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In The Garden of Money

October 15, 2013

Triptych of Garden of Earthly Delights (right wing)

In the garden of money
Resentment blooms.

In the jazz music world there has been a steady deterioration of the artist’s economy for at least forty years. This decline began with desegregation and rising real estate costs. The traditional Black communities where jazz began, developed and flourished got colonized and absorbed into the wider marketplace. Just as it became more and more expensive to keep a neighborhood club open, it became more and more difficult to integrate what will never be a ‘popular’ music into the mainstream economy. With the advent of the internet, the physical product of LPs and CDs virtually disappeared. 10 years ago I was talking to the brilliant composer and musician George Lewis about the exciting possibilities of internet distribution. He said, “Yes, but the problem will be the same. How will people know about me?”

The scale and nature of internet distribution means that with services like Spotify and Pandora, etc., musicians must accumulate 100,000 hits before any meaningful compensation arrives. That is just not realistic for most jazz professionals. In a report release today (10/15/13) Spotify revealed that in a (reported) catalog of 20 million songs, 4 million have never been played once. Gizmodo reported this claim by saying that this was “music that nobody wants to listen to.” This kind of equation that says that because something isn’t racking up numbers on Spotify means that nobody wants to listen to it is not only wrong, it’s insulting. More and more musicians are pulling their work from those services, most saying that they can’t make any money there and that free data devalues the market overall.

I have seen this steady decline in the opportunities for both performance and payment over the years give rise to no small amount of bitterness and resentment among some professionals.  They see vast fortunes being made by a small number of performers and middlemen selling what most regard as mediocre, often clownish entertainment, while skilled artists of what is often called (unfortunately, to my mind) America’s Classical Music are so marginalized that few actually make a living with the music itself. Most rely on teaching or working in the regular, wage-slave economy. Again, this has been a long and drawn out process for musicians. The same process is now happening (or has been for about 10 years) for writers and photographers who used to work as journalists.

I have no solution to this problem. We are in the midst of a vast cultural shift and no one really knows, nor can they know, what the landscape will look like once it settles down.

It has also been my experience with musicians that, in general, they are not what we would call ‘early adopters’. In fact the force of tradition in the musical community is a very powerful one. Most musicians and composers of the avant-garde spend a good part of their lifetimes as exiles from the traditional community. In a regular industry, the avant-garde are called the innovators and are generally recognized and rewarded for their positive, creative work. Not so in the music world. The strength of conservatism tends to carry over to technology. It took two decades and the passing of a generation for computer-based equipment to enter the realm of acceptable instrumentation, regardless of its apparent ubiquity now.

When I attempt to discuss what may be new, or actually renewed approaches to creative work, I’m often met with appeals to ‘what should be’ and ‘how it used to be.’ And to be fair, sometimes I’m simply talking about technological systems that are unfamiliar, unknown, and/or untested in the creative community. However, there are aspects of this that are interesting, having to do with technology and cultural behavior.

First and least interesting is the process of lowering expectations. Most serious musicians have already undergone this process and have been forced to accept the reality that it is next to impossible to support oneself as a creative artist in the United States. This is not new. But the rise of the superstar in the mass-market music industry and the gross misapplication of wealth have nevertheless produced a veiled jealousy among some who work in the creative fields and are effectively locked out of that industrial process. Where money is, resentment blooms. And I have no solution to this problem either. I have written elsewhere that Music is Worthless.

But I think it is becoming clear that for both creative musicians and now also for journalists the phenomenon of the aggregator, the principle threat to the legacy industries, as an honest and fair intermediary is not going to work, if for no other reason than that it is part of that industrial mass-market system itself. For musicians, this means streamers like Spotify, Pandora and others are useless as direct generators of revenue. For journalists, this means that, as it is, there will be no added revenue regardless of how many times your work is repeated by any number of other aggregators. I run a small aggregator myself with the Paper.li technology (http://paper.li/paxlupo) and currently there is no way for the original authors to be paid for the redistribution of their work.

