Saturday, April 14, 2018

Take My Music, Please

No one currently listens to my music, which is to say that very few people have been interested in it since I began recording it again several years ago, a period in my life I could call my "musical renaissance". This situation of not having achieved an audience has taken place despite my having produced a lot of what a few people and I consider to be good material. The pieces of music tended to be electronic, ambient, drone, and experimental in genre. Many of them are long-form, some of which verge into more than ten minutes or even up to an hour or two in length. I'm based in Springfield, Illinois USA, by the way, and I'll get how my formats/styles and my potential audience have interacted, or haven't rather, shortly here.

Sometimes my songs have gotten radio airplay on a local community station (WQNA) which I also DJ at myself as well (and yes, I have played my own stuff on my show). On SoundCloud and Bandcamp, I see single digit numbers of plays per week, if that. Some weeks I go without any plays. I spent about a year during 2016 and 2017 performing shows in the area, partly for the fun of it and partly to popularize my growing catalog. It had no effect. I offered flash drives full of my music for sale at shows, and not a single person bought one.

I recently, actually, started offering all of my music I have posted to Bandcamp--twenty albums of it--for free to stream and download. No takers. I can't give my music away.

Is it really that bad? If the quality of music is in the ear of the beholder, is my work therefore low in quality, without value?

I don't know about that.

I do know the following facts, however.

1) Ambient/drone/electronic is an extremely niche market, with few listeners and artists. I knew that going in. I suppose I thought I could grow an audience for my work--sort of "convert" people to patrons of my art. On some level I probably felt that if I put my stuff out there, a few listeners would lead to more listeners and so on. I dreamed. Was I wrong about being able to "grow" an audience in such a way simply by making my music appear on the internet? Of course. I was wrong about that, much as thousands of other musicians are are wrong about the future prospects of their own tunes these days.

2) Music is an art, and art always has a locality to it geographically. It is always situated in an area of culture. Even though I stopped performing shows last year, my first stop for potential listeners is always still my social circle: my friends and family with whom I socialize on a regular basis here in Central Illinois. They know me, and they know I make music. So, they hear about it first when I have something new ready. Sometimes I receive the occasional compliment or passing interest in my work, especially when a new album is playing in the background of a popular event at The Pharmacy Gallery & Art Space, where I maintain a membership and an active role as a visual artist and audio/video stylist. Even so, my reach has largely been non-existent locally, too.

3) My work seems good, especially some of the experimental electronic songs, or at least I feel good enough to have more listeners than it currently has.

So, to what do I attribute this state of things? It's fairly simple, I think.

1) I'm in the wrong place for my music reaching people in a local way. What's popular here musically? Punk, roots revival, folk, and heavy metal are. My catalog is the antithesis of all that. Were I situated in larger urban area--Chicago or Seattle--or a more progressive place, a college town like Champaign-Urbana, Illinois maybe, my art would stand more of a chance. I don't want to move however. My spouse, child, and I are rooted here. This is our home, for all its pluses and minuses.  

2) I'm in the wrong time in a larger sense. Music is everywhere these days, and easily so. It's in the car, it's at home, it's on your phone, it's in the workplace, it's in your headphones, it's in stores, etc. Also, pretty much anyone with a computer and a basic knowledge of music production now has the means to make and disseminate songs. It no longer takes a studio and a recording contract plus distribution deal to get your music to listeners in a portable format. Professional streaming services (Spotify, Google Play, Amazon, etc., which I've also tried, incidentally) and smaller, free digital media services like the aforementioned Bandcamp and SoundCloud mean that it's a lot easier than it used to be to make your work available to listeners, too. The result of all this is heavy competition for ears, and not just from other musicians but other media producers, too. YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and other video services and social media companies want peoples' attention, too, not to mention as do news channels and video games.

I've written before in this blog that I think there is too much culture right now, which is a direct result of this high modernist, internet-focused, media spectacle society of ours in 21st century America. There is far too much to consume because there has been so much cultural production for the past 100 years, and it's so easy to publish it. Capture a moment of video, upload it to YouTube or Facebook, and let the likes roll in. Anything and everything is available now, at our keyboarding, mousing, swiping, clicking fingertips. When enough of us publish, and when all this stuff is ready for consumption instantly, we get overwhelmed, and then we have to differentiate between what we tune out and what we watch, hear, play, or read--what we support, in a word. So, yes, there is too much stuff. I'd say remove some of it, please, but that's not realistic, I know. Nor is it realistic for someone like me, who thrives on the artistic process of creation, to stop being a producer.

Yet, competition can be good for art and for the people involved in art movements. With so many competing forces taking place in this milieu, we artists will have try new things to reach people. We will have to innovate. It's not enough to simply make some music of whatever potential value, post it to a website, and then hope for the best. To be heard, we must shout louder than the rest of the crowd, so to speak. The way I see it this is partly about my own expectations for one thing, and so I try to adjust those to closer match the chances in reality of my music finding success, and partly this is also an opportunity to reassess what I'm doing--not why I'm doing it (a silly, irrelevant question) but what I'm doing. How can I alter my methods. Not one to overthink, I do find at times, such as these maybe, that some thinking is necessary. The trick as I see it and as I tell myself is to not give up. Very beneficial things could come of this moment art-wise, and those remain to be seen. Of course quitting is not an option for someone like me, who needs to be a producer to feel well-being. So, what will my next album sound like? I'm not sure, but hopefully it will be more interesting than the last.