I’ve known Dave Collis for a long time now. We met in college, and I distinctly remember the first conversation we had because one week I wore a Snowing T-shirt to class, and the next week an Ink & Dagger shirt, and during a break, he came up to me and asked if I was from his hometown of Philadelphia. No, I was not; I was just a complete dork. Dave played in bands (My Dad, Old Fuck) and booked DIY shows at Treasure Town (and a bunch of other places, too) so naturally, we found ourselves in the same rooms a lot, and eventually, that grew into a friendship. And when he started Slow Mass, I remember thinking it was the best music he’d ever made. This is not to say that his other bands weren’t good; they all were (and in the case of Stay Asleep, still are) but Slow Mass occupied a rare space.
Having cut my teeth on this brand of post-hardcore, it’d been a while since I had heard a band do it so well. Slow Mass was taking the creative risks of bands like Fugazi and Unwound and making them feel fresh in a modern context. Now, I know comparing a new band to either Fugazi or Unwound is kind of unfair because both of those bands cast such massively long shadows, but in this case, it’s true. Dave or no Dave, the music that Slow Mass makes together (shouts to Mercedes, Josh, other Josh, other Dave, and now Sean) has been some of my absolute best stuff to hit my ears over this past half-decade.
But here’s the thing: I’ve never been able to come out and say all that because of a little thing called “journalistic integrity.” I have known Dave for too long to be able to say this at a publication of record. So instead, I’ve written the bios for their releases and championed them behind the scenes, in a way that felt like I could gush and not have it come off as unfounded nepotism. And since this newsletter exists for the very reason of allowing me to do things I couldn’t elsewhere, well, here we are.
Back in October, Slow Mass released a new album called Music For Rest. It followed their Music For Ears singles series (check Vol. 2 for two of my favorite songs this year) but it was decidedly different from anything they’d done before. Broken up over the course of 50 tracks, Music For Rest was designed with the intention of helping put you to sleep. I know that sounds antithetical to the purpose of music, but after talking to Dave about it a bit, I saw how much intentional work went into a piece that, if it was truly effective, most people would never hear in full.
But there was more to it than just a creative impulse, it was also meant as a way to cheat Spotify’s algorithm and rack up plays while listeners slept. Though other artists have tried similar tactics—i.e. Vulfpeck’s totally silent album—when I investigated Music For Ears further, I found there was a lot more going on than its premise may have implied. It wasn’t just the kind of so-called “fake album” that Spotify loves to blacklist, it had an honest function to it, while also serving as a treatise on the streaming service’s entire business model. If an artist stands to make more money from music designed for passive consumption, perhaps more musicians should follow suit, and listeners should be less rigid in their thinking around what an album should or shouldn’t be from the musicians they love most. Creating something you want to hear while also gaming the system is a rare feat, and Slow Mass pulled it off.
I found that this fascinating, so Dave and I talked about it for a while. And here’s that conversation.
Let’s go back a bit. At what point did you realize that the year was going to be a total wash in terms of what you do for a living?
Dave Collis: Before the pandemic, and at the end of last year, Slow Mass was actually planning on not doing too much in 2020. I was seeing someone in California and was going back and forth a lot, but that was slowly coming to an end and I was in denial, so I was dealing with a lot of emotional distress. And all the stuff we had done the past several years since On Watch came out, we had been so busy that there wasn’t really time set aside for working on new material. We were always prepping for tours, we were always training new drummers, or doing tours without drummers and prepping material around that, that any time a tour would happen, we’d have to put in so much work getting ready for the tour that, on the other side of the tours, everyone was naturally so burnt or broke that they kind of needed to dig themselves out of the tour hole. So we did the tour in January, and the plan was to just lay low for the rest of the year and write. We knew at that point that [Josh] Sparks [drummer] wasn’t going to be as full of a member at that point; He needed to take a step back. So we weren’t sure if we were going to be writing with Sean [Hallock] or if it was going to be with someone else. While on that January tour, we got offered the mewithoutYou tour. If it was any other mewithoutYou tour, we probably would have said no, but they already announced their break up, this was one of their final tours, and they were one of the first bands to take us out on a big tour. Everything about it was so sentimental that we wanted to give it a shot, and it sounded like a really fun time.