But there can be, and the technology does exist in nascent form with micropayments made possible by using Bitcoin itself or with a platform such as Flattr.com. Now I want to say very clearly that I have some issues with Flattr and it is far from perfect, but I do think it is moving in the right direction. That direction is one that encourages voluntary contributions made directly to creators. Using Bitcoin, the whole problem of an intermediary service like Flattr is eliminated because Bitcoin is both the platform and the currency. For musicians it is a simple matter of putting a bitcoin address on your website, Bandcamp, Soundcloud or other hosting service where you already post your work and probably receive nothing for it; you consider it advertising. In performance it means simply posting or projecting a QR code at the gig. For the journalist it is simply a matter of including your Bitcoin address (or QR code) along with your by-line in such a way that it stays with your work no matter how many times it gets bounced; in fact the more bounces the better. But Bitcoin is currently not very user-friendly, though that’s changing. It still has very marginal use and must be converted to fiat currency for any practical purpose.  When the day arrives that you can pay your electric bill with Bitcoin that will be great, but we’re not there yet. Flattr on the other hand deals in standard national currencies as well as Bitcoin, but as it is implemented now the main drawbacks are its service fees, its inability to designate specific amounts to specific artists, and its poor adoption in the US. It also has an added technical difficulty for writers of incorporating the Flattr button code on to the originator’s blog or website and it is unclear to me if that code will survive the aggregation process. Nevertheless, the technology is there, at least in basic form, to enable micropayments directly from users to creators.

This brings us to the cultural aspect of the process. The current model has creators negotiating or otherwise determining the cost to the consumer up front. Money is exchanged before the product or performance is delivered. But in free data world, almost no one will pay anymore for music they haven’t heard. For journalists, this is the problem with paywalls. Internet consumers are reluctant to pay for what might be behind that wall. I recently saw speculation that a mass layoff of writers and photographers at the Palm Beach Post was not because of the internet, but because of a paywall recently put up by the newspaper in an attempt to generate revenue.  The argument was that by putting up a paywall and shutting people out, they lost click-through ad revenue. Who knows? But it’s pretty clear that unless you’re the New York Times, Washington Post or Bloomberg Financial, paywalls don’t work. Even if they manage to work for the company, content creators are still looking at a legacy industry with a collapsing workforce.

But given that all real artists of any discipline do what they do by nature, meaning that they must create to be who they are, then it is incumbent on the culture to find a way of rewarding them, rather than it being the artists responsibility to figure out how to get paid. Let me repeat that: it is the responsibility of the people to reward the artist, not the responsibility of the artist to coerce the people. In short, I believe it is imperative that the relationship between artist and populace be returned to one of mutual respect. This is definitely not what we have today. What we have today is widespread disrespect of artists as creators, and disrespect of audiences as intelligent, aware beings who are our neighbors. So what I am suggesting is that we need to move toward a culture that says “thank you” rather than a culture that says “fuck you.”

How do we do that? We see in our culture already that for some, like food servers, cabbies, valets, porters, barbers, and it was recently pointed out to me, strippers, it is customary for an individual and personal exchange of money called a tip to occur. This seems to occur with occupations where it is known that both the wage system isn’t fair and a personal service is performed. What makes some professions fall into this category and other not, I don’t know. But it is obvious that for creative artists, the wage system is not in operation and yet a valuable personal (and social) service is being done. I’ve seen audiences paste money on a sweating King Sunny Ade. Nusrat Fatah Ali Kahn had a dedicated person on stage during the performance to collect the freely given tribute to a great master. In some cultures, this expression of “thank you” still exists for artists.

While I do not know how we get to that ‘thank you’ mode in our society, I do think it is necessary for artists to help create that environment through the use of the dignified request. They must help with the process of asking.  And they must investigate the methodologies to make voluntary giving possible by experimenting with and adopting developing micropayment systems like Bitcoin and Flattr, or with more large scale up-front models like Kickstarter or Indigogo, which are appropriate for defined projects with specific objectives. In either case, it is on the foundation of mutual respect that this new economy must be built. Nobody is going to get rich this way. We won’t get to the Promised Land, but we just might get somewhere more comfortable than where we are now.


