You might not have time to read this whole post. If so then you can just head to the links below straight away – but for some real context on where all this music is coming from please read on. (Thanks so much if you do!)
The strange times of Covid keep rolling, Sydney is in another lockdown, and we are all still scrambling to keep up. Scrambling to keep up looks different for different people – and despite some social media appearances that ‘everything is fine’ (See this VIDEO to understand the gravitas of that reference), ‘fine’ is a pretty relative term.
Scrambling to keep up for me has looked like a lot of investment into trying to pivot my music business model. For the past 10 years it was based on touring mostly regional areas of Australia and included a lot of folk festivals and community venues. At those places we relied on audience ticket sales and then audience buying physical albums to actually make a reasonable amount of money. Hit 2020 and everyone gets locked down, we are all on the internet all the time, there are no physical concerts, no travelling and no physical album sales. Streaming hits an all time high but also VINYL RECORDS outstrip the sales of CDs. Making vinyl releases is bloody expensive. Releasing on streaming platforms is manageable but streaming revenue amounts to hardly anything – I’m talking literally a few dollars. I’m not even making back the amount it cost me to put it on the platforms in the first place.
Some of you know that at my home of Peppermint Grove Studios I have been live-streaming with my partner Nick Henderson a fair bit over the past year. We did a special edition a couple of weeks ago on a Friday in fact (link HERE), in place of a house concert where we were supposed to host the wonderful Mickey & Michelle from VIC (cancelled due to covid, please go support them!). Live-streaming is a really wonderful way to connect with friends all over the place who are also stuck at home during this time, but also it gives them the chance to watch wonderful live things from their living room which is pretty cool. I’m doing another live-stream tomorrow (July 28th) to celebrate the release of my album Slow Streams Volume 1. You can link to it HERE
I thought that perhaps Live-Streaming could help bolster the income stream a little. We live stream, those watching would enjoy it and consider signing up to my Patreon. It hasn’t quite worked that way so far – only a very small amount of people (very important and fantastic people mind you), have signed up.
Just to give you an idea, dear reader, of what it takes to make a live-stream sound and look nice.
- Good Quality Camera $3000
- Live-stream Switcher $400
- Sound gear (mics, interfaces, speakers, cables, computer, patch bay, pre-amps, outboard effects, pedals) $20 000
- New computer that can handle the CPU usage $3500
- Instruments $70, 000
- Acoustic studio treatment $5000
- Hours spent over the past year researching, testing, streaming, recording, troubleshooting, rehearsing etc. about 1000 hours.
For musicians during this uncertain time, that is just a lot of money. I also haven’t talked about the time, expertise and equipment needed to record, mix, master, market, release and pitch the music after the fact.
So why are you doing all of this you ask, why don’t you just learn coding or web design instead? Maybe make an app, or heck, run a casino?! Asking this of a musician who’s entire life since they were a child is about playing music and all their social fabric revolves around it, it’s a big ask. Music is such a big part of life – it is social, work, meditation, connection, purpose… It’s like asking someone who has lived their entire life on a wide open farm in Tasmania, to pick up their life and go live in a city apartment in Tokyo.
Let’s dig a little more into this from a musician’s perspective
From our perspective
From a musician perspective, so much of our social lives also revolve around musical activities. When we play at a festival or venue, we are amongst many like minded people who play many of the same festivals and venues around the country (or world!). We become friends, we share experiences, we start to share opportunities and very importantly WORK opportunities. Nearly all of my work opportunities have come to me through other creative friends. It’s not because someone has found me on the internet or liked a song on spotify. It’s because we have shared good quality professional and friendship experiences and hence they call me for work opportunities.
Socially, places where we make music are most often the places we see our friends. Rehearsals, performances and tours. We talk, play music, make and eat food, explore the world through travel, join forces on like-minded issues. We end up with deep friendships and support groups. Take away the concerts and tours, and we suddenly find our support groups and communication extraordinarily difficult to maintain. I, for one, took all these structures around being a musician for granted. Over this past year and a half it has been very difficult to be together with people I care for, simply because I wasn’t mentally prepared to change my habits of socialising overnight. My usual ‘love language’ of getting my friends together for musical activities became extra difficult and also un-inspiring.
I want to make a note that this last thing isn’t necessarily all bad. It has shone a light on the fact that for me (not for everyone), music IS my main connecting tool to society. As much as I am a avid gardener, I haven’t been working on establishing a gardening group of tightly knit friends across the world for the last 20 years. In fact it has been longer really as I think about my oldest friend Laura Altman that I met at age 4 when my mum taught her piano! It has made me think that for some of my musical friends, there are other ways that we can connect and I’m working on that…
From a non professional musician perspective
There are a lot of music lovers out there, but there are also a lot of people who don’t even realise how much music is a massive part of life, and if you took it away, the world would be miserable.
Playing your fav video game? A musician created the music for that. Watching your fav netflix series? A musician created the music for that. Feeling stressed and put on ‘chill ambient’ playlist? Musicians created the music for that. Feeling cool at you local second hand shop? The groovy tunes in the background are by musicians. Enjoying that sweet background jazz trio at your cousins wedding? Those are musicians. Enjoying a drink at the local joint? I’ll be damned if there isn’t some music on in the background or a live band. What about all those arts festivals and markets? Music there too, and it’s a place for retail stalls and community connections. Got the radio playing on that drive home from work? Ah – what would life feel like without all of that music?
To sum up and talk about releasing music…
It has become all too clear over this last year and a half that ‘the arts’ don’t seem to have the kind of respect and care it should from our government. I believe this is also reflective of a miss-understanding from our society at large about how our lives would be without it. If it IS something we have learnt as a society, that social connections are the very fabric and reason we can even exist as a species and grow. Without the arts – without music, dance, writing, creativity … we could not hold together our social fabrics. Then where would we be as a species?
I feel very similarly to the ongoing challenge of human destruction of the earth’s natural spaces. Without becoming too dark here, Bees are a perfect example and hold a real parallel with the way that arts are being treated in society.
Bees are the greatest pollinators of our fruit and vegetables. Without them, entire ecosystems and our food systems would collapse. Yet humans continue to wreak havoc on their possibility of survival through unsustainable and dangerous chemical practices in agriculture. And the general population do not see this – because they are so small and we have grown up learning to be afraid of their sting (which is so incredibly rare).
The artists are like the bees. They are the greatest pollinators of our hospitality and entertainment industries, our social spaces and modes of experiencing our world. Yet they are taken for granted, because although they are so fundamental to our society, they often go unseen and under appreciated.
Imagine though, for a moment, that all the bees are gone. How barren the earth would stand. Imagine as well, for a moment, that all the artists are gone. How barren your life would be.
‘Bees are my furry friends’ is the second track of this wonderful live E.P. that has made its way out into the world a couple of weeks ago. The album is of course Nick Henderson and myself as Little Clouds, with special guest Nick Calligeros on trumpet. I hope you enjoy the full E.P. and I hope you can tune in tomorrow night for our next live-stream as well. And if you like the music and art being created by people you know – make sure you are supporting them in whatever way is sustainable for you.