Songs for the Struggling Artist


Art by the Numbers (or Six Ways to Really Support Artists)

When I stepped away from my acting career, the first arts project I got into was my alterna-folk-pop band, Bright Red Boots. It was the first time I’d had to ask for people’s attention, the first time I had to gather an audience. It wasn’t easy, but between the four of us, we managed to pull in enough people to keep getting booked at a handful of venues. Handing out and sending postcards made me uncomfortable but that’s the way we did it, really. There were a lot of venues we couldn’t play because we couldn’t draw a big enough crowd and that has been the story of my life as a generative artist ever since.

When I started a theatre company, the problem of bringing in an audience wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at first and also, at first, it wasn’t that hard. With a fairly large company of actors and creative team, we managed to fill up our first small Brooklyn house most of the time and didn’t do badly at filling up a big theatre in an out of the way venue during the Fringe. But as time has gone by, pulling audiences in to see anything has become more and more challenging.

Around about the time we had to cancel two shows in Edinburgh because no one showed up, I started to dream of not having to worry about bringing in an audience. I wanted to just make things and not worry about who received them. I tried posting things on the internet, thinking this is just how we do things now, thinking that it’s all just clicks and likes and maybe the digital realm will be less concerned with popularity than the time-based live performing arts can be.

And, well…I discovered a kind of indifference I never thought possible. Despite the vastness of my POTENTIAL audience on the internet, I generally draw just about the same numbers that I used to draw in person. Very few people give a damn about what I get up to.

How few? I have two podcasts. One averages 13 listens per episode. The other averages 15. This is almost exactly the number of people I can manage to get into a theatre these days if I put on a show. This blog is definitely the most popular thing that I do because, occasionally, when some post is a hit, the numbers rise into triple digits briefly. (Once, they went up to 4 digits. Once.) But then it goes back down to my usual 6-16 readers. Music? Hmmm. I put out 4 albums this year and sold 5. Not 5 per album. 5 total. I would probably have sold a few more but my main supporters (my 16 Patreon patrons) got them for free as a thank you gift for their support. Songs on Spotify average 15 plays. I’ve written around twenty plays and probably 15 people have seen more than one of them. And I want you to know how much I appreciate those 15 people who have viewed or listened or bought or come to see shows. Those people are my heroes. Those people know how to support the arts. They know how to support me. (If you’re one of the 15, I thank you!) And truthfully, I know it’s more than 15 altogether. It’s more like 15 people at a time. The total is probably more like – I don’t know – 50? 60?

But I’m not going to lie – sometimes I get very discouraged that generally only 15 people at a time care about what I do. This is why I had to write a post for myself called No One’s Asking for Your Art.

So much of the artistic world these days is valued by the numbers. The box office numbers of movies are reported like important news stories. We measure if a movie is good by how many people go to see it on opening weekend. (Which is absurd, by the way. The only thing those numbers are an accurate reflection of is how effective the marketing plan was.) We have a 1% problem in the arts, just as we do in greater economics. There are a small handful of artists at the top, with big numbers (millions of downloads, books sold, tickets sold, etc.) and the rest of us limp by with our 15.

Here in America, we treat popularity as if it’s quality. (And of course this is a factor in our politics as well.) We assume that if lots of people like a thing then it must be good. (All over NYC, taxis advertising the musical Frozen proclaim it “a serious megahit” – which tells us nothing except that a lot of tickets were sold.) And we ALSO assume that if very few people like a thing then it must NOT be good. And if you think we artists don’t internalize that metric and make ourselves miserable, you probably don’t know a lot of us artists.

I have to constantly check myself on this point. When I’m disappointed that only 15 people looked at some thing I made, I remind myself that numbers are not a sign of quality. I remind myself that there are hundreds of thousands of white supremacist assholes. Those guys are very popular. Before his account was suspended, Milo Yannopolis had 300,000 followers on Twitter. Popularity has NOTHING to do with quality. NOTHING. Not one thing.

I always think about this episode of This American Life where they interviewed these conceptual artists who hired a market research firm and then made art by the numbers they received. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (I am obsessed) but the deal is that they polled people about what they liked most in music and in visual art and then made pieces that were the MOST popular things and the LEAST. And the most popular song is bland and unmemorable. It’s about love and features a saxophone. It sounded like everything else on the radio at the time. The least popular song is a tour de force. I think about it all the time. I get parts of it stuck in my head. The opera singer rapping cowboy lyrics over a tuba is extraordinary. (It’s here if you need to hear it.)

It feels as though so many aspects of our lives have just been reduced to numbers, to how many clicks something gets or units sold or whatever. Even our journalism is caught up in it. Have you wondered why the New York Times has been posting so many kooky opinion pieces the way I have? Well, as Michelle Woolf pointed out – a share is a share is a share. (Seriously watch her video about this – it’s illuminating and funny.)

We make no distinction of quality – is this a good piece of work? A good show? A good movie? A good song?

If lots of people clicked on it – it must be, right? It’s the free market, right? Don’t we live in a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top? We don’t. Sorry. And it’s not even a free market. Let’s take music, for example. Watching this video made it crystal clear to me why songs became popular. (Short version – it’s extreme exposure coupled with audio manipulated for maximum loudness.) They became popular, not because people liked them but because executives decided to make them popular and so they are.

Which, you know, that would all be fine with me if the folks making work at the other end of the spectrum weren’t limping along with only 15 views or whatever. I feel like there should be room for all of us but somehow there isn’t.

I have no idea what’s to be done about it but if you’re wondering how to make the most difference to those who continue to make work in the face of impossible odds, I do have some suggestions.

1) Read, Listen to, Watch, Go to people’s work. Even if you don’t love it. The support you give now to an artist may lead to work you do love in the future. Or it may not. But your view, your click, your ticket sale, your presence will make a huge difference to someone who is used to indifference. Subscribe to their email lists, click on their links, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

2) Respond to what you see with love, kindness and support. Even if you don’t love every aspect of what you see. Just some acknowledgement that the work’s message was received means a lot.

3) Boost these folks as much as you’re able. I know it’s exhausting sharing stuff all the time. But know that your cheerleading for a struggling artist has a much bigger impact than cheerleading for something everyone is already talking about. Example: You loving a Marvel movie is great. But everyone’s already going to superhero movies. They really don’t need the boost. You’re one of millions. You loving your friend’s short film? You’re one of 15. Be that person. That’s impact. I’m not saying you shouldn’t post about how much you loved Wonder Woman but maybe complement it with another post about an actual wonder woman you know.

4) If you hate something, you don’t need to say anything. Obscurity will take care of it, believe me. It’ll take care of the good stuff, too, unfortunately but —a share is a share is a share. You’ll actually boost the thing you hate if you talk about it.