The January tour happened and was, surprisingly, one of the best tours we’d been on in a while. We weren’t touring with another band, and we were going down to Texas, which we had never done before, so there was a lot of uncertainty about how well the shows would go. But there ended up being these really amazing turnouts, and we had some of our best shows ever in places that we had never been to before, so we came back from it feeling really rejuvenated and excited.
In February was when international COVID news was really ramping up. We got lucky, in that we were able to play one last local show at the end of February, but the first two weeks of March are when things seriously hit the fan.
I remember exactly when it was because my band was supposed to play a show on a Saturday. The week leading up to it, I was like, “Hey, should we do this?” Everyone said it was fine, then the morning of everyone else canceled. And I know the night before that, you had booked that edhochuli show.
All of that ramping up, that was happening where, with my work at Kickstand, we were getting a lot of emails from people who were unsure about what was going to happen. That show I booked for edhochuli was supposed to be them, my other band Stay Asleep, and a local band. The local dropped off because one of the members had respiratory issues and they were rightfully scared. So I was like, “Hey, no worries. I totally understand.” Things weren’t fully terrifying enough yet, and I didn’t want to cancel on edhochuli because they’d already had their next show cancel. And then Stay Asleep had to cancel because Kyle has a history of respiratory issues and was also deeply concerned. I remember talking to Nick in Stay Asleep about it, just figuring out what we’re going to do, and at the end of the day, we were obviously not going to play without Kyle, so I played a solo set that night because all of a sudden there were no locals and just edhochuli, and I didn’t want to leave them out on a ledge. So that was the last show I played.
I worked a show the next day at Subterranean, which was the second-to-last show to happen at the venue. I even remember, the next day, Bryanna from Buggin Out had a show bucked at Subterranean Downstairs, and I was on the phone with her trying to figure out what to do. We were operating within the city’s guidelines, so I said they were free to do it if they wanted, especially since all the touring bands were already there. From my understanding, that was the last show at Subterranean, on the 15th, I believe. I think the ordinance for fully shutting down was that Monday.
I remember it all really well, because that Thursday before, March 12, was 312 Day, and there was that show at Concord with AVAIL and Dillinger Four, which are obviously two of my favorite bands ever. I flew to Richmond to see AVAIL reunite, so I was obviously stoked. But the day of, I talked to Nina and I was like, “We’re not going to this. It just feels weird.” And then as doors opened, the show got canceled. But that Every Time I Die one was already going, so that snuck past somehow.
That was the really hectic part about all that. The ordinances from Prtizker and Lightfoot [Ed note: Chicago’s #1 clown] were basically changing by the hour. It was like, “All events with occupancy over 2,000 are canceled.” Then an hour later it was like, “All events with occupancy over 1,000 are canceled.” Metro [where ETID played] is 1,100, so I guess Every Time I Die had not sold out already, so they capped it wherever it was to meet that. Then Dillinger Four was at Concord, which I think is 1,300? So, because of that, it was that weird thing where events that were happening in the moment were getting shut down. So then we were just monitoring it and were like, “I guess we’re fine for the smaller venues,” then everything came to a halt.
It was developing rapidly, and the funny thing about it developing rapidly was that the mewithoutYou tour got announced on that Friday the 13th. I remember talking to mewithoutYou’s manager the night before it was supposed to go up and being like, “Uhh…How do you feel about this tour announcement tomorrow? We’re announcing this tour in May, and all this shit’s going down.” At the time, no one knew if this was going to be a two-week thing, and now we all know it’s at least a year-long thing, but even at that time, and he wasn’t the only one who shared this opinion, he was like, their tour was a deliberate underplay for them, where the maximum occupancy was 500, so announcing it, we were under the impression we were still good and would be fine to be the first things to open back up on the other side of it. But then, obviously, that wasn’t the case.
The next two weeks, I was still employed with Kickstand, and all my emails were just people trying to grab holds all over the place. People were taking bets on trying to play again in the summer and the fall, some shows were just automatically getting pushed to the next year, some shows were just getting canceled outright. I’ve been furloughed since the beginning of April, so who knows what’s going to happen to all those shows. Who knows if people are going to want to reschedule it, or even what financial state the venues that survive will be in.
