On Saturday night, we went to see the award-winning duo Alathea. At one point, they reminded us that they had CDs for sale, including one that had yet to be recorded. The young singer-songwriter said, "Once, there used to be this thing called the recording industry, but it pretty much doesn't exist anymore."
In some ways, she reminded us, the demise of that industry is fortunate for recording artists: they control more of their own creative output, and they're not forever in debt to their label. However, along with this freedom comes enormous work: they've got to raise the money to pay for recording, and they've got to do the recording and the mixing (or hire someone), and they've got to do the promoting, and they've got to mail out the CDs.
Just before the concert, in fact, they were printing CD labels and getting the sales table ready. It sort of reminded me of a poetry reading.
So far, poets still have the fragments of a publishing industry, but I suspect that poets have a lot in common with independent recording artists: if you can generate a lot of money (if you're U2, say, in the music world, or Billy Collins, in the poetry world), there's still an industry that's interested in you. If you're not a huge moneymaker, you're on your own.
As we returned home, my husband asked, "How long do you think they'll be able to keep doing this?" It's a hard life they've chosen, after all. They're always on the road, playing and promoting their work. They make most of the arrangements, I suspect. It's a lifestyle for the young and childless. How long before they find themselves yearning for the comforts of a mortgage and PTA meetings?
Of course, once they've got all the logistics figured out, maybe the hard part is over. No, there's still all that travel, all those unfamiliar cities, all that distance.
How long can any of us keep this up? In some ways, it's an exciting time to be an artist. The Internet offers us many ways to promote our work, to collaborate, to create work we wouldn't have been able to create before. Of course, it also means that other people can do this too. There's a lot of competition for people's attention out there.
In my early years, I'd have hoped to write my way out of my job. These days, I'm just happy to have the creative life away from my job that writing gives me. I've seen too many people devote themselves to their jobs, only to have their jobs betray them. It's good to have activities to remind us that there's more to us than the work which provides our paycheck.
It will be interesting to see where we are in ten years. Will more of us be able to make a living from our creative work? Or will more of us see our creative work as something we do to get away from the work we do for pay? Or some interesting mixture I can't even conceive of yet?