5) If you can afford to: buy their book, buy their album, buy tickets to their show, even if you don’t particularly want to read the book or listen to the album or see the show. As I learned form this article – even super well established published authors have trouble selling their books to their loved ones. If someone you know wrote a book – buy it. And give it to someone if you don’t want it. Impress your friends by giving them a copy of your other friend’s book!

6) If you have some extra cash, you can go to the top level of support with something like Patreon. Helping an artist pay their rent is one of the most supportive acts of kindness. Patronage doesn’t have to be big. Someone giving a dollar a month to an artist gives not only the $12 a year but also a gesture of faith – of belief in the value of whatever that artist does. My Patreon patrons have made the things I’ve made in the last couple of years possible. They are why I can write these words now.

 

If you can only do one thing – start with number one. Just watch, show up, go, listen, view. (I heard about someone who sets their Spotify account on their friends’ albums and sets them to repeat all night while they’re asleep.) It’s exponentially more valuable to an artist like me to see that someone clicked on my work than it is to Taylor Swift. She deals in millions. I deal in multiples of 5. By the numbers, your share is more valuable to me. And a share is a share is a share.

Am I great at this? Nope. I’m not. I’d like to be better though. I actively try. But most artists I know are better at this than others – mostly because we know how it feels. Unfortunately, us liking each other’s work doesn’t always translate to the wider world. We need fans. We need cheerleaders. We need advocates. You don’t have to do it for every artist you know. Maybe pick one and be that one artist’s champion. It will mean more than you can imagine to that person. I have a couple of people like this and I appreciate them more than I can possibly say.

I’m not trying to say that only 15 people are ever interested in what I do. Sometimes I get a hit. But most of the time – 15 is the average. And I feel like I’m telling you this now because I know I am not the only one. Many of the artists I know are in a similar position but most of us work very hard to create an illusion that our numbers are much higher than they are. We’re not doing this to con anyone. We just know that human beings tend to gravitate toward popular things. To sell tickets to a show, tell people it’s selling out fast. Every theatre producer knows this.

Here are some reasons that people have given me for reading, watching, listening to my work: “Because you’ll be famous one day,” “because I want you to thank me in your Oscar speech,” “because I want to say I knew you when.” These are all investments in a future where my numbers are so big that the person is glad they got in at the ground floor. I used to try and capitalize on this instinct – to try and project an image of “I’m going places!” But I find I can’t get on board with this idea anymore. Not because I don’t have faith in my work but because I think possible fame in the future is a lousy reason to support artists.

It is unlikely I will be famous one day. But something I do might influence someone who will be famous one day or who is already famous. Or, more important to me: something I do might contribute to the culture, might influence another artist to make something great, might inspire someone to create extraordinary things.

In order to get just 15 views, sometimes we will create an aura of success. I have been known to say things like “bloggers over on WordPress love this!” when three bloggers have clicked the like button. I’m not lying. Three bloggers is more than usual for me. But I also understand that I’m putting a little bit of a shine on a situation while trying to boost my views.

When I began in theatre, I didn’t know almost everyone was bluffing. I thought everyone’s career was really going great! I didn’t know that theatre people are always having a great year no matter what is actually happening. I also didn’t know art wasn’t meritocratic yet. I didn’t know how much more important process and artistic integrity would be to me than “success.”

But I digress. I’m telling you about this because I want you to understand that even the artist who is projecting an air of cool, could probably still use your support. Unless your artist friend is Beyonce, they’re probably struggling to get more than 15 people’s eyes or ears on each of their things. Click, show up, be a patron. It’s good for artists. And good for art.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to be a top supporter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

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My Dentist Thinks I’m Cool
May 8, 2018, 10:49 pm
Filed under: age, business, feminism | Tags: , , , ,

The last time I was at my dentist’s office, he passed by while I was in with the hygienist, waved, said hello and then, as he walked away said, “You’re so cool.”
It was very charming and he said it in such a way that made me feel very cool. Like he’d just seen Lou Reed or something. Or Laurie Anderson.

And my dentist is also pretty cool. He has this extraordinary quality of being genuinely excited about teeth while simultaneously being exuberantly curious about the people those teeth belong to.

But that day, the day he said I was so cool, he did something kind of uncool. Instead of giving me the dental exam himself, he sent in his new partner. He declared that I would love the new guy and that the new guy would love me and then my dentist was gone.

You may not be surprised to learn that I did not love the new guy and I’m pretty sure the new guy did not love me. The new guy barely even saw me. He was polite enough. He smiled and asked how my day was going but it was pretty much like talking with a flight attendant on the way out the door.

Now why did my dentist, who thinks I’m cool, who has a sense of me as a human being think this guy was so great? Probably because that guy is great to him. Me, though, the new guy just saw as a lady in her 40s with a set of teeth that were going to help him get paid that day. To him, there was nothing to see. He had no curiosity about who was in the chair in front of him.

I’ve come to recognize that sense of not being seen, particularly by younger men. The socialization of women being valued only by their youth and/or beauty means often that men, like the new guy at my dentist’s office, only manage the bare minimum of social politeness with women like me. The new guy will never think I’m cool. Not ever. Even if I came in arm in arm with Laurie Anderson and Kendrick Lamar. Not even if the entire cast of Hamilton sang me an entrance number and surrounded the dental chair.

And I don’t need my dentist to think I’m cool. It’s nice – but it’s not what I go to the dentist for. However it IS what I pay extra for. Not the coolness part but the being SEEN part. See, I have, periodically, in brief interludes, had dental insurance and I saw other dentists (some adequate, some rough, some appalling) but none of them saw me. And I went to see my dentist, even though he didn’t take my insurance. I could have gone elsewhere for cheaper, but I came to see him because he saw me and that seeing was coupled with a kind and gentle quality of care that was worth a lot to me.

But…I won’t go see the new guy. And I probably won’t see my dentist now either since there’s a good chance he’ll just toss me over to the new guy. I’ll go get my teeth cleaned and x-rayed and examined at a cheaper, less cool office my next go round.

And if I’m very lucky, there’s a chance that the new place will have someone who’ll see me and maybe, if I’m extra extra lucky, just maybe think I’m cool.

Laurie Anderson is SO COOL. SO COOL.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me keep me be cool

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Spotify for Good or Ill. For Good and Ill.

For a little while, I felt righteous and superior because I didn’t have or use Spotify. I knew their reputation for underpaying artists and felt I had the moral high ground by not participating in it. But then I saw it in action. I saw how it was an incredible library of music. I saw how it was more expansive than any music library I had ever spent time in (and I have spent time in a few.) It is an incredible resource. And while it fails to do it adequately, it does, unlike many other platforms, attempt to give back to the artists in its library.