Thank You for your consideration.
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34 Comments leave one →
  1. Debra permalink
    October 16, 2013 9:15 am

    Interesting. I agree about… grace, or thank you, in other words.
    (A tip is also called a gratuity.)
    Some associations : Since Western culture rolls on making accessible to the greatest number of people what has been previously reserved for an elite, the coveted status of artist itself has been subjected to democratization.
    Two weeks ago I went to the museum of the Manufacture des Gobelins in Paris. The Manufacture is one of France’s older institutions ; it was created under Colbert, and thus predates the French Revolution by a few generations.
    There was an exhibition of tapestries dating from the 16th century up to contemporary, around the theme of nature, and greenery.
    I wanted to see just how the ideas of the French Revolution translated into tapestry making, and I was not disappointed.
    In the sixteenth century, and before, probably, the canvasses were irregular, with irregular holes. Stitches were also irregular, necessarily, of different threads, sizes, and inclined in different directions. Such.. artistry ? produced tapestries that required many man/woman hours of work, and were reserved for very wealthy people with the accompanying status (translate, the aristocracy, and royalty).
    Progressively, canvasses become regular, with uniform holes to fill in. And when the canvasses become regular, the stitches become regular and uniform too. Curves are made by tracing them on the regular canvasses, and filling the holes in horizontally with uniform stitches.
    If you look very closely at the tapestries, this is evident.
    And when you look at them from far away, it is also evident… to somebody who can see in a particular way, of course.
    Because our ancestors’ tapestries have a fluidity, a suppleness in them that has been lost since the industrial revolution.
    Which comes first, the chicken or the egg ? Did the emergence of the regularized, uniform canvas induce the loss of.. creativity in translating the design onto it, or.. what if the IDEA of uniformity itself induced the canvasses’ regularity ? Uniformity as in… the well tempered clavichord, for example ?
    At any rate, the uniformization and mechanization of tapestry making made tapestries accessible to greater numbers of people at a much lesser price, in a shorter time. At the cost of…losing much savoir faire.
    I am very interested in ressuscitating the savoir faire of our ARTISAN ancestors…
    The ones who worked with their hands in making beautiful objects (maybe this definition works for musicians too, but the ones who are using their bodies/hands to create beautiful immaterial objects ? This is debatable though. For creation with computers, etc, I am allergic to it. I have good reason to believe that it is dumbing us down considerably at a time when we really need all our neurons.).
    Let’s not forget that much of the, um.. PROGRESS which has come to Western civilization is the responsibility of its… artists : painters, cathedral builders ? whatever.
    And progress ??
    No comment…

  2. Debra permalink
    October 16, 2013 9:24 am

    A little addition on the problem of money : I believe that one of the functions of money is to enable people to exchange services, objects, commodities, without incurring a debt, or a feeling of indebtedness, and most importantly, without making it a necessity for people to “love one another” or even be friends in order to do business.
    It is exhausting living in a world where we are all supposed to love our “neighbor”, no matter whether he lives 10,000 miles away, and we have never seen him before.
    It is an intolerable burden to have to live in a world where we are all.. “one”, all neighbors, “friends”, on a teeny tiny planet.
    I might say that putting such constraints on the human animal smacks of an unbelievable degree of.. denial ? of the limits of our frail humanity, but I won’t hold my breath that I’ll be heard at this time.
    Our pseudo Christian, Western evangelism keeps marching relentlessly onwards…

  3. October 17, 2013 5:02 pm

    I LOVE your use of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It is by far my favorite of his works and I really think the symbolism and chaos embody the message you have offered us.

