Five Reasons I’m Optimistic About the Future of Music

For some reason, I don’t blog about music much. I don’t know why. My other writing gig is all about music , and I just finished interning at a record label. I’m obsessed with my instruments. I have even pitched and completed musical multimedia projects for university history classes–twice–in lieu of old fashioned essays.

guthrie
The current state of my apartment’s blackboard wall.

Recently, I have sensed a “lost cause” attitude when people talk about the music biz. Money just isn’t flowing the same way, to the same people, or for the same reasons it used to.

In this case, that might be a good thing.

I offer you five (admittedly optimistic) reasons I’m excited about where music is heading…artistically, ethically, and even economically. Seriously. I only wish I could say the same thing about writing and journalism.

1) Fans and artists take control.

Some people are complaining about how the music industry is going, mainly because the “industry” part is becoming  less and less relevant. The success of artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis has confirmed what a lot of us 21st century kids have known for a long time–technology is changing the game, and musicians who are genuine and business savvy shouldn’t need to answer to anyone but their fans.

How is the game changing? It looks something like this:


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Maybe I’m being naive, but even though I would love to work in music, this doesn’t scare me. It excites me. Paper pushers, marketers, and managers will of course remain important–Amanda Palmer’s success came from her wide fan base, much of which was acquired while she was signed to a record label. I know how much blood, sweat, tears (and luck) go into promotions. That manpower is valuable, and will stay valuable. But as the umbrella “record label” organizations become less relevant, people will partner up more independently; artists will begin hiring consultants, ad agencies, designers and agents themselves.  This will put musicians/producers in charge of their art rather than just requiring them to be someone else’s product. Game changing time.

2) An access-based economy.

With the internet and streaming sites, music itself is now less of a product, more of a service; not about ownership, but about access. That doesn’t mean people aren’t willing to pay, it means they aren’t willing to pay just to own things. The millennial generation are not as interested in ownership as previous generations.  Instead, they are interested in renting, streaming, experiencing, and/or consuming.  So yeah, buying a CD or even downloading an mp3 is less and less appealing…streaming on YouTube, Songza, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, and other websites is on the rise.

Streaming services like Spotify and Rdio are particularly fantastic. With these services, listeners pay a monthly fee (similar to Netflix) or in some cases just sit through a few ads, in exchange for access to a massive library of all the music they could want. Users can even download the songs they like to their mobile devices for offline listening and take them on the road. It’s portable music on demand. Not only that, but these services use ad revenue and membership fees to pay artists royalties for song plays. Other ways artists can make money? Becoming a YouTube partner (thereby sharing in advertising revenue, though in my opinion YouTube needs to up the royalties it pays), starting a Kickstarter project, or organizing fan patronage through a site like Patreon.

3) Sustainable printing and touring.

Because people are purchasing access more than anything, less stuff has to be made. The only product that seems to be selling more these days are vinyl records, because they’re the only thing that genuinely sound better than an mp3. So what products are being made? Essentially we’re whittling it down to LPs and their packaging, t-shirts, and promotional materials (stickers, posters, etc).

Compared to before, that’s not much.  You’re welcome, trees.

Moreover, smart decisions can be made with what is being produced.  While pressing new vinyl isn’t a particularly “green” call, smart packaging can make an impact. As an intern, I discovered (and fell in love with) PURE labels. The stickers they print are gorgeous and affordable…not to mention 100% tree-free with a sustainable adhesive (‘sup, technology). The availability of products like these, along with fair trade clothing options, will help with the positive impact of lowered production.

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With the focus on live performance (in Canada, the live music industry just had a record breaking year), of course, comes the question of a tour’s carbon footprint.  The good news is that artists will have a lot more power over the decisions made with stage performance than they did when merchandise production was king. Musicians like K.T. Tunstall, Radiohead and Pearl Jam are among those who actively use eco-friendly touring options, and organizations like Julie’s Bicycle have heavily researched sustainability in the live music industry.  For more optimism, check out this list of Rolling Stone Magazine’s “15 most eco-friendly artists”: www.rollingstone.com/music/pictures/the-15-most-eco-friendly-rockers-20101216/

4) Music sampling meets international development.