I think Spotify is actually a useful example of an increasingly urgent crisis point developing in our new modern world. It has all the good and all the bad rolled up in one.

For the good: As a person who cares about music, Spotify offers a world I would never have access to without it. While researching material for my children’s book, I explored the music of Mesopotamia, Somalia, Lithuania, Sudan, Iran and more. All of which was available to me within seconds. That so much music of the world is at my fingertips is an absolute miracle of the modern age. My new favorite artist thanks to exploring on Spotify, is a Malian woman who lives in France.

Is it possible I could have stumbled upon her at a local record shop? Sure. That’s how I fell in love with Cuban hip-hop band, The Orishas and got into Afro-Peruvian music – by hearing them played at The Tower Records I was browsing in.

But. Tower Records is gone and my CD player isn’t even plugged in anymore. I don’t think we’re going back – even if there is a revitalization of vinyl and the kids listen to cassettes ironically or whatever – I don’t think Tower Records is coming back. I think we now have to reckon with a digital musical world. For good or ill. For good and ill.

The ill is how Spotify‘s dominance in music means the extreme diminishment of musicians. People don’t buy albums of music anymore because they don’t have to. Why pay for something when you can hear it on demand for free? It’s easier, it’s less fussy, you can just listen to everything you love in one place. Why would you pay when you don’t have to?

And many a listener comforts their feeling of guilt at listening via Spotify by thinking about Spotify’s pay per listen situation. They’re thinking – well, an artist is getting compensated every time I listen to a song. Having recently joined Spotify as an artist, I too, thought I’d be pulling in a little bit of something that way. But Spotify doesn’t tell you how much you’ll get. When they gave me my artist page, they said nothing about money. From my band’s previous digital distribution deal, I know we once made .01 per listen. It’s doubled now to .02.

I read about an artist who just retired from music. Her quarterly statement was for around 14,000 streams and she made around $15. My digital distributor just sent me my first earnings statement for my current music on multiple platforms. For 126 streams, I made 55 cents. It’s going to be a long long time until I pay off the $20 per album I spent to be on the digital platform. And to keep an album on Spotify next year, I’ll need to pay double what I paid this year. It is definitely a money losing proposition to be there.

As an artist on Spotify, I love that it tells me where people are listening. It delights me to know that, this month, people in Sweden, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, South Africa, Finland and more are listening to stuff I recorded in my living room. That is very cool. It makes me feel like a citizen of the larger world. Spotify has a way of making the world smaller.

That smallness of the world is one of the major changes the digital age has brought us. We can’t pretend that what we do in our small corner of the world doesn’t have an impact elsewhere. Donny Twimp is happening to everyone all over the world – not just us Americans. Those who voted for Brexit might be said to have voted for a return to their pre-digital village life. Perhaps they wanted to return to a world where they could pretend that only those within their immediate area mattered. But there is no putting this global genie back in the bottle, for good or ill, for good or ill, for good and ill.

That’s why the “America First” idea is so absurd (not to mention a slogan from the Nazis in America during actual Nazi time.) Anything that happens here, happens everywhere just the way a company like Spotify, started in Sweden, can change the entire landscape of music in the world. We have to figure out a way to embrace the wonders and the ease of this new emerging world and also support the unintended consequences. Spotify has played a giant role in the elimination of the musician middle class. The CEO of Spotify is now a billionaire. People who once could make a living from music have had to stop. This means that the bulk of money being made on music is coming from one of the three remaining record corporations – and most of the hit songs are written by the same handful of guys.

While music still means big money for those corporations, it is not good for music as a whole. And Spotify’s business model makes it worse. The music it pushes via its individualized playlists are the songs paid for by the corporations. Spotify suggests what the corporations pay it to suggest. Playlists are how Spotify makes the wheels turn. When someone puts you on a popular playlist – that’s when the wheels start turning. So what is the solution? Opt out of Spotify? You could. But at this point, it’s like opting out of an iPhone or social media. It’s not unheard of – but I’m not sure it makes much difference. In a way, the die has been cast. The musician middle class is already decimated.

Can we count on a corporation to do the right thing? I doubt it.

Should we shame people into buying music they don’t want to own? I see people trying that strategy and it doesn’t seem to work. I also feel like maybe the notion of owning music in the first place is kind of odd. We’re trying to downsize our things and our environmental footprint, right? Consume less. Make less plastic, etc. So. No. Shaming people into buying instead of streaming doesn’t seem like a great way to proceed.

It seems to me that aren’t a lot of good options here….and this problem isn’t just with music – this is for so many other things. But as Jaron Lanier pointed out – musicians (and journalists) are the canaries in the coal mine. In the last year or so, we’ve seen a revitalization of journalist outlets – but I don’t expect that that surge is a lasting change and I don’t know if such a thing is possible for music. I think this moment probably calls for a radical restructuring of how we do everything. Idea: a Universal Basic Income – everyone can have all the music they want for free if musicians could live and create without worrying about basic survival.

One of Jaron Lanier’s books offered a technological solution – and I’m not a technologist so I don’t have an idea of how this would actually work. But he proposed that digital code include a little tag back to the creator of that thing so that when that thing were shared or played or downloaded, its creators would see a bit of a return on that. There’s something about this idea that has really stuck with me, though I read the book years ago now. There is a sense of justice to it that we don’t have in the current model of things.

More and more things that we used to have to pay for are now free for us to use. We can listen to music for free on Spotify (and not just Spotify. Amazon, Google and Apple are now in the streaming game as well.) We can use a free robot lawyer via DoNotPay. We can access therapy via digital therapists. We are entertained for free via YouTube or our trial subscription movie/TV services. We read our news for free (as long as we clear our caches.)

And once people can get a thing for free, they are then unlikely to pay for it. I don’t think we can expect people to suddenly start donating to their newspaper of choice or paying for TV shows. We’ve tried to fund the arts through crowdfunding but it’s about as effective as trying to crowdfund an entire nation’s healthcare. Single companies have tremendous power to change the landscape of entire swaths of the world in record time. Spotify, a Swedish company, is making massive amounts of money while artist make massively less.

In my own artistic practice, I benefit greatly from a handful of extraordinary people who subsidize my work for the others who get it for free. It’s a bit like the Public Radio model – a handful of listeners donate so that the others can listen. My patrons keep me going so I can live to write another day. Which might sound a little melodramatic – but that’s essentially what’s at stake. If you like music and like to be able to hear more than the manufactured beats of a handful of Euro dudes – you have to help keep those musicians alive. Dead musicians don’t make music. And hungry ones don’t make the best music they can. If there’s no money to be made in music, then your musicians will be too busy trying to scrounge up a living to be able to give you the music you love.

