Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Implication of Lennie Tristano's Wisdom

Two weeks after writing about what I called "the wisdom of Lennie Tristano," I realize that I had not followed his argument through to its logical conclusion. However, now that confused of calcutta has called my attention to "an article in First Monday headlined Rearchitecting the Music Business: Mitigating music piracy by cutting out the record companies," I realize that I really ought to do this. JP Rangaswami was kind enough to reproduce the end of the summary, which is laden with the usual terminological claptrap the IT evangelists invoke when they lack a grasp of the underlying principles:

A key assumption in this presentation is that the costs associated with the current model of oligopolistic intermediation — as well as the artist lock–in that is its consequence — is at the root of the crisis in music distribution.

However, once we strip away all the gingerbread, we realize that the real problem in today's music business is pretty much the same one that Tristano discussed: a conflict between practicing musicians and commercial interests of such violent opposition that there is little hope of dialectical synthesis. That logical conclusion from Tristano's argument was actually best stated by Tristano himself and was an oft-repeated piece of advice that he would give to his students, particularly the best ones: “If you are serious about making music, get a day job!” This was, indeed, what Tristano, himself, did. He put out a shingle to give lessons in jazz, particularly improvisation; and, by all accounts, he made a relatively decent living that way. This freed him from worrying about whether he could get performing gigs when most agents and club managers found his work too "far out;" nor did he have to worry about making records that would sell successfully. (In the latter case he made relatively few records, most of which are pretty damned awesome!)

From this point of view, any concern for "rearchitecting the music business" can never be more than a red herring (yes, I realize that is the wrong magazine) from the musicians' point of view. The wisdom of Lennie Tristano is that good musicians should not have to worry about making money from what they do, just finding the time for that "day job" that will give them the financial support to "do their musical thing." The best thing musicians can do today is to ignore all aspects of the music business (probably including the consumers)! My guess is that, if they take this "modest proposal" seriously, they will feel better for it; and, if they then decide to distribute their stuff through the Internet on their own terms, the rest of us will probably feel better, too!

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