Pop music sampling, you have destroyed enough 80s songs. Seriously. Time to get creative.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if ethnomusicologists hooked up popular artists with musicians in poorer areas of the world for some sweet collaborations. Organizations like Smithsonian Folkways record and distribute music from communities around the world, and pay extensive royalties to artists for these works. An example?  All the royalties from Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music, and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda go straight to an education fund for children in the community where the music was recorded. If a commercial or film featured a song from that album, or an artist sampled from it (and paid royalties), that would mean a great deal for the community.

deliciouspeace

With African music-inspired indie artists like Vampire Weekend, rapper J. Cole’s sample of music from Guinea, and up-and-coming success of A Tribe Called Red, there seems to be a market for a more worldly sound. I would like to see popular artists looking for an exotic beat, new style or even just a choir in the background consider what those royalties and exposure could mean to a disadvantaged community.

5) Grassroots charity links.

Big musicians like U2, Springsteen, and Neil Young have been instrumental (…hah. pun.) in connecting the star power of musicians with charitable and fundraising ventures.  This is awesome. However, a lot of those projects have been connected with BIG national organizations.  While these are no doubt valuable, many of today’s artists are tapping into the power of connecting directly with communities and grassroots projects.

ally coalition

Because live performance (read: going on tour) is basically where the paycheck is coming from for musicians these days, two things are more possible than ever.  Firstly, artists have been able to catch and affect their fans literally in their hometowns by connecting with local charities and encouraging activism.  Secondly, being on the road make it far easier for artists to spread the word about important issues and ask for participation from their crowd.  Take the band Fun., who created The Ally Coalition. They not only donate a dollar off each ticket sold to local LGBT and equality groups, they also set up an “Equality Village” at every gig where people can declare their support for the cause. Sheryl Crow has done the same by creating an “Eco-Village” wherever she performs, and like the band Phish (who are super philanthropic), she encourages carpooling to her shows. The bottom line is that if you are in a lot of cities, you can impact a lot of cities, individuals, and grassroots organizations.

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Partying Hard and Loving Harder: How hanging out can help the community

On Saturday morning, I woke up to snow on the ground. My feelings about this were mixed, as always, but two things were fully certain: 1) I needed to celebrate this; 2) My Facebook friends get WAY too worked up over precipitation.

In my own overzealous logic, I decided that this snowfall called for an urgent, impromptu pre-Christmas party. Where? My place. When? NOW. The decorations are coming out, ladies and gentlemen.

I searched high and low for the perfect cheese fondu and hors d’oeuvres to compliment this fluorescent…thing from the 80s. It was a serious, serious mission.
Also a serious, serious mission.

This got me thinking. As crazy as the work/school side of December is, we all know that it is ultimately a friends & family time of year. We’re going to hang out. We’re going to eat, drink, and be merry. So why not do the kind of partying that makes a positive impact in the community?

Turns out, there are several incredible ways to do just that–all it takes is a little creativity and pre-planning. Here are some of my favourites:

Hosting for Hope. If Chatelaine magazine and Homesense get together to advocate something, I take note. That’s how I learned of Hosting for Hope, a program which invites people to throw beautiful seasonal get-togethers (awesome) while supporting local shelters for battered women (double awesome). If you plan on hosting a holiday party, why not sign up? A $50 donation through Hosting for Hope will get you a $25 Homesense gift card, and after asking guests to donate in lieu of a hostess gift–tada! Your party just made a huge difference in someone’s life. Triple awesome.

The Mitten Tree. The church I attend, Mackay United, has been collecting mittens and scarves for un-mittened/un-scarved folks in the community with a mitten tree. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine who knits, she suggested we get together to make some warm clothing to donate. I’ll pass her idea on as a challenge to you: if you know how to knit, and your friends know how to knit, then just skip the lame coffee date and have a knitting date instead.When you’re done, you can donate your creations to organizations that keep people warm.

Blood Donation Party. I actually know someone who did this every year, and it worked out quite nicely. Before throwing a holiday party to see old friends, he invited people to come to the blood donor clinic. This was a tradition, the same time every year, so people could count on making the appointments together (with some new faces every year, of course!). Those who were able to give blood could catch up with each other while they joined together to give the gift of life.

Christmas Hampers Project. Centretown United makes hampers to provide necessities for less fortunate families in Ottawa, “Because some holiday wish lists are more basic than others.” Apply to adopt a hamper by November 30th, or get some friends together to donate your time. The project needs volunteers for packing hampers from December 17th-20th and delivering them on the 21st. Get more information here.

Food Bank Events. The holidays are a big time of year for the Food Banks around the country. There are several different events in support of the Ottawa Food Bank that you can check out for a night out this season, like the Hintonburg Public House Holiday Fundraiser or the Santa’s Souper Singers concert. Food bank events for the city are listed here.