  4. October 17, 2013 5:19 pm

    People are taking what others create and use it as if it were their own. People are taking all works and using them anywhere and anytime. Songs, poetry and ideas are invaded at a rate that is appalling.

    • October 18, 2013 10:08 am

      Appropriation in nature is as common as grass.

      But for us, this act of ‘appropriation’ – which I think is a bit different, though related to what I was talking about – is an interesting phenomenon first made more common by visual artists from the start of the 20th century who incorporated ‘found’ objects in their own work. Usually these objects were mundane items of nature or industry re-purposed into high art; pieces that addressed in a stark way the juxtapositions of society and environment. That is the role, in my opion, of the good artist.

      But what we see, (after Warhol) especially in the hip-hop and sampling community is the appropriation of a produced music into other produced music. That’s a bit different, and I’ll leave it to the temperaments and attorneys of affected parties to sort it out.

      But those cases of intentional, unattributed and possibly illegal for-profit use of produced and protected by copyright work are what is called plagiarism or theft. That is different from the ordinary, not-for-profit person who downloads work for personal entertainment only, and is unaware, or never thinks about the source of the product. That product, probably most of the time, sounds remarkable similar to millions of other products of the industrial music machine. For that individual, there is probably no malice involved. They, themselves are not saying “fuck you” to the artist, but they have no way to say “thank you” either.

      It is my hope that someday, somehow we move more toward a culture (speaking of the European West) that is more inclined in those cases for people to somehow say “thank you” to the creator – directly.

  5. October 17, 2013 5:40 pm

    Nice article. Confession. Rarely will I buy music. Spotify rocks. But I find myself giving more and more money to street performers. Not because I feel compelled to bankroll them for supporting services that directly or indirectly hurt their profits, but because in the moments I experience their music, I appreciate their contribution to my city. The expectation to make money through one’s art is one I think all artists need to rid themselves from. However, I do see my giving a dollar or two simply a way to acknowledge the roll music plays in enhancing our communities. I support that. As music gets more and more digital, it’s harder to make that connection.

    • October 18, 2013 10:28 am

      What you describe here is very interesting. It is the voluntary ~and natural~ process of saying “thank you” that fascinates me. The words you use, like ‘appreciate’ and ‘compelled’ are at the core of what I was trying to talk about.

      Is it, in fact, in our nature to actively express appreciation? Will we give something of value to others out of this impulse without the presence or sense of compulsion? I look forward to somebody showing me the evidence of this behavior in our simian ancestors.

      I have had the opportunity to experience for a few days at a time, life among chimpanzees. They are by nature chatterers, quarrelers and petty thieves. This behavior is coded by millions of years of experience into our own nature. I would hope that someone will also find evidence of gratitude hidden in our genetic past.

  6. October 17, 2013 6:42 pm

    Reblogged this on Homie Williams. and commented:
    — J.W.

  7. October 17, 2013 6:42 pm

    Fantastic read. Kudos.

  8. October 18, 2013 5:54 am

    Reblogged this on helloPress and commented:

  9. October 18, 2013 6:38 am

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  10. October 18, 2013 11:44 am

    Great read!
    Congrats on gettin’ Pressed!!

  11. October 18, 2013 5:49 pm

    You make a lot of good points, and it does come down to those who enjoy someone’s creative output being willing to pay toward’s supporting the creator. There seems to be an almost innate joy stimulated in people when they get something of worth for free, and that’s hard to overcome without some sort of reminder that things need to be paid for. Human nature does not seem to tend towards, “Great song, here’s a buck.” Your point that we all need to do a better job of appreciating artists by paying for their work hits the nail on the head.

  12. October 18, 2013 7:55 pm

    Jazz artists may want to look to the independent publishing community and discover what many of those indie-authors are doing to get their work discovered.

  13. October 18, 2013 9:42 pm

    This is a really thoughtful discussion. Thanks!

  14. elizabethweaver permalink
    October 19, 2013 1:09 am

    Thoughtful, articulate, informative post. Thank you for the analysis and resources.

