I’m sitting here gearing up for the DVD/VOD release of The Shopkeeper, the film I made, and every day it’s one horror after another in the news. I can't shake this feeling: how can I presume to release a movie about the travails of musicians when its their livelihood and not their lives that is on the line? It feels increasingly frivolous.
But then I think: Music is not optional.
Music is and has always been my #1 way of comprehending the world. We need it to understand our lives, to express our desire and fear, to join communities together, to call out injustice. I just watched the Mavis! documentary, and was reminded of the key role that music played in the civil rights movement. The very acts of listening to music and performing it is revolutionary enough that their practice is routinely restricted in repressive regimes.
And I get it: there is nothing like the power and transcendence of being jammed in an overcrowded club with a bunch of music fans on one of those rare but exquisite nights when the crowd, the band, the songs, the mood are all in sync. It's joyous and exhausting, and staggering out into the night afterward, sweaty and wired, is an epiphany.
I just received my monthly email newsletter from Chuck Prophet, who routinely delivers such nights to his audiences, and was struck by this line: “I’m not sure if a great rock and roll gig can get people to vote for a sane person or be nicer to each other but we keep running battery cables into the audience, hoping to keep the circuit connected.”
And, you know, there's Rose Schneiderman's famous missive about "bread and roses" -- that the people don't just deserve a decent life, they should have some beauty as well. Society is strong when all its citizens are cared for. And music is a fundamental part of that.
Well, here's the thing: musicians gotta eat. Not everybody is Beyonce. Most working musicians are slogging it out at a far more humble level and "making it up in touring and merch" is - unless you are a superstar - not a living. Even Donald Fagan just had to go back on the road, and he's one of the legacy artists they keep telling us will ride Classic Rock into the sunset.
I get it: things change, technology evolves. Look at coal country. Some jobs are not coming back. Streaming music is the future, yet Spotify pays +/- 0.0068 cents per stream.
So where do we go from here? That's what I want The Shopkeeper to help figure out. To extend the metaphor: if coal is a thing of the past, what is the future for the people who mined it? Where are the good ideas? They're out there. Maybe Elon Musk should be building factories for his Teslas in Ohio. Similarly, if musicians can't sell music, and it costs money to make and promote music, how can they sustain a life creating it? Do we have to put our music on Spotify? Are musicians ever going to unionize in a real way? Can audiences who have grown up expecting music to be free be convinced to sometimes pay? Who knows? Some musicians are coming up with some great ideas for how to negotiate the new economy. Let's learn from them and keep talking about this.
So! The Shopkeeper comes out in a couple weeks and I’m putting my heart into promoting it. I'm having a big DVD/Video-on-Demand bash, both live and online. I hope you'll join me and let's celebrate and solve this together.
Three years ago (OMG, is that true?) I started raising money for the film on Indiegogo. One of the fun things we did as part of the campaign is offer special perks for certain goals. I held little internet contests to select cover songs for me to sing, and when we reached each milestone I recorded a version of that song with Martin Young here in Ojai, six in all.
So to bring the story full circle, I decided to send the movie off into the world the same way it started, with some songs I love and a group of good friends. Martin Young and I will be doing a set of killer songs on a theme of #MUSICIANLIFE. You'll know some of them and be glad to know of others.
Live: Come down to Kim Maxwell Studio at 7 pm on August 25 for the concert and afterwards we'll open the side doors between the studio and Jim & Rob's and have a taco and tequila party! The concert is free, but the venue has a maximum occupancy. We need a headcount, so please RSVP. There will be DVDs and download cards for sale. And make sure to support Jim & Rob by buying lots of food and beverages from them, as they are setting aside their patio just for us!
Let me leave you with this:
“Can a mere song change people's minds? I doubt that it is so. But a song can infiltrate your heart and the heart may change your mind.”
I believe it.