For me, 2009 was all about making things work in spite of this recession. For a number of years I'd been working as a kind of traveling musician - I'd been hired for gigs from Tunisia to Taiwan. The recession started to hit my side of the entertainment world as early as 2007, and by the time 2009 hit things were really quite a mess. One third of the shows on Broadway closed at the beginning of the year, and all of those out-of-work musicians had a tremendous trickle-down effect on the industry.
It took me awhile to navigate this new landscape in the musician industry. The key for me was finding pockets of the industry that were relatively sheltered from the financial crisis. For-profit companies and non-profit companies were off the list (not that they were calling anyway...). That left schools, churches and government jobs. With the exception of military gigs and those (very) few gigs funded by the NEA, there aren't any government funded music gigs in this country - so I focused on schools and churches. Now I'm helping teach a few classes at NYU and moonlighting as an organist at a Catholic church in the Bronx. They are really good gigs for a recession-era musician. I'm very glad to have them - and, actually, I enjoy them a lot more than I imagined I would! Teaching at a college is a treat. The students are talented and hungry and soak up the things you teach them.
Something You Learned This Year About The Music Industry
I have this theory. I thought about it a lot over the past year and I've started peicing it together more.
Surviving entirely on live performance...isn't that what musicians had to do before "recording" was invented? Maybe it's hard to imagine the musician profession prior to our "recorded" history - but the truth is that the musician career was not something created by record labels. This is an ancient profession that has survived every single epoch of human history. Truly, it is one of the oldest professions.
So my take is, hey everyone, this isn't so bad. We can get through this. But first we have to shift our paradigm away from expecting so much value from recordings. We don't need to sell recordings to have a sustainable career in music - people did it for hundreds of years! Let's figure this out!
As such, I've been very interested this year in how regular, working musicians made a living before the emergence of the recording industry. Right now I'm reading about musicians in central Europe from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. It's interesting to make parallels between their careers and my career. I wonder if we can learn anything from their triumphs or mistakes?
I'm planning on writing about this topic on MusicianWages.com. I think of it as "applied music history". I think there is a lot we can learn from our professional lineage.
Three Favorite Things
1.) The Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts in New York City - This place has EVERYTHING I could ever want to know. I wish that I could just plug my head into the stacks and instantly upload all of the information there to my brain. It's one of the great peripheral institutions in the musician industry.
2.) My record player - you'd think after all that trash talk about the recording industry I might not value their work at all, but on the contrary, I've rediscovered the "album" this year. I moved into a new Manhattan apartment and was finally able to put my record player and record collection somewhere. There is something really patient and fulfilling about listening to an entire Beatles album, or a whole symphony, on record. It slows down my day and lets me think experience just one thing for an extended time. My iPod has been on shuffle since I bought it years ago, so this feels like a new experience. It's great.
3.) New York Public Radio - I've started listening to New York public radio each morning, and I've been impressed with the number of musician-related topics that they cover on a regular basis. The other day they talked about the use of beta-blockers to combat stage-fright in musicians (a HUGELY relevant topic, especially in the classical musician world), and yesterday they talked about the new Broadway show Fela and how Afro-pop musicians used the medium to criticize African leadership. NY Public Radio definitely has a lot of relevant content for the working musician.
A 2010 Primer
I think the economy will begin to improve, although the arts industry will drag far behind other industries. If the overall jobs market begins to rebound in 2010, I suspect it might not be until 2011 or 2012 that we see that translate into more jobs for musicians. I think if producers are smart they will start sending more tours to China and other countries that were either not hit as hard by the recession, or are rebounding faster than the U.S.
Overall, though, I don't have a lot of high hopes for the musician economy in 2010. I think it'll remain largely stagnant for a good while longer. In fact, my hope is that it remains at least stagnant in the next year and doesn't tumble further down.