The Stoat: An interesting and difficult question.
Calvino: Yes. Yes it is. It seems like the internet plus digital distribution would democratize the world of music for the musician. But if that's happening, or happened, I haven't seen it. Obviously, music has the problem of volume--now that anyone can record an album in their basement and get it onto iTunes, everyone does. Anyone can get their record in the store, but the store is huge, so that's no real benefit.
The Stoat: Yes. Clearly a problem.
Calvino: So there's the theory/metaphor/whatever that the cream should rise to the top, that even though the proverbial mine of potentially popular music is much larger, the gems in that mine will still stand out and be discovered. But in following music these last several years, I have discovered something: there is a staggering amount of competence out there. A profoundly huge pile of pretty-goodness. So in order to be a gem amongst that, you basically have to be, well, fucking awesome.
The Stoat: I see...
Calvino: Let's, for instance, take the example of The Calculus Affair. Just for the purposes of ease of reference, let's pretend that I am the musician behind this band.
The Stoat: I have no problem with that.
Calvino: I have, if I am The Calculus Affair, accumulated a fair amount of objective evidence that I am producing pretty good music. As a close listener to music in general I can also tell that lots of people with far less...let's call it ability...than I are doing well by it. So if I were, say, 22 years old and hot and out there touring and building a fan base, I'd probably be doing pretty well myself. But I'm 36 and I have neither the time (nor really the willingness) to tour around promoting myself, so my music just has to stand on its own. And so it comes to this: my music is good, maybe pretty good, but it just isn't fucking awesome.
The Stoat: Sure. And there are some people who might disagree with that last sentiment, and if they ruled the music business, you would be obscenely wealthy. But I acknowledge the point.
Calvino: Now, that shouldn't necessarily be the end of it. There ought to be a space for the pretty good to succeed. Maybe not, you know, a definition of success that includes professional musicianship and fortune, but one that involves selling some records to people who aren't already ones friends. And this is the thing I can't find, or that doesn't exist, in this new democratic world that has a nearly infinite quantity of competent music in it.
The Stoat: Hmm...surely other people are thinking about this problem. What about this fellow? He's talking about the same things you are.
Calvino: Yeah, he's advertising for a seminar he's running. Did you read that article? Reading it was like watching that Simpsons episode where they introduce Poochie into the Itchy & Scratchy Show.
The Stoat: Oh No! Metadialog!
Calvino: There are articles on the subject everywhere, all the time. Here's Trent Reznor on the subject. Another entry in the TuneCore blog. An article in Salon. That's just from this week. As far as I can tell, the advice boils down to, "Have you tried being clever? You should try being clever."
EXECUTIVE: We at the network want a dog with attitude. He's edgy, he's "in your face." You've heard the expression "let's get busy"? Well, this is a dog who gets "biz-zay!" Consistently and thoroughly.
KRUSTY: So he's proactive, huh?
EXECUTIVE: Oh, God, yes. We're talking about a totally outrageous paradigm.
The Stoat: Not to, you know, to mindlessly echo Trent Reznor, but you are kind of clever. Not all the time or anything, but occasionally.
Calvino: Perhaps. But times seem to call for more than clever. They call for innovation. I haven't seen the innovation yet. Or I can't think of it. Or something.
The Stoat: Perhaps it would be helpful to start with what you've thought of so far and go from there?
Calvino: Perhaps. We'll try that in Dialog part II, in order to mitigate the already extreme longness of this post.
The Stoat: Okay. Truncating in three...two...one...