But what are we supposed to do? Spotify is a great way to hear music but it’s destroying musical cultures around the world. Facebook is a great way to connect with the people we care about but it’s destroying our democracy. Amazon was once just a great way to get books your local bookseller couldn’t carry but now it’s destroying one brick and mortar business after another, gutting Main streets and shopping districts. It’s not as simple as deleting Facebook or not using Spotify because whatever digital behemoth we take down, another will rise in its place.

We are in a very sticky situation and have been for some time. Me? I look to the people who were part of creating the digital world  to help us out of it. They are at the forefront of both recognizing what trouble we’re in and offering ideas about how to fix it. For example, governmental regulation is very high on a lot of their lists.

New York magazine just published this extraordinary article about all this called The Internet Apologizes and it is bracing and important reading. We don’t have to delete Facebook or Spotify or Amazon or Twitter or whatever – at least not yet – but we do have to figure out how to hold them accountable for the changes they create in our greater world. And we need to stay awake and aware and get really creative about how to have things like the world’s greatest music library without destroying the lives of some of the world’s greatest musicians.

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help keep me going

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



What People Click On

One of the side activities of having a blog is watching the stats roll in. My host, WordPress, keeps track of views and clicks on my blog and they share that info with me. This means I see when a post is traveling through the internet (usually Facebook) and when it does not.

The bulk of my views tend to come through Facebook (WordPress shares where the click originated.) And I can see what posts people read on Facebook, what caught people’s attention and what did not. Based on that (admittedly limited) data set, I might determine that people are the most interested in sexual harassment. My big viral hit a few years ago (four thousand views one day) was on this topic and the subsequent follow-ups were also in my top most views.

In the recent wave of discussion on this topic, triggered by Weinstein, I found my blog getting more views again. It makes me think about the following possibilities: people are very interested in sexual harassment or I just happen to be a better writer on this topic than I am on other ones. Another possibility is that Facebook likes to promote topics in this vein as it hits two of their algorithmic favorites: things that generate outrage and sex. (Not that sexual harassment really has anything to do with sex – but it does have the word in it!)

Based on the data, I might, if I were a person who was interested in following the market, be inclined to write more about sexual harassment and less about, say, arts education. But I don’t trust the data. I’m interested in it but I don’t trust it.

Social media companies make money on outrage. They promote posts that stir up controversy (controversy means more comments and more time on the platform) and are disinclined to promote posts that take people outside the network. I’d imagine they’re not so keen on posts that are critical of their platform either (unless, of course, they trigger a lot of comments.) I wrote a post a while back about how “discussion” on social media isn’t really discussion – about being reflective about what these platforms can actually do for us and it got, like, no views.

This could be because it wasn’t that interesting to people (fair point – very possible) but it could also be because Facebook isn’t that interested in being reflective about itself. Because it’s an open question, I really cannot and should not base what I write about on my stats – and I also need to be careful about making assumptions about people based on my stats. These sorts of data can make me feel like people are only interested in hearing from women when we’ve been the victim of something and I have to hope that that’s not true.

Want to keep up with me without the mediating force of Facebook?

You can subscribe to get emails of posts here or you’ll get notifications if you

become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and an album of More Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Please Stop Asking for Recommendations

Dear Residencies, Grantmakers, Award Givers and Artist Opportunity Makers,

Please stop asking for recommendations. Do you ever make your decisions based on them? I suspect not. I understand that you’re probably trying to weed out jerks – but almost anyone can find two people to say nice things about them. Heck, a really cagey jerk could just write them himself from a couple of extra email addresses and phone numbers.

It’s not that I can’t get my colleagues, friends, and fans to write recommendations for me, I can. It’s just that I apply for a LOT of things and I fear that your demands (for things that I am skeptical about you even READING) may be burning out my support team.

A life in the arts is not like college. I understand you need recs for college. But college happens once – maybe twice if there’s a Masters in the works – while an artistic life is ALL the time.

In continually asking for recommendations, you wear out, not just the applicants but also their networks. I try to spread out my asking – but…I know it is a burden on those I ask. They love me so they always say yes when I ask them and some have even said there is no need to ask anymore. But, after twenty plus years of this, I’m guessing even the most dedicated supporter would prefer not to have to deliver a letter every few weeks.

I suspect that one reason you ask for letters is that you want to see if maybe we know a famous person and can get them to write us a letter. Like, if Paula Vogel wrote a playwright’s recommendation, you’d take that applicant a lot more seriously. You want to know who of your applicants has connections. But the thing of it is, even if I did know Paula Vogel (I’ve only met her once in a totally random non-theatre context,) I wouldn’t ask her for a recommendation. Because Paula Vogel has better things to do than write recommendations. I don’t want her writing recommendations to residencies and whatnot for writers. I want her writing plays. I think, if you really want to know who Paula Vogel recommends, you should just call her up and ask her and every year, you can have a slot for the Vogel recommended writer and she can just send you a list.

With extremely busy famous people, artists have pretty much one favor, one recommendation we can ask for – and I’m sorry to tell you that your residency, grant, award or opportunity is not that thing. (I regret to inform you, that after reviewing your opportunity, we are unable to offer you our favor from a famous person. You must understand that the competition is fierce and there are a lot of opportunities to consider.)

So please – not for me – but for my friends, colleagues and support team – stop asking for recommendations. Please. You don’t have to ask for them. A lot of the more prestigious places I have applied to do not. You don’t have to either. And it’s two or three fewer things you’ll have to read!

Signed,

An Artist Who Has Missed a Fair Amount of Deadlines Due to Not Realizing She’d Need to Have Asked for Recommendations a Lot Sooner

*

Bonus Rejection Post:

(Don’t worry, I’ve got a LOT more of these coming – so I thought I’d just tag this one on the end here.)

I keep applying. And I keep getting rejected by the Millay Colony. Luckily, I have support for the persistent “No.” And I recently read a piece that suggested aiming at 100 years rejections a year. I’ve upped my applications a lot in the last few years. But 100 would be a lot. I’ve gotten pretty close to that, if I added up the previous three years – but in order to really reach a hundred rejections this year, I’m going to have to apply to the Millay a whole lot more times.

In January I applied to ten things –which has seemed like a LOT. If I kept up that pace, I’d get to 100 before the end of the year – but January is application season and that was a hell of a lot of applying.