When it happened, for the band, we didn’t feel the financial impact right away. Sean, who is Mercedes’ partner, was already confirmed to play drums for us in May for the mewithoutYou tour. Sean, like many musicians who were on tour at that time, just got completely screwed. He was supposed to be on tour with Great Grandpa for March and April, tour with us in May, and then he was gonna do the second leg of the mewithoutYou tour playing drums for Dominic Angelella into July. All of sudden, it’s all gone. He was going to move to Chicago in July, and instead, he just got dropped off in Chicago in mid-March because he had already moved out of his place in Philly because he was expecting to be on tour for three months straight.
Yeah. So Sean and I started practicing together pretty early on. At the time, when he got dropped here, things hadn’t fully developed into realizing COVID was a fully airborne thing, people thought it was still just on surfaces, and I was kind of like, okay, if I keep it just to my roommates and Sean, I’m comfortable with that pod being small enough. In a way, I was kind of excited, because I wanted time to just focus on writing music and then was given it in the worst possible circumstances. Maybe excitement is the wrong word, but I was trying to look at it with a positive spin.
But I think everyone was. Everyone was like, “It’ll be a weird couple months, but the summer will be fine.”
The mewithouYou tour got pushed back to July. Everyone was just expecting a little lockdown.
I remember seeing the event invite shift from May to July, and even I was like, “That seems aggressive. They should push it another six weeks.”
That’s what everyone was thinking! Everyone was like, “July’s too soon! Try September.”
It’s funny because now there are socially distant concerts happening in other countries, but it just doesn’t feel like a feasible thing for a lot of smaller bands.
It could if you could trust the people. That’s ultimately the main downfall of this. The reason I say that is, in Japan, they’ve been doing shows at reduced occupancy with attendants wearing masks. Stiff Slack, the record label that distributes our stuff over there, they moved into a half-show space, half-record store and they’ve been having small occupancy stuff. From what I see, they’re taking careful measures, and everyone in the crowd is wearing a mask. But at the same time, the social norms in Japan with the SARS scare and so forth, they’re used to understanding that the mask protects them and thus protects everyone.
When I was in Japan a few years ago, people were wearing them just around. That’s a cultural norm there. The other day I saw a show happening in Denmark, in a club, but people were spread out and wearing masks. But we’re talking about different cultural norms. We’re comparing the United States, a country that built its entire identity around the idea that “My desires are civil liberties that are sacrosanct,” versus other countries that are like, “I care that my neighbor doesn’t die.”
So in the midst of all this, just sitting around working on stuff, Music For Rest comes together. And I know there’s a little bit about gaming the system baked into it, but Slow Mass is named after a Glenn Branca track, and I know you’re generally into more experimental stuff, so how did this concept come together?
I have been listening to ambient music and making ambient recordings since high school. Some of the first recordings I ever made on my own were literally my guitar amp set up on a chair in front of my family’s iMac, using that to make ambient recordings. I didn’t have the tools or resources to be recording drums and bass and all that. I played in bands, but for my own solo music, you’re kind of working with what’s at your disposal. And what was at my disposal was different effects pedals.
That’s always been an initial instinct in my creative output. And with Slow Mass, like you said, it’s something that can seem so obvious if you choose to look at it. It doesn’t seem like a foreign thing to me when I look at our catalog. The Treasure Pains EP ends with this six-minute-long ambient noise outro, which is supposed to be an ode to “The Diamond Sea” by Sonic Youth; It’s modeled in the same concept. With On Watch, the same thing happens at the end of that record, with the way the guitars blend out into an ambient piece for a couple minutes. “My Violent Years” opens with six saxophone tracks all sustaining one note to form a chord, but there’s no melodic pulse behind it until midway through the vocals. It’s something I’ve always been interested in, and it’s something I’ve always loved to see, that intersection between pop songwriting and experimental ideas.
We kept writing throughout March and April, and in June, we released Music For Ears 3, which we were planning for the mewithoutYou tour. That’s how we’d done the rest of the Music For Ears series. The day before tour just being like, “Surprise! New stuff.”
