In 1997, I received a letter from an independent jazz label saying that they really loved my music and told me that if it had been 10 years earlier, I would most definitely be signed to their label, touring throughout Europe and I would undoubtably be making a living playing my own music. Since then, things have only gotten worse, but here’s the good news.
With the continued inability to make a living through live performance and the sale of recorded music, artists have been forced to adjust their focus from what might possibly sell and make them a bit more money to just doing what they really love and just hoping for the best.
While there are still musicians making a living out there and even fewer musicians making a really decent living, most of the rest of us are relegated to a place where we just do it because we love it and hope that a few others might like it, as well. This isn’t such a bad place to be and it’s kind of what most musicians have been doing all along, anyway.
This same philosophy that is now being forced on the rest of the industry has always been the basis of the independent scene. People just creating and putting it out there in whatever way they can and just hoping that like-minded people will find it somehow. Thankfully, there are now more ways to get it out there for much less. This is both a good and bad thing, though it’s never bad when people can just create, unencumbered by financial burdens and the stresses that going along with getting it into the hands of people who might care.
It has also always been true of those artists that have ultimately shaped how music (and all manner of arts) has moved forward and has inspired all of the rest of us. Trailblazers that have undisputed genius and were always absolutely committed and relentless about their art and how it was made. They found that they had no other choice but to continue to explore and always just assumed that eventually society would catch up with them and realize their brilliance and acknowledge the importance of their ideas.
This very same idea also explains why there are so many great major-label first albums (or first three or four albums) and then so many mediocre follow-ups from musicians who are then faced with the dilemma of having to answer to boardrooms and marketing plans who financially rely on their success. Ultimately, it’s all about an independent spirit, as well as a commitment to what an artist truly wants to express, plus a faith that there is an audience out there who might actually want to listen.
This has always been the case with independent music and independent thought and has always been the reason why so many important ideas have come from people working by themselves and ultimately unencumbered by financial interests and are just left to explore their ideas in a free and open way. While this new way of doing things may not be as financially viable, it ultimately leads musicians to better ideas and more freedom to express themselves without having to worry as much about what the financial reward or public reaction might be.
Hopefully this will all turn out to be a really great thing because it will force musicians to finally realize that the ability to make a living is not really a reality for most people anymore and that those that thought that it might be will finally have to join the rest of us in accepting the fact that we are forced to just make the music we want and just hope for the best.