I will say, too, that I’ve done more applying this year than I have before, in part, because my confidence was boosted by a yes. That yes made it seem less impossible that another yes could be forth coming. Maybe if I get another yes, I really could reach 100 rejections this year.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You, too, can help me ease the sting of continual rejection

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

 

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



In Which Someone I Used to Idolize Harasses Me and I Learn a Few Things About the Music Business

Part 1

When I first heard who it was on my voicemail, I got excited. Really? Is this for real? One of my heroes from my youth was calling me? On my phone? The woman whose songs helped me through my teens and helped me again in the political upheaval of the last year? The woman whose unvarnished *REDACTED* album was the touchstone for me feeling like I could share some unvarnished music myself this year? The woman whose songs inspired me to keep going when I felt I couldn’t? Was that really her? And it was.

But, within seconds, the news went from amazing to terrible. Her message said something to the effect of “If you’re sensing hostility in my voice it’s because it’s there” and “I’m in New York, too, and I intend to raise a ruckus.” (I may be paraphrasing slightly here, as I could not bear to listen to the message again.)

So. My hero from my teens was calling me. (Yay!) But she’s calling to tell me she’s furious with me. (Yikes.) *REDACTED* knows who I am! (Yay!) But she wants to go to war with me. (Yikes.) It was a bone-shaking message to get.

See, over the last year, I’ve recorded over 40 cover songs in my living room. Three of those songs were hers. And when I decided to make them available to the public, I knew I needed to go through some hoops. This process is all new to me but I did a bunch of research and it seemed like the best way to assure that the songwriters received due credit and compensation was to use this licensing company called Loudr. I paid the licensing fee and preliminary royalties for each writer. It wasn’t cheap. And a lot of folks don’t bother. But how I engage with my fellow artists is important to me and I wanted to make sure I did right by everyone I owed an artistic debt to, both metaphorically and literally. Loudr calculates the preliminary royalties and so Elvis Costello got $9.10. ani difranco got $9.10. And *REDACTED* – because I recorded three of her songs – got $9.10 times three. Plus, I’m assuming, at least a portion of the license fee.

So *REDACTED* called me and declared that I was using her composition without permission. And she was pissed. She called seven times, several times a day for three days. She trolled me on Twitter. She doxxed me. She targeted my theatre company (which has zero to do with my music.) She clicked around in all the places I have digital media presence. And because usually those places are quiet and unvisited, that made a lot of noise.

It is a really heartbreaking experience to be trolled by someone you once admired so fiercely. I cried on and off for 24 hours. I didn’t do much sleeping either.

At first, I tried to figure out what she wanted. She didn’t say. Was it the profits from the songs? Because there aren’t any. Is she after a portion of my album sale? Because that’s a dollar. I mean – I’m a month into the first release of two albums and the only money I’ve made is the $10 I got when my dad downloaded it (which he really could have gotten for free.) That $10 is about a 1% recoup of my cost and her song was one dollar of that.

But I don’t think it’s about money – after all, she’s just made money on my recordings. I think she’s pissed that I recorded her songs at all. I think she’s pissed that copyright laws are such that I am well within my rights to do so. And I understand that, too. When I submitted to Loudr, I thought one of the things I was getting was permission from the songwriters to record their stuff. I thought that was why REDACTED’s songs took longer to process than the others. I thought they were waiting on her permission. Turns out – no – that’s not how it works at all. Copyright law gives anyone the right to record anyone’s song, as long as they pay for a license. It has been this way for decades. I have no idea if that law is fair or just or not. But I understand that it’s weird that anyone can just sing your song that you made up out of your head. I have felt weird when people tell me that they’ve been playing my songs without me. I get that. It is weird.

But music – particularly folk and pop music – has this interesting quality of becoming part of the public imagination once it’s released into the world. I mean, with folk music, that’s kind of the point. Folk doesn’t just mean a conversational voice over a pleasant acoustic guitar. Folk music is so called because it is for the folk. It is Woody Guthrie playing for Okie migrant camps. It is Pete Seeger sailing a boat down the Hudson River, singing, to convince Congress to clean up the polluted river. It is Odetta singing at the March on Washington after being introduced by Martin Luther King, Jr. The song “We Shall Overcome” was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement and has continued to bubble up whenever there is need, like a couple of weeks ago when, heartbreakingly, the Virginia Senate voted down the ERA. Folk music is meant to travel. It is meant to move from person to person to form a collective voice.

I mean, I love a finger-picked acoustic sound as much as the next person (probably more) but the real power of folk is its place in a collective. That’s how pop music can slide into folk sometimes. The crowd singing “Don’t Look Back in Anger” after the Manchester bombings transformed Oasis’ pop hit into folk music. And it is tremendously moving to see/hear. Are the guys from Oasis models of indie folk generosity? Hardly. But I thought REDACTED was. I mean, her music functions as folk music for me. But I’m sure for her, it feels more personal. Like, those are her friends she’s singing about, her life. It must be weird to have other people sing them. Granted. I’m pretty sure, though, that trolling someone who loves your songs is not the way to address that weirdness. It is a pretty good way to lose a fan, though.

I’ve always been a folkie. I come from folkie folks. I come from a place where people getting together to play music is a regular event. I grew up in a world where people traveled with instruments and might pull them out at any moment. I sang around a lot of campfires and in living rooms and porches. For me, that’s where music really thrives.

Where I live now, though, we don’t really have the space for that. There are no porches to gather on and few public spaces where a group of people might pull out a guitar or a concertina and shake the night. With so much privatization of public space happening these days, it gets harder and harder to gather. If I want to sing in public, I have to book a gig. And unless I can guarantee that 30 people will turn up for that gig, I probably won’t be able to do that. I can’t guarantee more than a handful of people so I play by myself in the living room for the new public commons, the Internet. It has felt like this is where the folk are and so in solidarity, I’ve been singing songs that are my folk music.

But the Internet is not a boxcar or a union meeting. It is not a rally or a protest. I know.

Even before this dispiriting phone call from REDACTED, I was thinking about how the digital landscape just flattens everything out, how music is mostly just aural wallpaper for cafes and supermarkets or background for videos now, how it makes me feel acutely, even though I intend for these songs to help rally the resistance, it is all just background noise, that despite all this social media, we are less engaged with each other, less able to share our art, less connected.

And I can understand the frustration an artist like REDACTED might feel – with the means of distribution all flattened out like this – anyone with a computer and a microphone can have their music next to someone who’s spent their entire life in the music industry. I mean – how is anyone going to know that “REDACTED” is her song, not mine?

I’ve got liner notes that make such things clear but in the digital music landscape, authorship is completely inconsequential. There is no way to indicate what is original and what is cover. In the old days, an album’s notes would contextualize something like what I’ve just released. But while I made album covers with liner notes – there is nowhere to put those notes in any of the digital distribution channels. There is nowhere to put any of that information.