And Music For Ears 3 is reworkings of older material to fit in with the quieter, drumless stuff you had to do. It wasn’t some easy, half-assed version of reinterpreting the old songs. You really pulled those songs apart. But it’s just so funny to think about pop music—and rap music, which is the dominant pop form—and how singles are widely accepted but, in rock music, if it’s an EP or a single, no one cares.
Oh, it’s very much ignored. If you’re not a diehard, no one cares at all. I think hardcore is slightly more receptive to the seven-inch, but definitely, in the standard rock world, it’s not the case. And I get it, I’m not as much into seven-inches these days, but I agree with you. If the Music For Ears songs were released on a full-length, there would be a heightened interest.
It’s why I’ve found myself more engaged in the experimental world, or even the metal world, because people will still put out demos and you can kind of track the progression in real-time. I know I’m not the typical music listener, but it’s just funny that rock-based material has this album focus, but so much of a rock band’s success is based on one song getting put on a playlist. But we’ll get to that later. Anyway, back to Music For Ears…
We put out that seven-inch on a Bandcamp Friday, and it was absolutely amazing. We sold 150 of them, which was pretty much all of this one color variant over the course of a weekend. It was super exciting and super flattering to see people being as supportive as possible. After that initial weekend, it just basically dropped. Then it was all of a sudden like, “Oh fuck.” [Laughs] That’s when the weight of it all hit me. Trying to sustain yourself as an artist without a touring economy finally hit me at that point. I was so consumed with, “Oh, great, I’m not working. I’m not touring. I’m going to the practice space literally every day of the week and writing material, I’m getting my recording chops back up where they used to be.” And then that drop off wasn’t the wake-up call, because what are you waking up to besides a nightmare? [Laughs] But it was the slap in the face to be like, “What is the next plan?”
We started seeing Patreon have a much larger interest in the indie-rock and alternative world, and there are really exciting things about it. There were artists that were completely screwed by a touring economy, like Mannequin Pussy or Oceanator or La Dispute, who were then able to shift the work that they were ready to put into that touring economy into content output for Patreon. There was a lot of exciting things about that, but then it started to shift to artists of privilege who weren’t really in a touring economy, or a lot of predominantly male voices coming in and taking up the space that these female artists were really present with, and it just started to feel really fucking sad again. It felt like the same trend of Kickstarter, which had this positive glow, then it got abused and kind of caved in. It was one of those things where I was seeing it used in both really positive ways and really negative ways, and I didn’t want to take that path.
Then it was like, what, are we just going to make a new T-shirt for every Bandcamp Friday? That was losing its excitement. We need to support ourselves, but we also don’t need to try to do it in a way where we’re taking advantage of the support that’s being given to us by constantly shoving merchandise in their face when everybody is struggling so hard.
The idea of the ambient record came about, and it was sort of a joke. That band Vulfpeck made a record of silence to be played on repeat and they had a large enough fan base and were also very clear about their motives, and they were able to raise $15,000. And I never thought we would raise $15,000, but it was like, what if you take that concept but try to give it artistic merit and morph it to be a function of your creative output. While it was thought of in this funny way, as it was being developed, we realized it wasn’t going to have sustainability or impact if it was just ripping off someone else’s joke. It has to be something that makes sense for the band.
On most tours, I fall asleep listening to Grouper or Eno or Stars of the Lid or Basinski, so that was already a part of my daily routine and was in the back of my mind. It’s music that I love that wasn’t written as sleep music, but it can be used for it. I’ve done that for the past 15 years of my life, falling asleep to folk records or one time falling asleep to a Scott Walker record where the first song is really pretty and dreamy and then I woke up and felt like I was going to have a fucking heart attack. [Laughs] It’s just something that’s always been embedded in me, and it’s an aspect of music that I love, that it can exist in that way.
While developing the piece, I was doing soft research, where my current partner Jess would fall asleep to a white noise aid. She has a machine, but sometimes if she didn’t have a machine, she’d go on Spotify and search for white noise.
Yeah, like “Box Fan, Uninterrupted, 12 hours.”
Yeah, and you look at the artist, but it’s not a real artist.
The artist is like, Kenmore Appliances.
