I can remember when being a musician was all about getting a record deal and finding gigs. It was always a struggle, at least for most of us. If you didn’t have the chutzpah to confront the club owners, managers and record companies yourself, then you had to try to find someone to do it for you…someone you’d have to pay, so chutzpah or no, you usually ended up confronting these seemingly all-powerful people yourself with: “Um, I have a really good jazz trio and we’d like to play here. Here’s our demo tape.” And the answer invariably would be, “We’re booked solid for the next eight months” or “Who are you?” Trying to get someone interested in managing you or getting through to an A&R person at a record company was even worse.
In spite of these problems, I managed to get some gigs over the years with my various groups, although I never did nail down a manager or get a record contract.
But guess what? Now it doesn’t matter any more. I spent a few years recently not working in the music field at all, and wasn’t aware that there was a veritable revolution going on in the music world in my absence.
With the advent of social networking, home recording software, mp3s and sites where you can sell your music digitally, the days of hustling for a record contract are pretty much over. Furthermore, because of YouTube and other video sites, there’s a growing need for background and ambient music, and there are a number of music licensing sites that will farm your music out to commercials, films, etc. You can actually make money with your music without even leaving your house.
Does this mean the end of live music performance? I doubt it. People still love to see a live show and feel that special kind of energy. But unless you’re a name act, you don’t make much money from doing live gigs. I love the fact that everyone seems to need and want music now — they want to put some nice piano music behind their slideshow presentation, they’re creating a video of all the places they’ve visited over the years and need some ambient music to enhance their experience, and so on. It seems that music is now coming into its own more and more, and people are waking up to its importance in our lives.
Karl Paulnack, director of the music division at the Boston Conservatory explains it eloquently in a speech he once gave to incoming freshman:
I now understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment.” It’s not a luxury, something we fund from budget leftovers. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of things, a way to express feelings when we have no words, a way to understand things with our hearts when we cannot grasp them with our minds. Music is the language we choose when we are speechless.
Imagine a graduation with absolutely no music – or a wedding, a presidential inauguration, or a service celebrating the life and death of a close friend – imagine these with no music whatsoever. What’s missing – entertainment? Hardly.
What’s missing is the capacity to meaningfully experience these events, as though eating great food without tasting it. Music functions as a container for experience – it augments capacity to grasp complex things. Without music, the events of our lives slip like water through cupped hands. Music increases our capacity to hold life experiences, to celebrate them, to survive them.
You can read the whole speech here: