This is the first of a regular series of blog posts by Brahman Shaman from his Ghost in My House Studio. Look for more posts from Driftless Music artists and partners in the future.
Less is more. The less we have of some-thing the more we enjoy it. Whether that thing be music, relationships, food, alcohol etc... Contrast is the spice of our corporeal reality.
In our youth the value of a $ is much higher than in our adult life. Aging not only changes our value systems but also changes what we value.
I recently sold all my cds (those in good enough condition for re-sale) to the local Deaf Ear Records. I have about thirty cds left that didn't go to Deaf Ear or Goodwill. I got rid of the cds because the mp3 revolution reduced their use. Ironically, since I got rid of the majority of my cds I have actually been listening to cds more often. Because I have less choices it is easier to make a choice. I have rediscovered the value of the cd by having less of them.
The mp3, ipod, web 2.0 revolution has altered our experience of music in amazing ways. One now has the ability to store hundreds of albums worth of music in a handheld device, purchase music online and discover and enjoy millions of artists from around the world. In other words there is more music available, more ways to hear it and more ways to store it for later listening. This "more" has altered our perception and enjoyment of music.
The iPod and similar devices are great tools for musicians. The ability to store and have ready access to the entire catalog of music I have written all on one device is very useful. Besides my own music, I have hundreds of my favorite songs and albums on my ipod. While very convenient, this has reduced the value of any one album, artist or song because there is always more to listen to. For example, I often find myself downloading a new album I am interested in, loading it on the ipod, I will listen to it once, but, if it doesn't grab me right away it inevitably becomes lost amongst the hundreds of albums already on the ipod as I choose something more familiar.
Any independent musician would be a fool not to embrace the web for networking and promotional reasons...
The ability to record a song on your computer, upload it to the web and have it immediately available for millions of internet users around the world is astounding. But, in many ways this has actually reduced the value of any single artist because there is always more to listen to. The immense volume and variety of free music online removes any incentive for music fans to invest any time or money in one particular artist or album.
Even in the short 14 years that I have played in bands I have seen the devaluing effects of "more" in action. In the late 1990's, before the internet had become as ubiqitous as it is today, it was more enjoyable and financially stable to be an independent musician. A music fan's options to hear new music were few (infinitely so in comparison to today), which increased the value of the artist. The only way for fans to hear a band and its songs were to go to a show and/or buy the band's album (most likely at the show). Less options for people to access music inspired fans to invest more fully in a band by attending shows and buying merchandise.
While the evolution of information technology has had many destabilizing effects on the traditional means with which an independent artist can make a living and may have destroyed the "album" as a commercially viable art-form, there are also many positives. For one, it pushes an artist to work harder. The lack of huge albums sales and a dedicated fan base inspires the artist to hone their craft and to in essence value their own music more.
More success can also be a problem. The rise and fall of Nirvana is an example of this problem. They started out as a unique independent band that had a handful of die hard fans. After achieving immense commercial success they had many more fans, but the original die hards no longer liked them because everyone else did too. This obviously tortured Cobain, who found that his music was not as valuable to him as an artist when he had to play it to a stadium full of people who only began valuing his music when it became mainstream. In this example, "more" success reduced the value of fans to the artist.
The key to the "less is more" philosophy is not to focus on the "less" or the "more" but to find contentment in the space between.
In talking with a number of local artists that I respect and enjoy I have seen this unconscious evolution at work. A common theme in conversation with a diverse genre of artists like Michelle Lynn, Porcupine, Nick Shattuck, Hyphon, The Brillant Beast, and Kasey McKee is an organic feet-on-the-ground approach to their craft and their potential for commercial success. In other words these artists make music because they need to and it is essential to their emotional well being. They write songs and play shows with the realization that they will likely value it more than most potential fans. Less appreciation from others has inspired more appreciation of themselves and others like them. Their creativity has become a therapy for "more".
Would love to hear the thoughts of you the reader and get a discussion going.