The album art is just clouds, or the ocean, or a scenic forest with the leaves blowing. It was just like, why can’t that world and the artistic world merge? Why does that have to be another thing controlled by Spotify.
It was going to be a specific piece made for sleep, so I had to think of the things that would wake a listener up. That could be a rise in dynamics, a melody changing a little too quickly, an introduction of a new sound being a little too aggressive. Those were the parameters that guided the music that was made from that. It was broken up into a couple different recordings. The main melody I recorded at the practice space on my synth, and I wrote a melody cycle in G#, and it goes down, and then it temporarily goes up, then it resolves going back down again. I set a timer on my phone that would go off every 70 seconds, and I would change the melody. So it was having the melodies be as drawn out as possible while also moving in these very specific time intervals. It eventually morphed into subtle improvisation, where I’d play the melody loop four times and then do a specific variation, then come back to it. On one of the later melodic reprises, I would stack the melody as it went. Instead of changing on each interval, some would be merged, and I’d add the fifth or the third so there would be fluctuations within the melody so the piece would be expanding and contrasting while still fitting in the same motif.
From there, there’s another layer that’s a morse code synth thing, but I wanted it to mimic heartbeat flutters, so that comes in midway through. By that point, it was only me on the recording, but I wanted it to be under the Slow Mass name, and even though I was the main composer of this piece of music, it still never feels complete to me until everyone adds something. The piano part, I was working on it with Sean at the practice space, and Sean suggested something but then had to leave, so I recorded him and credited him because he technically came up with the part. He got me there. Mercedes and Josh were both really busy with work, so I psuedo-tricked them into being on the recording. I asked Mercedes to send me an iPhone recording of her singing a couple notes, and then I took those and added them to move with the piano line. Then I asked Josh to improvise guitar harmonics on the same key, and then I cut that up to make a specific loop with another part of his guitar moving slowly against that. So all of a sudden I’m like, cool, you’re all on this, even if you all contributed unintentionally. So that’s the second half of the piece, and my favorite parts of the piece are how the second half progresses.
Was the rest of the band into the idea?
I brought it up and was like, “Yo, instead of doing Patreon, what if we did an ambient record that’s meant for sleep that people can listen to on repeat, but have the record be cut up into minute-long tracks that are specific to note changes but, also, every hour someone is listening to 50 songs?” And they were all like, “That’s a really funny idea. That’s cool.” Guiding the band in that way, and explaining it more in full, everyone was like, “Why not? There’s no harm in us having another release out there to help the band sustain itself some more.” I want it to be viewed in the catalog as an important release, but I don’t think people need to see it as like, “What? Slow Mass is only an ambient band now?” It’s just a temporary departure, and we may return to that territory sometime in the future, but that’s always been the mentality of the band. We’re always trying new, weird, different things. During the writing period of the new stuff, Josh [Parks] sends me tracks that are just synthesizer and ukulele. They’re beautiful, and they fit so well, and I would never want to shut off that spark of inspiration.
It’s interesting to hear you explain the process here because I feel like a lot of old rock dudes just view experimental music, and specifically ambient music, like, “What, you just hold down one note for an hour?” And there’s an element of that, but there’s a lot more intentional thinking behind all of that. But knowing that your band gets covered in major publications but through a rock music angle, were you worried the reception would be negative?
I thought that there would be larger press coverage that was like, “Whoa, what did this band just do?” And then because it was such a departure, and because so much of the previous coverage was around the big pop or rock songs we have, people just didn’t know what to do with it and didn’t cover it. Which was a bit of a bummer, but I also understand there’s a crazy amount of releases during this time because people are trying to stay afloat so they’re just releasing random covers or random demo records.
Or live records.
Gosh, I was looking at Cloud Nothings’ Discogs page and they’ve just been uploading live record after live record. This year alone, including the live records, they must have put out 50 releases. And I get it. This was a small release announced as a surprise, and it’s very much a departure from what we’ve done. It was a bummer that it didn’t get that kind of coverage, but it was also interesting to see how people received it in general. It was cool to see people who were just immediately like, “This is awesome.” It was cool to see people who were into our other records be into this and not think of this as too alien of a thing. But then it was hilarious to see people who were just like, “What the fuck is this?” [Laughs] I can’t help but get a similar kick from that because I feel like there’s nothing funnier than closed-minded music fans. Any time the artist that they love takes one step off the narrow line, everything falls apart and their world is shattered. None of that makes sense to me. Every artist I love has progressed and evolved. It’s not a new thing, it’s happened across all genres and styles. Even something as massively huge as the fucking Beatles or whatever, if you compare Meet The Beatles to Abbey Road, imagine crotchety old dicks being like, “Ugh. They changed.” It’s human nature to evolve and grow. It’s an emotional and physical evolution that takes place in everyone, so why would that not take place in people’s artistic endeavors?