  15. October 19, 2013 4:55 am

    Reblogged this on Berna's Vibe~The Way I See IT and commented:
    For all Jazz Lovers & those who can recall what “real” music IS..This is a highly enjoyable read..Major props & thanks to Pax Lupo for taking notice and writing it out to share this very true perspective. I LOVE JAZZ >>4ever Sincere, Berna(the 1 & Only)

  16. October 19, 2013 6:04 am

    I love this blog!!!

  17. October 19, 2013 10:44 am

    Outstanding article..i like it

  18. October 20, 2013 2:03 pm

    I heart that image you posted – Dali?

  19. October 20, 2013 9:13 pm

    Reblogged this on labkomsmandar.

  20. October 20, 2013 11:00 pm

    “it is the responsibility of the people to reward the artist, not the responsibility of the artist to coerce the people” …

    Yes, yes and yes.

    I’ve written dozens of short stories, and had 28 of them published by online literary journals. Aside from a $5 token gratuity from one of the journals, I’ve not been paid for my work. I knew that going in of course. In fact the staff of all those journals are not paid, none of the editors are paid, my fellow contributors are not paid, and as you might imagine, there is a lot of churn in this world due to … what else? Lack of funds to continue running websites and donating large amounts of time as more than a “hobby” … which is, as you point out … an insult at some level to the artists who participate.

    But what are the other options? The answer is depressing.

    I wrote about this phenomenon as a writer in “Why Should You Keep Writing?” http://cdeminski.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/why-should-you-keep-writing/

    Great post. I’m also a huge jazz and blues fan, and go to see live music constantly. I also do my best to tip generously at these many shows, yes, even if there is a door fee/cover charge to get in because I’m never sure how much money from the door goes to the band vs. the owner of the venue.

    The idea you espouse of the “thank you culture” rather than the “fuck you culture” is an important one. Now let’s get the masses to shift their thinking… And yes, there could certainly be a place for micro-payments in that new world.

    • October 20, 2013 11:25 pm

      Thank you for your comment.

      A tip is also called a gratuity; an act of gratitude. How does the social custom arise of expressing, with money, this gratitude and why is it reserved for the customary occupations?

      My thinking at this point is that perhaps money is fulfilling one of its core functions as a medium of exchange. In this case it is an easy substitute for actually saying ‘thank you’. Perhaps it arose so that royalty did not have to condescend to actually speaking to a servant; the tossing of a table scrap would do. If so, that’s a shame.

      I’ll gladly read your post as soon as I can. You might also ‘enjoy’ the other related piece I mentioned, called Music Is Worthless.

      • October 20, 2013 11:35 pm

        Thanks Stephen for your reply. I like that you think so deeply about your subjects; it’s obvious (to me, at least) that you care about this; I do too. These are important questions for what’s happening in society today as we slide down the slippery slope of free content. I’ve already slid down the hill, and have no expectation of making money from my stories although it would be nice if my expectations are defied. (Or deified, whichever comes first. ;-D)

        It’s funny in a way, what you say, because I’m pretty sure musicians would prefer “royalties” than a “gratuity.” ;-) Still, I know my little $5 or $10 dollar gratuity tips to groups of 4, 5, 6 or more musicians on a stage doesn’t even buy each of them a cup of coffee.

        And yes, I’ve just read your post “Music is Worthless” and “liked it” (a money free gratuity, but still an expression of my appreciation for what you’ve written.)

        Kind regards…
        Carol

  21. October 21, 2013 11:52 am

    What an insightful and well thought out post! Now that our society so entrenched in high tech gadgets like tablets and smart phones, at what point do we regress and boycott technology? As good as the Internet has been making information available, it has cheapened the quality of what is made available.

    • October 21, 2013 12:21 pm

      A friend once asked me if I thought the internet was making people stupid. I said no, we have always been this stupid, but the internet just brings the stupidity closer.

