To get a gig scheduled for myself and partners, the line almost always starts in the rear–first-come, first-served. That puts me in good company, the vast field of unrecognized musicians, the status of almost all my current partners. Unlike the cliques of career-oriented musicians, the field is unlimited, and adventurous playing is always a possibility, since our first thought is our own pleasure and discovery in the moment of playing . My only complaint is the long hours it takes to organize a tour, and the financial limitation on where we can go. To play the career game is not an option, for, as i argue in The Free Musics , that would limit the range of what we can do, and it’s well worth the trouble not to be confined by career needs. 

To observe the situation objectively is helpful. Given the huge number of performance-oriented musicians today, it’s increasingly difficult for musicians to get gigs who have not sought or gained approval from the music world of media and institutions, or are not part of a career-oriented clique. For myself this has meant abandoning the search to perform in NY; I organize in the more accessible Midwest and South instead. I’d rather spend my time traveling than hassling. 

Today in the states it is rare for curators to make decisions by actually listening to the music and being selectively excited by it. Some operate in terms of relative market value, with the consistently media-supported names at the top, whom they will exclusively, or preferably book. Others cater to the bulk of musicians who lack such status. In either case, for those booking a venue with an assured audience to make a decision based on their excitement about the specific music, as heard on a sample recording, is not to be expected. For those booking musicians of no media significance it seems undemocratic to do so, and “democratic” turns out to be bureaucratic but not meritocratic, just opaque. No one wants to say, ‘THIS is the music I want to make happen.” To exercise personal aesthetic judgment can be accused of elitism, criticized for exercising the power to make decisions. Left-culture Americans in general don’t like to admit they have power; even when they obviously do–all power is supposedly evil, so it must be denied. They’d rather think they’re “serving the people”–which means every single one who asks to perform will be allowed to do so in an orderly, bureaucratic fashion.

Most audience members are not good consumers, for they are willing to pay while ignoring their desire, their need for pleasure. They could exercise the right to their own judgment but don’t do so if it contradicts the media-created hierarchy, the brand names. They are egalitarian when they drop a couple bucks in the hat at a house show, but wouldn’t dream of treating socially validated musicians like that, or comparing the two acts musically. Musicians of no known value are lumped together on one plane, and the approved names on another, and like the rich and poor in our society,  increasingly the two are distanced socially and economically and never meet. Is the distance musically that great? What comes into play is a prime example of the “managing of consent”, which this audience would quickly critique if the topic were politics, but goes unnoticed here. Why is that? Is the honor of Art at stake?

If curators of media-recognized and -unrecognized musicians wanted to be truly democratic they would take seriously the actual music of everyone who asks to perform, and book according to their judgment. They would have to be willing to  take risks and face criticism for the sake of the music. It might take a cultural revolution for that to come about.

 

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