A reader pasted this quote as a comment on my recent post about file-sharing.
“When someone downloads a piece of music, it’s just data until the listener puts that music back together with their own ears, their mind, their subjective experience. How they perceive your work changes your work. Treating your audience like thieves is absurd. Anyone who chooses to listen to our music becomes a collaborator. People who look at music as commerce don’t understand that. They are talking about pieces of plastic they want to sell, packages of intellectual property. I’m not interested in selling pieces of plastic. I’m grateful that I’ve sold enough to have a house, take care of my kids and live decently. But that’s a gift, not an entitlement. I don’t want potential fans to be blocked because the choice to check out our music becomes a financial decision for them.” – Jeff Tweedy
First of all, I find it beautiful that this comment was copy/pasted from another source; using someone else’s words to express our own thoughts is an interesting aspect of this whole discussion. I do it all the time.
Second, I totally agree with the Tweedy quote. Music is not about selling pieces of plastic, it’s about sparking a connection between people, and about giving the listener joy. When you give people joy, there’s a good chance they will reward you somehow. But the exchange doesn’t work as well when the artist treats their work as a product for sale, and demands a reward from the recipient.
Still, I can’t help noting that Wilco gives us an awful lot of ways to buy pieces of plastic with their recordings on them! So even if Jeff Tweedy isn’t interested in selling us pieces of plastic, someone in the band is, and makes them available to us to buy if we like. (I just bought “Wilco (The Album)” and I love it.) Maybe Jeff means that he’s not primarily interested in selling pieces of plastic, that selling pieces of plastic is not an end, but a means of getting his music into the ears of his audience. And that downloads, paid or unpaid, are also ways to do that. If that’s what he means, I’m completely in agreement.
I read an amazing book recently, called “2666″, by Roberto Bolano. In one passage, Bolano describes the attitude of one of his characters, a novelist, towards his own work. The passage struck me as one of the best descriptions of what it’s like to be an artist that I’ve ever read, especially the odd and interesting relationship between art and the commerce of art. Archimboldi, the character, writes in the day; his main job is at night, as a bouncer (or doorman) at a bar.
“Archimboldi’s writing, the process of creation or the daily routine in which this process peacefully unfolded, gathered strength and something that for lack of a better word might be called confidence. This ‘confidence’ didn’t signify the end of doubt, of course, much less that the writer believed his work had some value, because Archimboldi had a view of literature (though the word ‘view’ is too grand) as something divided into three compartments, each connected only tenuously to the others; in the first were the books he read and reread and considered magnificent and sometimes monstrous, like the fiction of Doblin, who was still one of his favorite authors, or Kafkas’ compplete works. In the second compartment were the books of the epigones and authors he called the Horde, whom he essentially saw as his enemies. In the third compartment were his own books and his plans for future books, which he saw as a game and also a business, a game insofar as he derived pleasure from writing, a pleasure similar to that of the detective on the heels of the killer, and a business insofar as the publication of his books helped to augment, however modestly, his doorman’s pay.”
Making art is very little like experiencing art; I agree. And I think many artists would agree with Bolano that an artist’s life is partly a hustle and partly a deeply interesting and satisfying game to play just for the joy of it.
One thing almost every artist will tell you is that making art is very time-consuming; having a full-time job is pretty much death for many artists’ work, since the job leaves so little time for making art. Thus the hustle; if only to buy time in which to make art, artists often try very hard to make their art pay. We look at every paid piece of work as a way to buy the time to do more work.