The Friday Morning Listen: Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – Grand Opening and Closing (2001)

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It seems like everywhere I look these days, there are new articles mashing up the related themes of the demise of the record business with the (so-called) evil of the new streaming services. Part of me wants to stop reading them, mostly because they shine very little new light on the issues. That and the subheadings are often so full of snark that I want to reach through the Ethernet and smack somebody: “Spotify is not paying your favorite artist, it’s taking food off his table. Here’s why.” That “here’s why” bit wouldn’t be so annoying if the article actually came through and rose above generalities and flailing conjecture.

So here are all of the bits needed to assemble a generic “The changing music biz. Is it dead?”-type essay. First, lament that fact that nobody wants to buy music anymore. Napster must be mentioned in this paragraph. To add some scholarly flair, bring up things like “changing demographics,” “target audience,” and the rise of “iTunes.” Remember to include revenue numbers for singles sold. A comparison to album sales would be nice. A pie chart? Fantastic!

Reportage on streaming services is a little more difficult, since the numbers are kind of slippery and the particulars of the contracts (between the services and the record labels) are sometimes hard to come by. What’s true is that nobody on the artist’s end of the pipe is getting rich from this. The conclusion that’s almost always reached is that live performance is where the opportunities are.

I do feel bad that there are people out there who think that music has no value. That’s why the trend toward crowd-funding has me intrigued. People launch Kickstarter campaigns to fund album recording sessions and even whole tours. Is this the future of popular music? It’s hard to say.

A few weeks ago, I was listening to an interview with the Vermont folk duo Red Heart the Ticker. They created a series called Songs In The Lunar Phase, which involves subscribers in the creation process by giving them one song per month. At fifteen bucks per year, that’s a pretty good deal. It’s a smaller scale version of what they do over at the jazz-oriented Artists Share.

Just yesterday, I read a Times piece about a similar subscription model put together by the band Rabbit Rabbit. Subscribers to their Rabbit Rabbit Radio pay $2 to $5 per month (the line is “pay what you can”) and get a new song each month as well as all sorts of related items: photos, essays, information about the creation process, etc. Because of the costs involved, they’re not making a huge amount of money yet, though there is hope that that might change with future growth.

And that’s the key for the future: growth. Subscriber growth. That Times article points out that for established artists (they mentioned Radiohead), this kind of thing might well be huge. For the up and comers, the trick will be to grow that subscription list. But how? I don’t have any answers here, but there’s something about all of this that gives me hope. I love the idea of music fans contributing to the creative process because of their desire…with zero middle man involved.

Oh, the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum? They’re one of the bands that Rabbit Rabbit cohorts Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi used to be involved in. I got sucked in by the name. The music did the rest. I’ll be listening on Spotify…I hope I don’t end up hoarding their entire dinner. Maybe I should send ’em five bucks?

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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