Friday, August 13, 2021

Dreams Just Out Of Reach

I got a check in the mail from CD Baby the other day.  Forty-eight dollars and thirty-three cents.  Can't remember what I paid them to distribute my last album over a year ago now, but it was a little less than that.  My music is in all the places people go to find music these days, and the checks have been few and far between, but it's always a pleasant surprise to get an unexpected gift to keep on dreaming of the day when I'll turn an actual profit.  Needless to say, I'm not worried about being in trouble with the IRS if I don't report a few dollars of "profit" as income, considering the money I forked out for minor upgrades to my music recording tools over the years.  

They're still woefully old-school, but you get what you can afford for any hobby.  I intentionally like a low fidelity, analog, minimalist type of sound with my recordings.  I've got a neighbor with at least six sets of premium golf clubs, and by all accounts, he's a terrible golfer.  As a skier, I’ve always made fun of the people who had all the latest gear and looked really good but couldn’t ski very well.  Don’t want to be that person.  On the other hand, I like knowing that people buy what makes them happy, whether it makes them better or not.  I have a fairly expensive Martin guitar, which you could argue I don't deserve, but it makes me happy.

I do feel sorry for people who take it too far though.  Sometimes the dream far outweighs the reality.  People get caught up in acquiring the finest equipment to be more professional-sounding out of passion and believe they can beat the odds and succeed despite an overwhelming amount of competition.  Sometimes the equipment doesn’t help you sound or get any better.

I'd rather be the guy with modest equipment who is pretty good, rather than be the guy who has all the latest, greatest, most expensive stuff and still be mediocre at best.  Some go so far as to really believe they can turn their passion into a legitimate profession, and I applaud them for following their dream, but know they have a tough road ahead.  As an example, just because there are way too many lawyers in the world, doesn't mean there won't always be room for new good ones.  It's just that if you have kids contemplating careers, it might be realistically good advice to steer them clear of law as a career.

I'm at once jealous and surprised at the audacity passionate people have for music when I hear they think they can actually build their own recording studio and get artists to pay them to come there to record.  Some go so far as to invest in a commercial building for such a thing, pay for fancy mixing boards and acoustic treatment and expensive preamps and microphones.  Ambitious to be sure, but very likely to result in disappointment due to a lack of demand.  That said, there’s always the field of dreams hope that if you build it, they will come, or at the very least, you’ll have better quality recordings of your own music.

I was among the first wave of amateurs who put their music in online music stores like iTunes when such a thing became possible via TuneCore, the first aggregator/distributor I used.  The reason I switched to CD Baby for the same service was a very easy choice:  they offered a one-time fee to distribute indefinitely, whereas TuneCore began demanding an annual renewal fee to keep the previously-released albums available in the stores year after year.

Anyone with an instrument, microphone, computer, and internet connection can reach a global audience with their music now.  The vast majority have little or no realistic prospect of meaningful income.  A part of that majority for a couple of decades now, I've never made the jump from "amateur enthusiast" to "middle class" as a self-contained DIY independent solo recording artist, despite having my music available in all the same places as professional artists.  

You can find my ten albums on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube just like you can find a major-league artist like Bob Dylan's.  It gives the impression I'm playing in the same league, with the same potential as anyone else.  Having the possibility of income makes for great dreams, but the reality is I'm not even close to playing AAA ball.  I could go on with another baseball analogy that all I need are some hits to hang with the big boys, but let's face it, I'm in the same ballgame as millions of other amateurs.  The dream seems close, but realistically, it's far out of reach.

This type of situation could cause resentment or at least frustration.  If you've read any of my other previous posts on this blog, you know I've experienced some frustration, particularly in the beginning.  The potential for discovery, appreciation, and income remains, and that's why I keep releasing new music every couple of years.  Even without any income, the nominal fee is the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket.  You can't win if you don't play, and the fantasy stays alive until you check the winning numbers.  The "what if" daydreaming is worth the price.

Just like a kind compliment from someone, a small royalty payment goes a long way toward keeping the dream of a growing audience alive.  My music is not for everyone, I know that.  There’s a lot of it to enjoy, once you get hooked on it.  Discovering an artist you like and then checking out all of their back catalog in your free time can be a lot of fun.  I do it all the time, and in this day and age, the convenience of asking google to play any song by any artist any time, whether from a home smart speaker, smart phone, car stereo, or computer makes it easy.  Then you can check out the videos on YouTube, read about the artist on their website, read their blog, etc.  

My catalog is out there for you to comb through, start developing a mental list of the ones you like best, eventually listening to them all, having that list evolve with time, and knowing there are more on the way.  I love knowing that’s possible, and I love making it possible for you, whomever you are.