I once asked a colleague I often work with if they’d be interested in being part of a project I was involved in at the request of another colleague. My colleague declined stating they were not interested and only really wanted to take low maintenance gigs. This colleague gigs as often as, if not more often than I do, so I completely understood the sentiment as it’s one that I have when it comes to taking on gigs or new musical projects.
I spend so much time reading others’ thoughts about the music business that some folks might consider it a waste of time. That’s neither what this post is about nor do I think I’m wasting my time doing this kind of reading. Neither is this about all the time not doing music in service of music career (e.g. travel, set-up/break-down, networking); nor am I talking about the endless hours doing inefficient rehearsals or practicing.
This post is about the actual musical activities musicians do that tend to be a waste of time. And here, by “waste of time,” I mean that these are things that will have a low Return On Investment (ROI).
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 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.
A few weeks ago I read a clickbait piece on mic.com, “How The Music Industry Is Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs.” It linked to a study showing how the emotion centers of the brain light up in fMRIs when familiar tunes were played to the test subjects. This isn’t a particularly surprising result. The phenomenon has been well documented in psychological studies and is one of the most robust psychological phenomena around. The seminal research was done in a recall test using Chinese characters. It showed that test subjects could only recall characters they were shown previous at little better than chance levels, but when asked which characters the subjects liked, invariably the characters they were shown earlier were picked.
This is an aspect of human psychology that gives interesting ammo to both sides of the Classical Music Crisis debate. The idea that Pop music is somehow more relevant to contemporary culture loses some of its force when we realize that the constant bombardment of [Euro-American] pop tunes insures that a relatively big audience will “prefer” them to Classical Music, or Bollywood Music, or whatever genre happens to not be dominant in the US at the time. It’s simply a reflection of the “mere exposure effect.”