinking about the Aesop’s Fable, “The Miller, His Son, and Their Ass“, while I was reflecting on the direction my musical career has taken. This was after a nine-day stint of 21 performances across a variety of musical genres.*
You are surely familiar with the story–a miller and his son take their ass to the market to sell it and along the way they meet several individuals or groups of people who comment or criticize them on their trip. The miller and his son adjust their journey according the comments or criticisms: when told they should be riding the ass, the miller puts his son on the ass; when criticized for not respecting the aged, the miller replaces himself on the ass; when criticized for being lazy, the miller then lets his son ride behind him; and when told they could more easily carry the ass rather than have it carry them, they proceed to tie the legs of the beast and haul it around with a pole. As they cross a bridge near the town, the townsfolk laugh at the sight before them and the commotion frightens the ass which breaks free of the restraints and tumbles into the river.
The obvious moral of the story is that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
As most of you know, I’ve not been blogging nearly as much as in the past–I go through periods like this. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing/thinking/analyzing things. I was just looking at all the recent drafts I’ve been working on and decided rather than trying to finish one I’ll just post some of the things I’ve been exploring in these posts–kind of a “cliffs notes” version of my blogging thought process. Some of this is inspired from some recent discussions I’ve been having on Facebook or other social media (where it seems like I’m having much more active interactions about these subjects), the rest is just I’d like to get some of these ideas out there even if they’re not complete thoughts yet.
One of frequent questions I’m asked when I point out the immense growth of opera companies, orchestras, and classical music ensembles over the past few decades is what their financial model is and whether that translates to making a livable wage or even whether that translates into the organization being sustainable and able to stay out of the red more than the mainstream, incumbent organizations.
Since my narrative, contra the Classical Music Crisis, involves demonstrating the field is simply constantly changing and evolving and redistributing total [performance and contributed] revenue to other newer organizations, I’ve been much more concerned with the trajectory of Classical Music group life-cycles.* The Crisis narrative focuses primarily on the mainstream and incumbent organizations and their health as a litmus test of the health of the field overall. Much of that narrative relies on a relatively static ensemble (and in some cases, a static and hegemonic audience culture) that’s unwilling to change.**
One of the long term research projects I’ve been working on is the attrition rates of local bands. Over the years I’ve had many discussions with local musicians about how often bands fold, or how a singer-songwriter will drop off the face of the earth, or how a musician decides to go back to school to learn a different trade–the reasons are numerous.
Last year I started tracking and creating a database of bands or solo acts I’ve played shows with over the past couple of decades. I’ve had this sense that a majority of musicians eventually get out of music (or at least curtail their music performing activities significantly) after a few years. There’s a sense that after a few years most acts are pretty much done (I’ve estimated anywhere from 70% to 90% of them*), and probably about half end by the first year or two.