Welcome to my home on the internet

I live in New York City and I play, write, arrange, and produce music for myself and lots of other people. I spend quite a bit of time in Austin, Texas, and travel around the country with various groups. I've contributed performances, compositions, and arrangements to recordings by bands like Snarky Puppy, Okkervil River, Bill Laurance, Nelo, and many more. My band is Progger.
For booking, lessons (in person or via Skype), or questions, send an email to proggermusic@gmail.com.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Technology, the '70s, and convincing people to care about art

Technology is fun. I've been a fan for a long time. I got hooked when my dad put "Beyond Dark Castle" on our Macintosh in, I’d guess, 1987. Tonight I'm on a much newer Macintosh that runs on batteries and connects to the sum of human knowledge through a radio signal at Brooklyn Bowl while I eat really good fried chicken and drink really good beer. (The beer was made next door at the Brooklyn Brewery.) Overall, I think I'm pro-technology for a lot of reasons that would be easy to support in a public debate. 

But for every set of problems that technology solves, a new set of unexpected problems will arise, and this is pretty normal. An example that strongly hits home at the moment: I have, via this newish portable Macintosh and miraculous internet connection, access to most of the great music ever recorded by humans, and there’s more of this amazing music being created constantly. Every Friday a bunch of great new work gets unleashed upon the world via releases on Spotify, Bandcamp, iTunes, and all the increasingly-obsolete traditional methods. My own group partook in such a ritual not even two weeks ago, and I think what we unleashed was pretty good. This is undoubtedly a great situation to be in and a great time to be alive as a music fan. 

(Trivia note: for years, Tuesday was the official release day for music in the United States, as Friday is for films. The rest of the world, however, was releasing music on Fridays, and had been for many years, and on July 10 of 2015 the United States finally joined that trend.)

The corresponding problem isn’t even really a new one, it’s just newly augmented by the unprecedented wealth of great music out there and its equally unprecedented accessibility. With all of the strong options available, it’s more difficult than ever, as an artist, to get people to care about YOUR work, specifically, even if they’re the type of people who will indeed be very receptive to and appreciative of it.

I don’t have hard data to back this up at the moment (although I easily could— keep in mind, most of the sum of human knowledge is a web browser and a few search keywords away from my screen right now), but I would wager that the music industry has always been a pretty brutally competitive place. Many of my favorite bands happened to start in the 1970s: the Police, Weather Report, Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, and Parliament/Funkadelic, among many others. All of those groups contained seasoned, skilled, world-class musicians who had spent a lot of time refining their craft before they ever tasted success. But I would also wager that it would be nearly impossible for any one of those groups to achieve the indisputably legendary status they enjoy today if they had started in, say, 2006, regardless of their ability, experience, and irreproducible genius. 

Technology isn’t going anywhere, and we have no choice but to acknowledge and even embrace the changes that it’s brought about. And because of the state of technology today, I’m able to enjoy amazing-sounding recordings by some of my favorite independent and/or up-and-coming bands, many of whom are friends of mine, and NONE of whom would be able to make recordings of this quality in the 1970s without the support of major labels. (I’m referring to the likes of the Funky Knuckles, Hildegard, Knower, and Breastfist in this paragraph, but the above could apply to multitudes of others.) It might be harder for these bands to receive the worldwide acclaim they deserve today as opposed to if they had reached their current quality level in 1979, but they’re doing a damn good job nonetheless.

And, of course, I have no choice but to spend a good deal of time dwelling on how this affects my own project, Progger, that I’ve devoted a huge chunk of my life to developing over the last five years, and that I will continue to devote my life to for the foreseeable future. We’ve had some amazing opportunities recently: we released our first album with a record label, Ropeadope Records, who are amazing; we have inquiries coming in about gigs in Europe and Asia, and we’ve sold albums in many countries on several continents— a modest number of albums, but still really exciting; we’ve gotten radio play in London, Cape Town, and who knows where else. Still, it’s still hard to fill rooms and break even on tours. That’s going to be the nature of things for a while, and I know it’s simply because people have more options than they’ve ever had, plus easy access to those options. 

Convincing people to care is tough. I’m often one of the people who needs convincing. There’s plenty of amazing art (music, film, fiction, nonfiction, television, paint, sculpture, who knows what else) that I SHOULD care about that I don’t. But I really hope that I’m convinced, eventually, just as much as I hope to do some solid convincing.