My research has turned, over the past two years, specifically towards the impact of technology on working musicians in the music industry. Probably because I’m like most American performers, my focus has been split: on the one hand I’m very tuned towards the pop musics I listen to, but on the other hand there is the art music tradition I was trained in. Both share the historic tradition of institutionalized patronage, either through the elite classes that employed performers up until Beethoven (though there is a real case to be made that in northern Europe that tradition continued for a good generation past his death) and since in a more limited capacity through institutionalized arts organizations. In the (capitalist) pop music world this got transformed into the corporate label structure that still economically dominates our cultural production.
Writing this post today comes out of two projects I’m working on: an article on the impact and place of remixes, and an article (and one of a series of conference papers) on the impact social media are having on the everyday of artist production. I like to style myself as an early adopter, though by the standards of some of my friends might be questionable – probably more correctly I should say I’m just a semiotician fascinated with mediation and any object or interaction that mediates communication between a performer and another interlocutor.
In that spirit, a fellow G+ follower posted this piece yesterday on his blog, correctly labeling (as I see it), the connection between these two economic models of music production. I started to write a comment at the end of his post but decided to respond in kind.
I think a lot of folks are trying out all sorts of alternate paths (with mixed results) – I’m curious how you’d react to an idea I’ve been playing with that the business model we’re moving towards is more entrepreneurial, rather than corporate in its focus. DIY takes over business. The problem, of course, is the old patronage systems has entrenched institutional support. Where things get interesting from my perspective as an ethnomusicologist and a popular music scholar is the different interactions that political and other public institutions (are there any public institutions that aren’t political?) are having.
I’ve been researching Kickstarter and other crowdfunding (or fanfunding if you will) venues for a while now and I’m noticing that there are very different ways that communities (within the same nation and across national/cultural boundaries) as well as genres are responding to the model of funding represented. Part of the issue I see is that it really pulls from an assumption of an American/continental U.S. customer service model – which, as any traveler knows, is not uniformly accepted. Even in the U.S., as one friend of mine put it to me last month, the question needs to be asked: “which America” is being represented in crowdfunding at all?
In the past six months I’ve started talking with a great guy who runs a crowdfunding site that takes Kickstarter/Artistshare and their ilk as a starting place and, literally, revisits the idea of patronage. Calling it Patron21, the site was launched based on the very reasonable premise that funding a project is great, but it won’t pay your light bill once that project is done. And it also won’t help you pay your taxes (FYI, y’all who are running Kickstarter campaigns know that the money you raise – at least in the U.S. – is considered taxable income?) at the end of the year.
Over the past four months I’ve given two conference papers particularly focused on Kickstarter and Wepay campaigns run by musicians who are interlocutors of mine. Most recently in April I presented at the British Forum for Ethnomusicology/ICTM-Ireland annual meeting and had the great fortune to hear a paper about fanfunding by British ethnomusicologist Mark Thorley (Note: Fanfunding and crowdfunding are often used interchangeably. I tend to stick to crowdfunding because of the embedded meanings in the term fanfunding, but that’s my own scholarly two-cents’ worth.) While I’m still hoping for an opportunity to have this conversation with him live, (and it was a great paper, IMO) what struck me was that the jazz community he has been working with resented the customer service-oriented assumptions of “perks.” I’ve spent the intervening time revisiting the assumptions I’m hearing and reading – or rather, not hearing and reading, in blogs, articles, and discourse around social media and crowdfunding. What I’m seeing is how amazingly entrenched the old patronage model is, and, even more, the extent to which American cultural imperialism of a particular sort gets exported and transported along with culture production models.
That’s it for now. More goes to my next conference paper on the technologies here, which I’m presenting in July at the Art of Record Production conference in Quebec City. You can guess I have a lot to say about this.
Postscript: I just started reading an interview with actress Robin Wright in Salon.com about her new film, and how crazy that she’s talking about that same issue of corporate ownership in media/culture industries? Go figure. But it cracks me up that they sell the article with the age/gender issues of being an actress over the age of 40 in Hollywood movie culture.