Wall on Rampart Street, New Orleans. Elegant decay is a beautiful thing. (Photo and caption by James A. Reeves)
I played these songs for Dan (Trueman. Adviser, Mentor, Friend, Fiddler, Composer, Programmer, Professor, Et Cetera), hijacking him away from the coding help he'd generously offered. I opened with "Things As They Are," and the kick drum through his studio monitors sounded more alive than I was used to. I was taken aback, kind of worried about the kick drum, to be honest, but Dan was in his listening zone. This is my favorite thing about playing music for musicians or music lovers. They listen reverentially over the space of the work, no matter the ultimate verdict when the sound stops coming. It's an act of generosity to listen that way. The music is speaking without the context of a halfassed elevator pitch. "Yeah, it's kind of a bent blues, I don't know." I don't say that. Even before his assessment I feel I've already won: his eyes are closed and he occasionally smiles or chuckles or nods.
Because ultimately this is a battle for attention, we presume, a way to make it through the noise, through the clutter. Will Someone Please REALLY Listen?
Put a more generous way, music has never been so abundant and readily available. Those of us who make it wring our hands over this, because we're thinking like economists, thinking about supply and demand. But what if we spun our heads around and saw it as some kind of grand collective move towards everyone becoming an artist? Supply and demand break down and we're left with conversation, contribution--and finally, celebration.
That's the word that does it for me. Dan asks "what's the plan for these recordings?"
It sits in the air between us for a beat or two.
Then I wonder aloud, What Does It Even Mean To Release Music Today?
And he's off. One of his projects, Sideband, is doing a kind of monthly release thing: music, software, other collateral, an answer to a new question:
"How do we celebrate the creation of new music?"
He doesn't italicize it, just rolls right through it, like it's a perfectly obvious concept that making things ought to be celebrated. But it's not immediately obvious, not to me, and so the word hits hard and reframes some big questions that I've always, I realize, couched in wholly inadequate terms. It's not really a question of standing out, of buzz, of how many cookies I can get into my jar. Maybe it looks like cookie-collection, retweets and likes and downloads and riches beyond our wildest dreams. But I think those metrics are signals, symptomatic of something larger: making a generous and genuine contribution to a larger conversation, and being comfortable enough in our own skin to subsequently throw a party, to say that there ought to be a ritual around this effort, that this occasion ought to be marked.
I remember when Radiohead released Amnesiac. At midnight on Tuesday morning of release day the little store in Ann Arbor that is probably now out of business started playing the record over the sound system. All of us who had gathered in line to buy our limited editions heard it together for the first time. It was a school night but there was other work to do, a pursuit in which to engage. This year m b v fell out of the digital sky and it felt the same way. Something had happened. I want something to happen around this release. I want to throw a party.
Building this page felt a little like hanging streamers. Especially when I got into the html, which I do not speak at all, and successfully erased the navigation menu that Christine (Williams. Writer, Planner, Thinker, Listener, Co-conspirator, Bright Light,) felt was cramping her style. I reached out to James (Reeves. Former Writing Partner, Agitator, Author, "Motorist.") and he gave me access to hundreds of photographs. Dan sent a New York Times article about Rabbit Rabbit Radio, a subscription release model, and I suggested we have a race to our own novel methods of getting the music out. "You will win that race," he declares, but I am not so sure.
or, "Statement of Purpose"
Future sevens are the digital versions of Seven Inch Records That Do Not Exist.
The 7" is the template: A side, B side, image, text, delivered in celebratory fashion once there is something to deliver. Inspired by rejections from an impressive number and range of record labels.
After my most recent round of pitch letters and demo submissions--or more accurately, right in the middle of my most recent round of pitch letters and demo submissions--my prescient and given-to-provocation brother-in-law asked me why I even wanted to be on a label. This was an irritating question, mostly because it required me actually to question a long-standing assumption, or even a way of viewing the world: that gatekeepers must be appeased, roadblocks removed en route to success, defined loosely as making things for a living.
Which means I've been framing my work all along in terms of a breakout record or a star on the rise, in terms of being put on the map, reaching farther and wider than my circle of family and friends, my twitter followers, and those who have liked my page on Facebook and signed up to receive email updates. This impulse, as I continue to reduce it, comes down to something like: I want my work to matter to people I don't know. I presume that Being Discovered initiates this process, which upon brother-in-law-inspired reconsideration strikes me as a particularly well-behaved, deferential, and ultimately self-effacing way to look at the world. I have no agency, it says, no vision of my own. Someone has to pluck me out of my inadequate present circumstance. Maybe it's not Being Discovered as much as Being Rescued.
I think that the prevalence of this sort of view is at the heart of our anxiety about new ways of making, distributing, and paying for art. We look at the beginnings of an artistic life as a hostage situation or a penance, as a practice that requires liberation in order retroactively to redeem it. Then we find out that the gatekeepers are scrambling too, that our heroes are mad at Spotify, that sales are down and sales are down and sales are down. No one is going to help us out of this.
There is transformative power in this realization. Once we've accepted that the kind of help we think we want isn't coming, we can have a pair of related revelations. First: we don't need "help." Making things is not a punishment for naiveté; it's a reward for living an ethical life. Second: the canvas on which we work can be extended to a whole host of sharing practices, that might look like "networking" but that are actually efforts to build community.
For me these were seismic shifts in thinking about what I do, and I wanted to mark the transformation with an initiation, an instigation, a statement of intent: upon accumulating 7" of vinyl worth of original work, a new Future Seven will appear. Tracks, cover image, liner notes, and an essay on a hopefully-but-not-necessarily-related topic. Tracks stream free, downloads are $1. And we'll just see what happens. Brick by brick.