And while that may be all fine and good for actual folk music – for folks at a campfire or at the rally – authorship and artistry are important and need to be recognized. Musicians, writers, producers, everyone disappears into a digital file. Everyone disappears into the background. Everyone becomes wallpaper.

PART 2

The thing of it is, REDACTED is pissed at the music industry. With good reason. The music industry is imploding and horrible for women. (More on that in a minute.) But I am not the music industry. I’m an indie artist who makes art. I make lots of different stuff but this last year, among other things, it was music. And after all these years of people asking when they’d hear me sing again, I figured I’d just go ahead and share the stuff I was singing at home.

I think Jaron Lanier was right about musicians being the canaries in the coal mine of the future. He said to watch closely what happened to musicians and journalists as they would show us what the rest of the middle class would be in for. In the big data transformation that our culture has been seized with, “content” gets disconnected from its creators and things that travel through digital space, even when they become viral, don’t necessarily credit or remunerate the creators. Musicians are the canaries in the coal mine of a nameless faceless data mine – and REDACTED may be a great example of what happens to those canaries.

I wouldn’t presume to know what happened to her during her time in the arms of the music industry. But I know that the industry generally chews women up and spits them out. Since the 80s, most women singer-songwriters, if they have a hit, it’s one and then they’re done. Maybe you get a second one, if you’re lucky but mostly, women in this genre get embraced for a minute and then chucked out the door. And I have to wonder if the toxic atmosphere of multi-national conglomerates trying to control your creativity (and probably your body as well) made for a particularly toxic coal mine that led to REDACTED’s very public psychotic break a few years ago.

I’m thinking it might have gone like this: right, here’s the coal (that’s the recording industry) and here’s the canary (REDACTED, watching the industry erode, implode, become data driven and more corporate) and in the coal mine, the canary starts going crazy – because, toxic fumes, man, and everyone goes, “Hey! That canary’s going nuts! Probably there’s something wrong with the canary! Let’s get rid of it and get another one in here.” But it’s the fumes, man, the data driven fumes. The sexist fumes. Or maybe this particular canary just happens to be particularly crazy.

But I digress. Because I’m not even IN the coal mine, folks. I’m just a canary singing in a tree because it makes me feel better and I had hopes that it might make a few other people feel better too. And I sure feel bad for my sisters inside – but also a tiny bit envious because they’re the “important” ones, the ones with awards and recognitions and record sales.

The thing that’s breaking my heart about this is that REDACTED is likely attacking me because so many of her avenues have been closed. Since she seems surprised by this Loudr thing, it would seem that no one else has requested licenses from her before. That means a struggling artist in Queens is the only one that wants to play her songs. Or at least the only one who paid for the rights to do so.

She’s punching down because she’s gotten nowhere in punching up. She’s been flying around the coal mine, going crazy and the miners swat her away – so she goes after the first free canary that comes into view.

Aside from my parents, a handful of friends and some guys in Sweden (Spotify stats are so wild) no one cares about the music I just put out. Like – really. No one really cares. And that is a pretty normal experience for me. Pretty much those same people come to my shows or read my work. It’s normal for me to fly around the margins and have only a handful of people notice. Ironically, the person most interested in me was the person harassing me. I’ve never been tweeted at so much.

Would I like more recognition? Of course I would. For just about any of the many things I do. But I have, for decades, operated at the invisible edges of things and I have made peace with that. I do it even though no one is asking for it.

What’s harder for me to reconcile than the world’s general indifference to me is how no one cares what REDACTED is doing either. Like – someone with her history and experience and recognition should not be calling me herself. She should have people for that. If Paul Simon didn’t like me recording his stuff (yes, he got $27.30 in preliminary royalties, just like REDACTED) he for sure would have his lawyer call. Or his agent. Or anyone. Paul Simon would not call me up to tell me he was about to raise hell. Probably, if he didn’t like it, he’d talk to his lawyer about it and when he heard it was all perfectly legal, he’d forget about it and go back to relaxing in his chair made of money.

So it’s bracing to realize that someone I once admired has been sent to the same margins I’ve occupied all this time. How is it possible that I have more Twitter followers than her? (Probably the bots. Also – activism.) But also – how is it possible that someone with name recognition making a stink has no real impact? When I initially told my friend about this call, he joked that his inner PR person was thrilled. “What could be better for your album than a famous person making a ruckus about it?”

But, despite REDACTED retweeting my blog and Patreon links and lord knows what else (I don’t know, I muted her,) it has had no impact whatsoever. No one has clicked her links. No one retweeted her. She’s shouting into the void, just like me.

And if it were just her and just me, I might not have all this to say now. But it isn’t. Everyone is shouting into the Internet and only a few are heard. I have been stunned to see tweets from national organizations, with millions of members, with no likes on their tweets. To be heard, either with music, or activism, or art of any kind, you need a giant algorithm behind you. You need millions of people to like your tiny donkey videos, you need the data driven winds to blow your way.

You need 30 people to play a gig in New York City and you need a million people to follow you to make a living in music. Luckily, I’m not really trying to have a full-on music career. (I have other arts to struggle mightily against in this way.) But I am incredibly sad that there is no middle space for music anymore, that a brilliant artist can disappear, or go crazy, or slip away into the void.

One of my principle skills as an artist is an adaptability to inhospitable arts climates. If a door closes, I slide over to the window. When the window closes, I’ll go out the cracks. If I can’t get a gig, I’ll play in my living room. I don’t give up. I get discouraged, of course. But I just try another way when things get crazy. And last year things got really crazy, did they not? So I decided I’d record it all because I really wasn’t sure what else to do for me or my people.

I listened to funk and blues and I played folk. For the folk.

PART 3

The funny thing about all this is how entirely resistant to the idea of recording I used to be. My former bandmates could tell you how hard it was to convince me to record our album back in 2001. I had a theatre-maker’s preference for art that burst into being for a moment and then disappeared like a firework. I also felt that if the recording wasn’t perfect, I didn’t want it out in the world, haunting me. But somehow, now that recordings no longer need to live on a physical object like a CD or a tape – they are a bit more ephemeral. A recording can both live forever and disappear into the vastness of the internet. A recording can be both permanent and impermanent all at once. I somehow flipped some switch in my mind that allows me to imagine that digital recordings can have the evanescence of theatre. Or maybe in my later years, I just value authenticity and immediacy more than perfection. Each record is really just a document of the moment I recorded it in.

Ever since I went to the Grammys, I have been thinking about a line in ani difranco’s song “Fuel.” It goes, “People used to make records as in a record of an event, the event of people making music in a room.”

Now no one even makes records, we make digital downloads. Just like your PDF from work or the photo from the party. Everything is flat. Everything is a digital download.

