Sustainability + Music: Let the Conversation Begin

In anticipation of the launch of our PSU Sustainability + Music Lecture Series, I am aiming to put up at least one post a day of thoughts, ideas, conversations and questions that have come up in my exploration of this concept over the past three years.

The questions are many. There are also a number of intriguing and thought-provoking ideas circulating in the blogosphere.  Numerous seeds for enriching conversations.

The thing about sustainability is that people use the word to mean many things.  At its simplest is the conversation about how to make music- and by that people usually mean the various activities pursued by the music industry-green.  So you have websites like  http://www.greenmusicalliance.org/.  Is this endeavor just feel-good environmentalism,  a marketing platform for celebs and pop stars? or is there more to it?

The first post I ever bookmarked on this topic asked the question what does Sustainability in the Arts look like?  The blogger Mark Robinson was looking at the issue from an arts administration point of view. But whole field is built on top of art the try to midwife it without strangulation through the birth canal of market capitalism.   Is change coming from that sector really going to be effective?

Or is the system broken?  When we talk about music (or the arts) from an economic perspective as Ian David Moss does in his post on arts-and-sustainability, Is the game just changing underneath us and we need to come up with a new paradigm for what it means to be “an artist” what it means to have “a career”  etc?

Or may the model is wrong.  As our first lecturer Jeff Titon states in his Music & Sustainability blog,.  Maybe we would be better served by thinking of music in as an ecology rather than an economy

There is some food for thought.  Let’s see where it goes.

“Nature’s Economy”

Here is an excerpt from a wonderful post by Jeff Todd Titon, ethnomusicologist , folklorist, musician, professor of ethnomusicology at Brown University.  His blog is called ‘Sustainable Music.  Find it here

http://sustainablemusic.blogspot.com/

The post is a wonderful discussion about the nature of sustainability in relation to the arts.  Of many interesting ideas, what sticks out for me is the following”

…an economics of sustainability that follows the path of the natural world: diverse, interconnected, appropriate in size, and looked after by humans who consider themselves caretakers, or stewards, not owners. Our efforts at cultural conservation result in better best practices when we think of sustainability in these terms rather than in the terms of the economists. Following this construction of nature we emphasize stewardship, not ownership; performance and community, not product and commodity; human rights, not property rights; and not only human rights but the rights of all living creatures. An ecology or an economy dependent on continuous growth must fail.

How does this change our models in the arts world?

No one goes away empty-handed

I love discovering people who live in an inspired way.  Derek Sivers is such a person.  It’s not enough that he is the king of DIY for musicians everywhere, creating CD Baby and other businesses.  He is a messenger of ideas, his own and others’.

I find his blog inspiring not just because I’m a a musician, or because he is so knowledgeable about the music industry.  I like it because it is loaded with hope.  With new thinking that turns the conventional on it’s head and says why not try something else?  This post is a great example.

Emphasize meaning over price = More paid sales

The idea comes from Terry McBride of Nettwerk.  This excerpt gives the very simple gist of it.

If you are a performing musician that sells CDs at your shows, please consider this:

1. Say to the audience, “It’s really important to us that you have our CD.  We worked so hard on it and are so proud of it, that we want you to have it, no matter what.  Pay what you want, but even if you have no money, please take one tonight.”

2. Mention this again before the end of the show, adding, “Please, nobody leave here tonight without getting a copy of our CD.  We’ve shared this great show together so it would mean a lot to us if you’d take one.”

It changes the request from a commerical pitch to an emotional connection.  (Replace market mindset with social mindset!)  Allowing them to get a CD for no money just reinforces that

Besides the audacity of this kind of gesture/business model/community-building approach, I think I like it because it reflects a mission-driven path as opposed to a profit-driven one.  And I think that the mission driven approach brings more long-term (ie; your whole life) security.

It is also exciting because it requires re-examining  the way I think about CD’s-making them and selling them.  As well as re-thinking their role in my career/musical work.  I can’t wait to try it.

What do you think?

And check out Derek’s blog for many more great ideas.


What we leave for our children

In all my furious questioning of how we define sustainability in terms of the arts.  maybe the simplest definition is embodied in the simple question  a  “What do we leave behind for our children?”  My friend who is a therapist and writer shared these thoughts with me the other day:

“I was thinking today about my friend who just put his son on the plane, and another friend whose son is leaving for University of Washington tomorrow, and I started thinking about sustainability through the lens of what we leave behind for our children.  Often people leave money or special possessions.  Traditionally people have left the family farm or some plot of land if they could.  I think it must be comforting to feel like you are leaving your children the means to survive.  We cannot know what will speak to our children’s hearts and souls, but we know they will need to find shelter and eat.  The parent who leaves an inheritance for a child has given a gift with no ties–the child can use money however he wants–but he has also left nothing of himself or the culture.  The parent who leaves the family farm, for example, may be leaving a great deal of himself–decades of sweat and careful decision-making are in that land–but his child may not be able or willing to farm or live on that property.  To be able to shape one’s life work so as to include maximizing one’s own gifts and goals, but to also keep an eye on what one’s child will need and want in the future, seems like a real challenge.  Maybe our mainstream culture is way, way off the mark in leading us to believe that our career choices and lifestyle decisions are all about ourselves.  Maybe loving our children should include making choices about money, land, and other resources that we can pass on to them in ways that they can really use and that carry forward a rich cultural context.  And any rich cultural context includes art.  If we only leave our children cold, hard, cash, where is the love in that?  Where are the values?  Where is the beauty?