I'm not finished chewing on what I read last week in this NYT article about Jonathon Coulton. And then today I found this--Coulton's own play-by-play of his accidental (well, not really accidental--just not exactly perfectly planned out) rise to success. He figured out a way to dump his software job (always a good idea) and dive full on into songwriting. And playing. And troubadouring. (A very good life choice in my opinion.)
And I love his honesty that he didn’t have some Dr. Evilish Master Plan that deployed him right over to where he is now.
Here’s the part I’m still thinking about: he makes a terrific case for releasing music for free. And the reason that I'm still chewing on this and thinking about actually doing something about it is because I've been bothered by the idea of selling my own music for a long time. WAIT! I know what you're going to say. Yes, an artist has a right to sell what they make. It's real. It's worth something. And yes we assign dollar amounts to things in our culture to deem them legit. And (not at all a small detail)—how else am I going to fund my next project unless I sell some of these CDs I’ve got? I financed my first project with money from my dear mother-in-law. That money’s not around now for the next one, so I’ve got to make it back with sales if I want to do the next project—and I really want to do the next project. This is all legit. Selling the music, I mean, is legit.
Here's the rub, though: I couldn't have afforded to buy what I'm selling back when it would have been really nice to buy it.
And I don't know if it's more true that I wouldn't have afforded it than that I couldn't have afforded it, but either way, I wouldn't have forked over the 14 or 15 bucks to myself for my CD. Not because I wouldn't have wanted it--I really would have, if you must know--but because I didn't have any extra cash in those days—all that diaper-ish money was just flying out the door and I was working hard to make sure we had enough for groceries. (In fact, there were days I was standing hopefully at the Coinstar maching during the last week of the month.) Don't start playing violins or anything--my husband and I made a choice to one-income it for a while so I could be home with our guys. And it was a good choice for a while (though I was, at that time, the proud recipient of two facial ticks and a surly demeanor). And it meant that things were tight. Really tight. (I didn't make that thing up about the Coinstar.)
And so during those years, musically speaking, I was square in the spot to have only the kids music that other people gave to me--hence the onslaught of bad kid choirs and electric synthesizers that drove me to my own guitar to try to get myself and my children out of the music-less pickle that we were in.
And this might make me different from the general Alterndad-ish community of my Gen X-ish generation. Maybe everybody else has plenty of cash for music. Maybe our generation thinks of music as a “staple” category and not an “extra”—maybe nobody else hesitates to drop 10 bucks or 30 on music every month. But I notice that even now when the belt’s been loosened a bit, I’m still not Mrs. Got Cash or anything, and I still don’t have a lot of music money. And maybe, I’m thinking, I’m not alone in this way.
So what I'm saying here is that I'm thinking about sharing my new stuff this summer. I've got all my songs written for the next CD and these really terrific plans to record them in a shiny studio--but only God's Uncle Bob knows when I'll be able to pull off the right convergence of cash and back up bands and chutspah to really do it.
So I’m going to post the tracks that I make on my own souped-up Garage Band set up. Because wouldn't I have liked to be able to download songs that I could sing with my kids in the car--for free?
Yeah, I would have really liked that.
Come back and check soon for free songs. They’ll be really terrific homegrown versions of the stuff I’ll record in the Big Kid Studio some one of these days. And I’ll sell those when they’re ready—I really will—for the next project and maybe for fancy t-shirts or something.
For now, though, let’s sing in the car together this summer.
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I think this is a great idea, and while I'm not a mom, I think that your experience of the dearth of music in your life while a new mother probably echoes with those of a lot of moms. Heck, I have a hard time finding new music among all the stuff that's out there, even without the issues of income and time.
So, from a non-mom, thanks for sharing, both your thoughts and your music.
Oh, kids music the industry is still very much a middle- to upper-middle-class genre. Most people don't have the money (or willingness) to drop $250/year on 20 or so CDs.
So if you're going to spend $15 a couple times a year, why spend a lot of time finding something you need to take a chance on? Go to Target, find the familiar brand (hint: it starts with a "D" and ends with a "y"), and buy that.
As an analogy -- I used to watch a lot of movies, once a week at least. Then I got a girlfriend, a wife, and two kids (that would be sequential, not at the same time). All of a sudden, for cost and time reasons (dinner and a movie can easily cost $70 with babysitting) my wife and I are lucky to see 10 movies per year. So the ones we choose are the ones that have fairly universal OK-to-good reviews. We avoid the movies that have loved it/hated it reviews, which means we probably miss a few movies that would become absolute favorites along with those that we hated.
Anyway, go ahead and release those free songs. Eventually people will want to pay for those songs or others you create.
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