Spread Some Joy. One of my best Christmas memories is of visiting a local senior’s home with my girl guide troupe, armed only with homemade cookies and badly sung Christmas carol renditions. Homes like St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa are often looking for people to come in and keep residents entertained and smiling. If you and a friend like playing board games or cards anyways, why not bring your hobby to a retirement home? Who better to include in good times than our senior citizens?

Running on Empties. December 15th marks the 25th annual Running on Empties fundraiser! The Christmas Exchange program will have volunteers posted outside of every beer store until 5:30. You can sign up to be one of these volunteers, or take a moment to bring in those empty bottles (say, the ones left over from your Hosting for Hope party!) to help them reach this year’s $20,000 goal!

Alright readers–now it’s your turn to let me know what you plan on doing to hang out/help out this year! Any of these ideas strike your interest? Anything I’ve missed? Keep the conversation going in the comments, on my page at www.facebook.com/Shaunanagins, or Follow my blog with Bloglovin. When it comes to partying hard and loving even harder, there are never too many great ideas.

Special thanks to Sam Polzin for providing the photography in this post. Look forward to seeing some more of her work in weeks to come!

Giving Squared: Stocking Stuffers that Support Charity

Christmas time is coming, and we all want to show that we care. We want to buy the best gifts, to help those in need, to give as much as we can.

In related news, we’re all ridiculously broke.

Luckily, there are some  affordable gifts which offer the best of both worlds: products that return profits to charity. Yes,  it would be great if we could just donate to charity directly. We should donate to charity directly. But, right or wrong, that look on a loved one’s face when they receive the perfect gift Christmas morning often takes precedent. Shopping for the perfect gift with charity in mind, however, can end with a major win-win.

I only posted products that give at LEAST 100% of net profits to charity (some products, like the Charity Pots, actually cover production costs and donate every cent of the sale). Note, of course, that a lot of these products are sustainable or fair trade, so overhead costs may be higher–for good reason.

(note: the pictures on my blog almost always belong to me, but the pictures used in this post were taken from vendors’ websites)

Sold by: Caring & Sharing Ottawa (in cooperation with Hallmark)
Cost:
$15
Charity: Caring & Sharing Ottawa

The ornament features a backing of copper that once covered the roofs of Canada’s Parliament Buildings. Very cool piece of Canadian history!

Sold By: Lush
Price:
$22.95
Charity: Variety of grassroots organizations (pick your favourite to support!)

Every cents (before taxes) that you spend on this product goes directly to the grassroots charity you choose. Also, it smells SO GOOD.

Sold by: Global Benefit Coffee Company
Price:
$13.95-$20.00, plus shipping & handling
Charity: The Water Project–profits will help build more wells in Rwanda

I’ve mentioned how much I love coffee before, right?

 

Sold by: Philosophy
Price: $20
Charity: The Rainforest Foundation
Also check out: “to believe” cranberry currant shampoo/shower gel/bubble bath, which supports WhyHunger

Mmmm…pear. I like your style.

 

Sold by: www.joanhornig.com
Price: Ranges from $30 (notepads, bookmarks, small bracelets) to several thousand dollars. My personal recommendation is to check out the necklaces and earrings in the silver collection, which start from $46.
Charity: Your choice!

It’s like wearing global citizenship around your neck.

 

Sold by: MAC cosmetics
Price: $18
Charity: MAC AIDS Fund

Ricki Martin is just excited because every cent of the sale (before taxes) goes to the MAC AIDS Fund.

Sold by: Theory11
Price: $5
Charity: charity: water

A beautiful and affordable deck of cards for a great cause. Every stocking should have one!

 

Sold by: http://shop.pottermore.com/
Price: $6.35
Charity: Children’s charity Lumos

 

More Giving²:

Causeshoppe.com — A great resource to learn about and buy some of the best philanthropic goods on the market.

Peacekeeper Cause-Metics  — vegan make up and nail polish.  Puts 100% of profits towards women’s human rights causes and organizations.

Give Something Back Office Supplies — Known for it’s high corporate donor status, Give Something Back sells everything for the office, from furniture to coffee to recycled paper.

Don’t forget to look into tickets to events that support charity, too! Most sports teams have special charity games, while entertainment venues can house special shows for charity throughout the year–the National Arts Center’s annual Cracking up the Capital for Mental Health is a personal favourite!

Happy giving season, everyone!!