      It’s a joke, but I think it goes to argue against what you’re saying. I don’t think the internet has cheapened the quality of what is made available, it has tended to make what is available (of all qualities) cheaper. Normally, this is a good thing. But in this transitory period, we have not yet figured out how to make this new social dynamic equitable.

      My post was not offering any solutions (despite the headline whipped up by the editors at Freshly Minted), but rather to suggest that in an environment of expensive real-estate and urban sprawl coupled with the near free exchange of data-based content, the society must restructure its customary behavior to find a way to support truly creative content creators. Otherwise it will be left with only the kind of brain and spirit dead culture that we see all around us. This is what I mean about a free market “fuck you” society versus one that is more a freely given “thank you” society.

  22. October 21, 2013 2:02 pm

    Very creative read. An artist creativity must live on. Thanks for making me smile!

    Mr MakingUsmile

  23. Debra permalink
    October 22, 2013 9:18 am

    Some thoughts about the difference between a gratuity and royalties…
    A long time ago, I gave a room and bed to a hobo.
    Charles was not just a down and out person, Charles was somebody who cultivated his marginality, and definitely didn’t want to live in a house with a wife, two cars, lots of furniture, CD’s, and two kids.
    He had never managed to live this kind of modern, middle class success story, and at 50+, he wasn’t eager to start trying.
    Charles made his money “begging” in the street. He even called it his job. (Was he getting tips ? not for any evident and official service, in any case. Was he working a job ? If not, what was he doing ? What IS begging, and what is the status of a begger ? (In France’s Republic, begging is illegal…although law and order basically turns its eyes the other way, when not closing them.))
    Before Christmas, in the course of one day, Charles could rake in more than a hundred dollars, and this for several days. January saw a serious slump in revenus, though.
    The idea behind begging (and gratuities…) is that people are FREE to give whatever they like, IF they like. They don’t have to give anything. And there doesn’t need to be any particular reason why they give. A tip.. is not earned. Maximum uncertitude and precarity, in a way. In our world, in any case. In previous times, there could be something sacred about a beggar, somebody whose life only depended on charity. Somebody who definitely didn’t MERIT or EARN anything…Think of the beggar monks in Christendom, and elsewhere.
    Such a person was a reminder that something BESIDES money makes the world go round (understand NOT JUST money).
    Something about a beggar smacked of true humility. (Not that Charles was humble, because we ended up parting ways one night when he sneered and spat on good Christian folk, churchgoers, as hypocrites, and I calmly told him that if the only thing that people were interested in was money, he wouldn’t have been in our house…)
    So… back to royalties, now. Royalties are what are perceived by.. kings.
    Funny how in our modern republics, so many people would like to be kings…unbeknownst to themselves, moreover.
    NOBODY wants to be a beggar. Undignified. Unjust.
    So many people would like to believe that they have.. earned what they receive.
    You can… earn a salary. But.. not a tip…
    And royalties ?
    They are perceived as a form of kickback for the ENJOYMENT, or the right to use what belongs to someone. And traditionally they were associated with royalty, and its privileges.
    Incidentally, way back when, people like Bach, Haydn, Handel freely plagiarized others, and such plagiarization was considered… a compliment, to a certain extent. It was the sign that their work was popular. This plagiarization did not have the same status as an identical replica of something already existing, the way things go on in our NUMERIC civilization, right now.
    Bach had a hell of a time putting meat and potatoes on the table, under a system of patronage, moreover. And apparently he griped about it, too.
    Being an artist… is supposed to be its own reward, to a very great extent.
    And it does have benefits that salaried people just can’t reap…

  24. October 23, 2013 8:29 am

    Reblogged this on infoafrique.

  25. October 29, 2013 6:45 pm

    Reblogged this on mercsoft and commented:
    of my read list

  26. November 2, 2013 3:24 am

    Reblogged this on Writer's Work Lab.

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  1. In The Garden of Money | Marcofont's Blog
  2. Thanks Steve,Creativity is dead « The Vast Nothing

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