The specter hanging over this whole conversation is Spotify because last week everyone was sharing their Spotify Wrapped stuff, and I literally saw people being like, “Yep, same five bands as the last two years.” But I also saw someone whose most listened to song was a white noise machine, so maybe your premise wasn’t that far off. But you had some difficulty even uploading the whole thing to Spotify, right?
Well, that was technically not Spotify, that was DistroKid [music distribution service] as they had their upload settings where it wouldn’t allow a release longer than 35 tracks. I immediately looked up any artist’s box set and saw that was a ludicrous thing. So wait, I have to ask special permission to do this thing? I contacted DistroKid, and they changed it. They were totally cool about it, but it was just such a weird limitation to be put there in the first place.
And it’s so arbitrary. Not just with box sets, but I’m sure there are Suppression albums that have way more songs on them.
Originally, it was going to be cut up around certain movements that happened in 30-second intervals, so there was going to be more than 50 tracks originally, but there were limitations that wouldn’t let us release music that was shorter than 60 seconds. The reasoning was that they thought we were releasing snippets or preview tracks, or that we were trying to cut up a song into multiple pieces. Regardless if someone is doing that, who the fuck are you to decide what is or isn’t a song or how long a song should be? If someone wants a song to literally exist for one minute and then go midway into another track, so be it. That’s their prerogative.
Joan of Arc’s The Gap, one of the things I love about that record is that the tracks are, I’m not gonna say arbitrarily broken up, but they’re definitely non-sequential, or purposely not aligned with where the pieces shift. So it’s done purposefully to make the person listen to the whole thing rather than specifics songs. If you jump in at a random song, you’re not going to get the whole song, you’re going to get the end of a melody from a different piece, and halfway in a new song will start.
Joan of Arc is a good band to touch on because The Gap was literally designed around the idea that Pro Tools removed surface noise and physical limitations, so those decisions serve the material. Or even look at SUMAC, whose most popular song on Spotify is “Image of Control (II).” But there is no “Image of Control (II),” there’s only “Image of Control.” On Spotify, the song is chopped up to help get a five-song, 59-minute album more streams.
The funny thing about that is that you can’t even blame Thrill Jockey for doing that, because they’re just trying to come up with alternate ways to get more revenue for their artists. Or to take these long compositions and make them more accessible to a new audience that might discover them through Spotify.
But here’s the motherfucker with all of that, that SUMAC song, the first one from What One Becomes, there are digital artifact glitches on the first part of that song, “Image of Control (I).” I think that happened in the process of being uploaded to Spotify. So if they just let the file exist, that would have been one less step of digital manipulation to cause some stupid error.
I used to use Apple Music, and I literally switched over because there were two different Lungfish releases that had digital glitches that they were never, ever going to fix because digital service providers don’t care. And beyond the fidelity issues, the DSPs are literally dictating how big the box you get to create inside of is. How does it feel to routinely have to create but pretend that there isn’t some box that’s limiting you from the start?
I think that’s a really important question. I never think that not participating solves the issue. So many people are like, “I canceled my subscription or whatever.” And it’s like, “Okay. Cool.” Or people on Twitter being like, “Why are you sharing Spotify Wrapped stuff? Aren’t you just thanking Spotify for not paying you?” And I think all of those critiques are missing the point. If Spotify wasn’t there, something else would take its place. And if you want to go further back, it would be people stealing your music. It’s not a perfect solution, but it basically changed it to where you were either going to have people that were going to buy your music or they weren’t. Now the people who are not buying your music are at least streaming it and you get some income from it. Now, Spotify is getting richer and richer and richer off those artists that weren’t really getting paid before, so there are absolutely flaws that need to be continuously called out and then addressed, but I feel like some people are missing part of the bigger picture. But they’re also viewing the bigger picture so much that they can’t appreciate the smaller details of it.
