[TWO UPDATES BELOW] I don’t submit many scholarly articles to journals anymore. I figured out I can put my research in some journal and only three people will ever read it, or I can post it here on my blog and hundreds will read it, and comment, and link to it.
I’m certainly not going to hand the scores of my music over to some publisher so he can take half the royalties and tie up the copyrights. My music gets around much faster as PDF scores on my website, and with no appreciable loss of potential income on my end.
Likewise, I’ve been debating the wisdom of putting out any more CDs. They sometimes cost a mint to produce, distribution channels are terrible, reviews are almost unheard of, and income from sales? That’s a laugh. I can’t convince myself that any more people will hear my music from “commercial” CDs than from mp3s on my web site, and not making CDs would save me money.
Writing books is a lot of work, and I’m not sure what it does for me. My Cage book got me a couple of nice radio interviews that I had to drive many miles to record. I counted it up, and what I’ve made in book sales in 20 years is dwarfed even by the rare music commissions I’ve had. If I wrote difficult-to-read books with titles like Hexachordal Invariance in the Late Music of Roger Sessions, academia would consider me one of the Serious Guys, and I could write my own ticket at some university – but I’m not going to do that. Analysis of 4’33”? Robert Ashley? Player pianos? Give me a break. Musicologists are nice to me and quote me, but no music department is going to ultimately import someone with my undistinguished areas of expertise. I’m considering not writing any more books, because I just can’t see the point.
I don’t write newspaper reviews or program notes or liner notes anymore. That was a tremendous distraction from my natural interests, and it never paid enough to justify it except when I was near-destitute.
I work like a dog trying to write a few pieces of music a year in-between all my other commitments. But my music doesn’t “take off,” whatever little successes I have hardly ever bring new commissions, the new-music groups out there never seem to consider playing anything of mine, and my kind of music is certainly never going to win any of the kinds of awards that would impress musical academia. I’ve been toying with the idea of not writing any more music.
Meanwhile, what do people say when I am introduced to them? “Oh yes, I’ve read your blog.”
Given that I have a day-job salary: why do I do anything but blog?
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UPDATE: I had a feeling I might have to contextualize this intendedly humorous musing on futility. Here’s the situation: We have three markets. There’s a commercial market, entirely determined by huge corporations whose sole interest is money. We’re never going to make a dent in that one. There’s an orchestra-music circuit that you have to enter young, and it’s all about who you know, and the music sucks. And there’s an academic market, which demands a healthy respect for the Schoenberg line and a suspicion against anything populist. I and my 400 closest friends don’t fit any of these markets. Back in the 1980s, there was both a Downtown scene and a rising new-music market that looked for years like it really might take off. The scene has been dispersed, the new-music fad has been rolled back. When I was 28 all this was a fight worth taking on. But we haven’t won the fight – things have actually gotten worse. And in a weak moment Doug McLennan convinced me to write this stupid blog, and somehow it has more impact than anything else I do. People meet me, and I’m not the composer, I’m not even the author, I’m the blogger.
I have a nice screened-in porch, with the Catskills visible through the trees. At the liquor store down the road, my friend Jim has a standing order for my 18-year-old Bowmore single-malt scotch, and I have a humidor full of Padrone maduro cigars, smooth and chocolatey tasting. I’m 54 and I’m through fighting the system every day and watching things go south. And I’m very seriously wondering if there’s any reason I should do anything after a day of teaching secondary dominant chords besides come home, sit on this porch, smoke those Padrons and drink that Bowmore? ‘Cause if all this work is never going to lead to anything, I’m ready to decide the answer is no.
UPDATE 2: Forgive me for insisting that some of the moroseness being read into this post is in the reader’s own mind. I am not the slightest bit depressed; I am dissatisfied. I want more money. I want to travel. I want some free time. I want to enjoy myself. And after some years’ achievement in composing and publishing, I find that these activities, even when crowned with all available success, are not bringing me any closer to those goals. Quite the contrary. These extracurricular activities take up virtually all of my free time, and much of my disposable income. I have reached a point in my life at which I have to consider whether continuing to work like a dog for the next 20 years is going to result in any actual personal satisfaction, and if the trajectory suggests that it will not, I will jettison what responsibilities I can not in the spirit of sour grapes, but with a clear conscience and a relief at no longer delaying the gratifications I’ve put off for so long. Music can be the greatest thing in the world and still not be worth martyring oneself for.