So my attempt to share the music I recorded at home one day is sitting in the same basket as the multi-billion dollar corporation’s property. That is, one of the three major label’s artists. (Yes, we’re down to three. And only one of them was the big winner at the Grammys.) And there are mechanisms in place to push the big guy’s “properties” forward and silence others.

I’m not trying to be seen by the big guns. I don’t think I have it in me to sell my soul to the corporate engine. Would I like to make a living wage from my art? Like ANY part of it? Like music or theatre or fiction or any of it? Of course I would and if there’s a way to recoup the cost of sharing all of it, I would like to. But I don’t think I’m suited to having a corporate boss. So ultimately, I just wanted to share a little bit of indie folk punk raucous spirit with anyone who needed a dose of it the way I did.

It is heartbreaking that THE inspiration for sharing it is also the person trolling me for it. I would have thought she would have understood. I would have thought that she could have taught me something about channeling righteous anger into folk pop anthems. And she did teach me – about thirty years ago when I first heard her music. She taught me that music could be by a campfire and out in in public. She taught me that women’s anger could sound great over a guitar. She taught me that you could sing about social issues and still be cool. That you could be folky and tough.

Part 4

Since I got that voicemail, I have been wrestling with how to reconcile all I got from her, all I learned, all I’m grateful for, with the person who would harass an artist like me. Some people advise killing your heroes (metaphorically, of course) and at times I have found it useful to think about. In this case, though, it’s a matter of my hero wanting to kill me. Not literally, of course. (Though doxxing does make me vulnerable to the nazis on Twitter.) It does rather feel like Superman went bad and is now going after Jimmy Olsen. And Jimmy Olsen has to be his own hero now. I have to be my own hero.

This seems to be a lesson that I keep having to learn. Every time I encounter an artist I looked up to, I find they are not who I imagined. Every time I meet that one lone artist who seems to do things in an original way, they disappoint me. And each time, I have to learn again that the time to look up is over and it has become time to be my own hero.

What I discovered this time around however, was that I am no longer alone in this. I discovered what a tremendous well of good will I have to draw from. My friends and family lovingly gathered around me when I felt under attack and I felt seen in a way I hadn’t before. I realized that a lot of people really do understand what I’m about and what I’m trying to do. A lot more people support that vision than I realized. It would appear that, though I often feel invisible, my values and intentions have been visible to my friends and family for some time.

And visibility is a major part of this story. In part, I have, historically, kept a fairly low profile in the flattened digital sphere out of fear of being attacked. The blog doesn’t have my name on it, for example. As a woman on the internet, I expect to be harassed, doxxed or dragged. I assumed the digital Nazis were going to come for me at some point or another. They’ve come for every other feminist I admire. But instead of Nazis, the call came from inside the house. It came from an indie feminist folk icon which somehow made it worse. But it also made me braver once I was through the worst of it.

*So why have I redacted this post? Why have I obscured the artist and her work at the center of it?
1) Because I don’t want my own visibility to be at the hands of another artist’s bad behavior. I’d really rather not have my name associated with hers in this way.
2) Because I think this artist is genuinely battling a mental illness. Googling her leads directly to many public accounts of concerning behaviors. Howard Stern thought she’d be a great guest in the middle of her public melt down. (Piers Morgan got her instead.) I just can’t get on board with adding to that exploitation of madness no matter how upset she made me.
3) If my folk are enjoying her songs on my albums, I don’t want to taint them. I, for sure, will never want to sing them again – so I’d rather leave those songs untouched by her behavior in the minds of my listeners.                                                                                           4) I may be braver now but I’m also not too keen on the harassment picking back up any time soon. I don’t want a stray google alert to mean the recommencement of the whole unpleasantness. She may read this. She may not. Probably not this far down though. So – better safe than fielding multiple mean voicemails a day. Just because I’m braver doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly lost my baseline conflict aversion.*

 

I made all this messy folk music for the people know me, who understand what I am trying to do, who have my back and will send me all the hugs and cute animal images I need when I don’t feel able to withstand the cruelties of the world. I’d rather have all those people in my life than my old heroes. My people are the folk and I will sing for any one of them whenever I am called upon. And as my therapist said, “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.”

You can help this canary keep singing for folk

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



The Glamour of the Grammys
February 2, 2018, 12:40 am
Filed under: business, music, TV | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the old times, the fairies roamed the green hills. They were powerful and mischievous. There were many varieties of fairy – with different specialties but the power they principally possessed was something called glamour. It was an enchantment that placed a sparkling illusion over a human’s eyes. The glamour made the ugly beautiful. It made the empty full. It turned a pile of old shoes and tin cans into a pile of gold shoes and diamond glasses. It turned a heap of ashes into a scrumptious looking cake and murky dirty water into rich red wine. Fairy gold is not real gold. It is something that has been glamoured.

Most humans are powerless to resist the glamour and some are trapped in Fairyland forever, having eaten a mouthful of ashes or followed a trail of gold right into a trap. But a few humans see through the glamour, past the shine over their eyes, to whatever lies behind it. Perhaps those humans have a little bit of fairy in them themselves, so they see the trick. I imagine myself as one of those with a little fairy in my blood, stumbling into fairyland with my friends and watching, in horror, as they all fall under the enchantment of the glamour. I imagine I’d try and stop them, like Caliban in The Tempest, trying to convince his colleagues that finery they see “is but trash.” But it’s no use. They are lost. Perhaps it’s better to be under the spell, to be convinced that the shine around you is real and beautiful and all for you.

Grammys 2018.
“Music’s Biggest Night.
Glitter and glamour on the red carpet.”
Emotional Star-Studded
Powerful Moments”

I was there. And yes, there were some beautiful dresses and fancy suits. Yes, awards were given and received. Yes, there were famous people there. And it was all very shiny. From my seat, I could see the crew on their hands and knees polishing up the stage.

There was so much glitz. So much glamour. And maybe it’s because I have a little fairy in my blood but I saw it as glamour and not as gold.

The Grammys are fairy gold. And the people in the room watching it are probably also fairy folk in some way. The illusion was made, not for us, the people sitting in the seats, but for the TV viewing audience.

All these years, I’d thought it was the reverse – that the REAL experience was happening in the theatre and we, at home, in front of our TVs were getting a taste of it. I had thought it was a show documented by TV. Turns out, it is a TV show that is creating an illusion of a live event. The audience at the Grammys is primarily just part of the set. They are something to pan to, or place performers in front of. During the commercial breaks, there was not some continuation of the show as I had previously imagined. There were no additional awards given, no secret performances, no warm-up comics or up-and-coming bands to keep the audience engaged. Nope. They cut to commercial, turned the cameras off and the whole thing ground to a halt. It was a total stop. Over and over and over again. When the commercials finished, the disembodied voices instructed the audience to return to their seats as the show was about to begin again. Every time this happened, I felt as if we were being carefully stage-managed. I found myself saying, “Thank you, one minute” just as if I were in a show, getting a call for places from a stage manager.