When I see the Spotify Wrapped thing, I don’t think it’s showboating or saying, “Thank you for not paying me, sir.” It’s people being thankful to the listener for spending time with them. I’m super flattered when I see that we’re in people’s top artists; that’s absolutely wonderful. Before Spotify, if they stole our music and were listening to it a ton, that’s great too. I just hope that they will financially contribute in one way or another.
That was the intentional part of breaking up Music For Rest into these small pieces. Because instead of not participating in this system, how do we game it? Or how do we work from within and try this experiment of fucking with the parameters they put in place?
I like what you said about how not participating doesn’t solve anything. Effectively people yelling about other people using Spotify is like shaming a poor person for taking a job at Wal-Mart. It doesn’t solve the issue. You’re just blaming people who are trying to make a living for not having a better framework to support them. I get more annoyed when I hear people complaining like, “I don’t want to pay $15 for this Soul Glo record,” but then end up drinking five beers at the show instead. And I do think music should be accessible to people regardless of income, but we’ve got to support the artists in our community if the system isn’t actively doing it.
The most frustrating thing of booking a DIY show and trying to set it up in an environment where it is accessible to the community and beneficial to the artists on a smaller scale is when people don’t pay the full door price or basically don’t even try to talk to you in a human way about it. I’ve had plenty of people who were like, “I’m so sorry, I was only able to wrangle up like $6, it’s kind of my last until payday,” and it’s like, that’s fine. I’ve also had another person go through their fucking house and they dug up $10 in quarters out of their couch. And that’s kind of annoying, but I appreciate the effort you put in. It’s in a bag, so we’ll just leave it in the bag and I’m not going to count it, but it’s great of you for caring.
There’s only so much you can do to set those priorities. For a while, I’ve been fed up with even trying to change those behaviors in people. If they don’t get it, why should you be the one to babysit them? But at the same time, there are certain ways that you as a person who supports the arts, whether that’s through consumption or curation or however, you have to be aware that there are ways that you need to change to move with the times and make it easier for people to support. I didn’t see this that much, but a year or two ago, I just started leaving my Square reader from tour in my pants pocket. Whenever I would book shows, I would post online, “I’m gonna have a Square reader, so if you don’t have cash, you can pay that way. I forgot to bring cash who is no longer an excuse.” There were people at shows who were like, “Oh my god, I’m so glad you did this.” There were people trying to track me down to donate. Then, all of a sudden, I would have half the show money digitally, and it would be so easy to Venmo the artist.
Or even just having people Venmo you to get into the show.
The last show that I did, the edhochuli show, since the main COVID concern at the time was hand-to-hand contact, we had the show set up with edhochuli’s Venmo written on posters on the walls and encouraging people to just do it that way. There were even people messaging me who couldn’t go to the show, or who were scared to go to the show, being like, “Hey, I can’t make it, but where can I donate.” It’s dancing the fine line of urging people to support the arts while being understanding of the economic limitations, or even the economic structures in place, that need to be merged to create a place of real care and real understanding. You don’t need to be mad at a poor person for eating at McDonald’s, you need to understand why they are eating at McDonald’s and why those are one of the opportunities available to them to feed a family. Looking at the larger picture, and how change can take place, is where actual progress will be made rather than just, “I’m boycotting this.” Because what if the bigger impact is legislation and protest? There has to be much more than just, “Nah, I’m good.”
After the murder of George Floyd, you’d see the black squares, and people donating stuff, but you’d see people’s true colors how quickly that died off. It’s like, okay, change isn’t gonna take place on this one Bandcamp Friday where you decided to donate all your stuff. Change is gonna take place when you, as a person unemployed due to the pandemic, can volunteer or go to protests or figure out ways to raise money for organizations you care about and artists you care about. Even if it’s just sharing the fact they’re on your Spotify Wrapped, it may encourage someone to go to their Bandcamp and buy something. All of it is intertwined. That greater care and that greater thought is how we get out of this mess. Or how this mess gets a little bit better.