Music as a cottage industry: Baconworks

Depending on whether or not you’re employed by the music industry, this is either an apocalyptic end time for music or its new golden age. I know people who lost their jobs in the music industry. The professional end of the business is under great stress, but surely there has never been a better time to be an amateur musician than now.

I work with an amateur musician named Greg Bacon. Greg is a skilled performer on multiple instruments and a composer, and his genre is primarily Irish traditional music. He happens to get paid for being a database systems analyst, but the guy is a true musical wizard. Don’t take my word for it! Go to his site: He’s got details about how he records his music, and then he lets you listen to it for free. He’s got MIDI files and scores in addition to some amazing performances of his original compositions. You know you’re on a musician’s web site when pages are tagged by their musical key. Here’s G major. Listen to the Hazards of Hatteras after you read about his great uncle Stinson, a windjammer captain who had no business living to 104. Great stuff, written, arranged, performed, recorded, and distributed all by one person, and at no cost to you, dear friend.

Thanks for all the music, Greg!

This embarrassing wealth of good free music presents the same paradox that I see all the time in the software world. By welcoming all the smart, motivated people around the world who want to write code even when they don’t get paid, vast quantities of shockingly good free software becomes available. What happens to the profession of software development? What happens to the paid musicians? I don’t know. But I defy you to look at this overspilling wealth and call it a problem.

11 thoughts on “Music as a cottage industry: Baconworks”

  1. Ned – Your thoughtful (as always) post prompts me to think about a truth which I feel gets under-reported: there’s no longer a stable national-level “filter” in place for strong non-mainstream music. Actaully, many folks who are less diligent about seeking out new music – due to time or interest limits – dislike the fact that the “filter system” in place for 50 years, the one which ‘found’ and gave us The Beatles, Dylan, Elvis, Aretha, Stevie, etc. – is slowly being weakened and dismantled due to piracy and theft. Nothing is springing up in its place. As I have expressed before, I beleive that this is why most musicians who truly succeed these days are cookie-cutter. I’m sure Greg Bacon is as good as you say, but is it a shame (is it? I am truly interested in what others have to say on this…) that such a musician will not get the support that a national label launch might have given him (videos, tour support, press attention, opening slots on tours by like artists, etc.) What I mean to say is – it’s all so local, so personal, so accessible, so free! And yet who is nationally famous these days for making music? Fergie…Fall Out Boy. Attractive, saleable acts without much innovation or substance. This is not a controversial stance, I feel I can rely on general agreement for people over 35 who have watched the recorded music world change so radically…Tomorrow’s Bob Dylan is relying on the web to have a national career right now – the “industry” (what’s left of it) won’t touch him – BUT the magical world wide web has not yet thrown up an alternative to the old system where great musicians get nationally famous or rich….discuss!

  2. Where does American Idol fit into this picture? That’s a big money machine for taking musical performers (not songwriters yet) from obscurity to stardom. The reality TV concept, while not the web, elevates the winners much more cheaply than the old process did. I can imagine a coming hybrid of American Idol-style big media mixing it up with grass-roots web support to create a new kind wide-scale promotion. But it sure seems likely that a lot of the money that was available has washed out of the system for good.

  3. Ned, I think you are right to namecheck “American Idol” as one of the elements of a new “filter” – and say what you will about that contest, every person who has won it has a great pop voice and is probably a better singer, strictly speaking, than 75% of the other people singing on today’s top-40 hits. BUT – that’s not part of the “salvation of music by the web” which is touted by many
    (the web serves mainly as an adjunct for fans of the show), AND it is only a filter for pop artists or country-, rock- R&B- artists with a pop sheen…

  4. Alan (Hi Alan!) wrote:
    “Tomorrow’s Bob Dylan is relying on the web to have a national career right now – the “industry” (what’s left of it) won’t touch him”

    I think this is exactly where the filter has collapsed — in the days of Dylan, Elvis, et al., a new talent played cheap shows and maybe found an independent studio to record a 45 that got some airplay, not so different from being on the web today. The difference is that back then the “industry” was monitoring playcharts across the country, looking for the next act that would be worth a record deal, but today, as Alan says, “the ‘industry’… won’t touch him.” Why not?! Back in the day, labels had to buy the rights to an act’s songs released before the act was signed, knowing that most of those songs had already peaked. As a result, the industry relied on the act being talented enough to record more than one hit. There is now a sort of greed over owning the whole chart for an act, and the only way to get that is by creating the act yourself, a la Simon Cowell.

  5. I believe humans have an innate desire to find what is novel and good. In addition, we are social and want to share the good stuff we find. David Crosby, for example, discovered, produced and promoted Joni Mitchell. David Crosby was introduced to Steven Stills and Gram Nash by Mamma Cass. These connections were made not because of the desire to make a buck but because of the desire to be a part of something beautiful, which is altogether absent from American Idol. Without Mamma Cass it is quite possible that Joni Mitchell would be waiting on tables in Canada as we speak and the world would not have gems like ‘Blue’. The point here is that there is a strong social element that helps the cream rise to the top. Unfortunately, record companies, generally not fueled by the desire to create something beautiful, eventually diluted the essential social element that is required for the creation of great music or any art. Consequently, we are left with a bunch of hollow noise that does a sad job of mimicking great music sort of like a pile of Bob Ross paintings pretending to be Monet. Just putting paint on a canvas doesn’t make it good art. The same can be said of music and recordings. Fortunately for music enthusiasts the internet has stolen some of the record companies thunder due simply to the fact that it is injecting the missing social element back into the discovery process. People have a relatively new mechanism, through the web, to find what they like and promote it much like Crosby did for Mitchell, and that is good for music.

  6. Great discussion!
    By the way – Mike – I’m curious, are you Mike ’87 from Cloister Inn?
    Jay Czarnecki

  7. aah – I was wondering that myself. Hi, Mike!

    Moving back to the discussion, Greg said “People have a relatively new mechanism, through the web, to find what they like and promote it” and that the web is “injecting the missing social element back into the discovery process.” This is all very true, and very well-said. It’s kind of analogous to Wikipedia – we now have a public forum to teach and learn and express ourselves seperate and apart from any profit motive. I am still wondering, though, if we will ever see that musician who beomes a household name via web exposure. I am not saying it won’t happen, I’m just referencing my post above in saying that it has not happened yet, although many people will insinute that is has, or that it could….

  8. This just in, from today’s Wall Street Journal, Sales of Music, Long in Decline, Plunge Sharply: “In a dramatic acceleration of the seven-year sales decline that has battered the music industry, compact-disc sales for the first three months of this year plunged 20% from a year earlier, the latest sign of the seismic shift in the way consumers acquire music.” Good news: sales of digital downloads are up. Bad news: the good news was crushed by the falling body of the bruised and dying music CD market.

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