The cameras showed the real show. We found it was almost impossible to stay focused on the actual people. Instead, we watched the screens that broadcast the close-ups. It was “live” but we often watched the video instead. After all, the performers are shooting a TV show, not giving their audience an experience. Those onstage look directly into cameras, act for the camera, dance for the camera, sing for the camera. The glamour is for the TV viewer, not the people in the room.

And what about the people in the room? The audience rushed back to their seats for the camera. And throughout the building, the audience members were creating their own glamour. Throughout the evening (and the afternoon – this experience began at 3pm) the audience spent most of their time on their phones, taking selfies, taking photos of what they were watching and then tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking those images. I saw a man take photos of the screen of Lady Gaga singing and then post them, claiming he’d been THIS close to Lady Gaga. The glamour is created not just by the event organizers but by all the participants as well.

Myself included. Listen – an event like this has social currency. The woman next to me who brayed out her commentary throughout the night (“He’s fat.” “She’s skinny.” “She looks rough.” “That suit looks better on him.” “She’s old.” “Who’s that?”) will get her Facebook likes just like the rest of us. Her visit to the Grammys will earn her the ears of her peers, who will get all of her thoughts (inane they may be.) She may be a hit at her next cocktail party. But I’m no better – I may have more awareness of the social currency that I’m collecting in this scenario – and rather than tell you who is fat and who is skinny, I’m telling you how this glamour stuff is all bullshit – but I recognize that even exposing the glamour of such an event gets a little bit of glamour on me.

I may relish in telling you how incredibly weird it is to watch someone who has JUST won a Grammy award be compelled to sit on the floor of the Madison Square Garden concessions hall to eat her burger because, like the rest of us, she was not allowed to leave between the two ceremonies. I may get some weird cynical charge out of revealing how watching about eight hours of award show is about as exciting as watching any well-oiled machine do its thing. I mean – yeah, a widget making machine is pretty cool and smooth but it’s not terribly human. It’s just clean and precise and a lot of professionals did their jobs efficiently and got the stuff made. I may get a little pleasure out of pulling back the curtain on the man pulling the levers to create the Great and Powerful illusion.

As an artist interested in authenticity, exposing the clockworks of such a thing is one of my specialties, as is digging in to unexamined underlying mythologies. But I recognize that simply by being in a room that people perceive as glamorous, I get a secondary glamour boost even if the actual event was like watching widgets get made. But once I get some glamour on me, people who know me get a little glamour on them, too. It doesn’t even matter that it’s all an illusion, does it? Or does it?

If you watched the Grammys this year, you may have noticed how few women were nominated and how only one won during the TV show portion of the event. The Grammys have a gender problem. The music industry has a gender problem. And has had for some time. Probably forever. If you don’t know this yet, you haven’t been paying attention. (*Sure is curious this pattern of teen girls paired with middle aged men to make hit records! I bet there’s no predatory behavior in those dynamics, no sir!*) What’s funny, though, to the point of absurdity, is how the Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow responded to the questions about this after the ceremony. He said:

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”

The range of ways this statement is absurd is so wide. All I could do when I heard it was laugh and look forward to the moment when this guy gets his inevitable comeuppance. How is it possible that, after all these months of watching the movie industry implode, that he is still so clueless?

But at the heart of his cluelessness lies the biggest glamouring of all. That illusion is not the lights or the costumes or the TV trickery but an underlying assumption. The Big Glamour is that the Grammys are a meritorious, equitable and ultimate arbiter of the best in music. The glamour this guy has over his eyes has him convinced that the Grammys prove that the best music wins Grammys because, look, all the people who won them are great! They have awards! His glamour tells him that the best people in music work within the “industry” and that those people voted and out of all the music recorded in the world, they chose the very best. And if no women were nominated that’s because no women were the best this year. He knows that’s true because they weren’t nominated. The glamour over his eyes prevents him from seeing the machine that churns out market-tested beats under algorithmically satisfactory melodies. His job depends on him never seeing the inequities, the audience-optimized packaging or the cross-marketing motivations that take precedence over art. His job depends on his never losing the glamour that keeps him from seeing sexism, racism, ableism and ageism at work. And his glamour is the glamour that CBS broadcasts around the world.

The big glamour is convincing the world that this contest is actually significant, that it represents the interests of music, rather than the interests of a handful of multi-national conglomerates that continue to control the distribution of music. Even though technology has made the means of production more available to more people, thus allowing more people than ever before to record music, the Grammys continue to promote the music that comes through their usual (and ever narrowing) channels.

The big glamour is convincing all of us that winning a Grammy is the pinnacle of musical achievement. It’s not. It’s the pinnacle of recognition from a very narrow band of people. It’s a nod of acceptance from a privileged few. But it is not the real achievement. Making good music is the real achievement. The Grammy is a nice piece of metal on a stand. And a useful marketing tool. It is a useful bit of glamour if you’re trying to sell your album. In this attention-saturated world, getting a glamour boost like this is very significant. And I want for every musician I know to win one so they can get the glamour that will translate to sales and streams and so on. A Grammy gives you a thick layer of glamour that you maybe can capitalize on. Maybe.

What I saw at Madison Square Garden had nothing to do with music as I know it. It had nothing to do with the music I make or the music that people I love make. The only moments that seemed connected to my actual experience of music happened in the ceremony earlier in the day. While that “Premiere Ceremony” also seemed to be built for the audience that was watching elsewhere (it was live streamed and filmed like a TV show) there were a handful of performances that actually brought music into the room. India.Arie. Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. Jazzmeia Horn. Those moments felt like a breath of fresh air in a weirdly corporate environment. All day, I felt as if I were at a sales event and what I was being sold was the thing I’d already bought. I’d bought that the Grammys were a meaningful prestigious glamorous event. And it is one piece of glamour after another.

The fairy in me knows when I’m being glamoured and I was glamoured all day long. Sometimes I saw some actual gold shining through the fairy shine but I left my journey to the Grammy fairy hills exhausted and baffled. How is it possible that all these mega media award shows have us all fooled? And for so long? The Grammys celebrated their 60th anniversary this year. Is that 60 years of worldwide glamouring? It’s possible.

And this Grammy glamouring feels awfully similar to the packaging of politicians and the news and is it possible that being habitually glamoured led to our fairy gold president? What can I do to become more awake to the work of mischievous fairies? And how do I help my friends see through the glamour in their eyes?

This woman won a Grammy about an hour before she had to sit on the floor to eat.

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