The Times They Have a’Changed

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Recently by Thomas Luongo: A Libertarian Look at Philip K. Dick


Six years ago Lew published my first article. You can read it here. It was my inaugural attempt at writing argumentatively using economics. The argument concerned the changes in poetry but was broadened to include all of the other arts where the Web had destroyed the cost of production, reducing it to the time and talent of the individual creating it. If you want to be a writer, get a free blog. A musician? Upload them to Soundcloud. I'm sure there are dozens of similar services that I haven't found yet.

Since the writing of that article the explosion of social media has taken place. I didn't anticipate that. In 2005, RSS was in its infancy and there was zero integration between websites. Building an audience required a lot of work.

Today it's taken for granted that one would leverage Facebook or Twitter to reach out to and stay connected with your intended audience. There are automated services to get you Twitter followers by the hundreds, if that's your gig. Even for an internet oldster like me, it is staggering how quickly the landscape changes and morphs into something new. Keeping up is a job unto itself. Moreover, we can now take the entire world with us on our smartphone of choice.

None of this should be construed as a complaint.

Quite the contrary, I think it's utterly fantastic. I got into writing on the internet in 2003 because I had something to say and the cost of production and dissemination fit my budget, ie. free. I like writing. Sometimes I can even convince myself that I love it and that I'm good at it. But, deep down I know that I don't love it. If I did, I would have not walked away from it so easily or the paycheck and the audience I had built up so carefully.

What I love is music. And it took a good friend, one who told me multiple times how much that first LRC article affected him, and his music to remind me of what I'd forgotten.

I loved being a musician as a young man. Back then I was a bass player. My well-worn 1985 Rickenbacker 4003 ("The Rick") has seen hundreds, if not thousands of hours of use. Today, I think of myself more of a drummer, well, not drummer per se, more like u2018one who earnestly and bravely flails behind the kit.' I have the heart of a drummer if not the hands and feet.

Something else happened in these last six years. The cost of home recording has dropped along with the cost of publishing. Access to high quality digital tools is everywhere. Thank you Moore's Law. I envy anyone who owns a Mac. Garage Band is friggin' awesome. If I had any money to spare I would buy a Mac just for it and Logic. What once cost millions now cost hundreds. I stopped playing because I had no outlet that would satisfy me given my lifestyle. The tools and the infrastructure weren't there for me to pursue things my way. Even if they were there (and I just wasn't paying attention), there was no real outlet for the music anyway. I wasn't going to be picked up by a label. So, what was the point? I'd taken my playing as far as I could go without other people and finding people with my tastes was difficult. So, over time The Rick spent more time in the case.

I bought myself an electronic drum kit at the tender age of 35 to scratch the itch that had been gnawing at me since I was 15. I'd been studying drumming technically for years. I knew what to do, what to practice, how to hold the sticks (for the most part), I never had anything to practice on, except myself. My wife and friends can go on for hours about how crazy I drive/have driven them tapping on the steering wheel, the door frame, my desk, my knees, them etc. They eventually chipped in to buy me a Djembe for a past birthday to at least have the noise be something musical. Any spare minute can be used to work on my Swiss triplets or paradiddles. The drumkit, to me, is the closest thing to an altar in my cosmology. There something magical happens. I watch great drummers with nothing near envy, it's pure joy and awe at what they do. I know I'll never be one. And that's fine.

So, after a few years of practicing I felt competent enough to offer my services to my friend. He had been creating music, not of the highest quality to be sure, for a few years. Honestly, he knew it wasn't good, but it didn't matter. That wasn't the point. He'd wanted to do this for most of his life and he could do so now. Bravely, more bravely than me, certainly, he put his apprenticeship out there for all the world to ignore, ridicule or exhort. I was just plain proud of him. He'd become that guy I mentioned at the end of my article, someone putting up his work saying, "I hope you like what I've done here."

I listened to his latest set of songs one night last November and realized that he'd become a pretty good songwriter. The songs were honest. A couple of them were wonderful. And maybe I could help him (and myself) improve the presentation. I offered and he happily agreed. We trusted each other's judgment, though our tastes are almost diametrically opposed. The work could get done from home, 80 miles away from each other, when it was convenient for us. And the best part was that we were in constant contact for the first time in years because of the music, not letting months go by without a word. All of these songs could suck and they would still hold immense value to me because of this re-connection.

Isn't that what music is supposed to be about?

This is taken for granted now, but even 5 years ago this arrangement wasn't really feasible. The bandwidth cost was too high and availability was too low. I solved how to record my drumkit by spending all of $418 at Amazon on a 16 track digital recorder that is everything a home recording artist could need. When I first picked up a bass guitar that box would have been a roomful of equipment costing $10,000 or more, given all that it could do. A good condenser mic for recording vocals can be had for less than $100 now. That was unheard of even 4 years ago.

I've recorded 5 tracks for him so far, he's published 2 of them. My favorite is here. I play drums and bass on his tracks, he plays guitar on mine.

Within days I had ideas for my own work spinning out of my head. It was cool. I knew I had ideas worth exploring and for the first time I could see a path to making them worth spending the time to develop.

This is why the changes brought about by the Web are so astounding. The number of free or nearly free resources for full-scale production of music is overwhelming. I felt like I had just discovered the internet for the first time. I still don't think I've scratched the surface.

I now have an album planned out, and a band name that's better than "Fistful of Prozac." Two songs are finished, two instrumentals are in production and the others are mostly written. Since I started work on these songs and their videos I've spent a total of $23.57 on some strings and a cable. Everything else is fully depreciated.

I'm using Reaper to do the mixing and recording of any MIDI instruments, to publish the album, YouTube to publish tie-in videos, DropBox and Soundcloud to move files between people and my Twitter and Facebook feeds to help promote the work. Even the video production software was free. Xtranormal, the text to animation service, just published their stand-alone application, State, which I used to create this video. The app is free and I used the given points to purchase the assets I used in the video, 1 set. 2 actors. Zero dollars.

With all of the changes to the economics of music production, nothing substitutes for quality. I don't know at this point whether what I've produced is quality work. It's not for me to judge. I know I had a blast working on it and can't wait to finish the other songs. I hope that these snippets of my insanity and the story thereof move you to do something: laugh, cry, cringe, tap your foot or create your own music.

In other words, "I hope you like what I've done here."

Thomas Luongo [send him email] is an out-of-work chemist, amateur economist and obstreperous recovering Yankee/Goat-herder living in North Florida. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Check out his band, The Myo-Tonics.

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