Here are some thoughts about making the mixtape series in general.
By Max Petersen edited by Lukasz Polowczyk
Harsh but real circumstances
As the recording industry enters the digital age, young instrumental musicians like me, who operate in the so called “jazz scene” or more generally speaking creative music scene, are facing a shift in how music is being presented, sold and ultimately perceived. When this shift occurs, recorded music functions in a totally different way than it used to. In the recording industry that we used to have, the price for a physical product (an LP, CD or Cassette) resembled what consumers were ready to pay and what the actual product was worth. As my generation starts to consume music exclusively through streaming, be it on Spotify, Apple music or YouTube, people start to experience recorded music differently, in fact giving it much less attention and appreciation. When one uses a streaming platform, (like myself, I use Qobuz), embedded somewhere in this “transaction” is a lack of recognition for the artist; because a free or cheap product in a market based on free-access also connotes with cheap production and product. The only price the consumers pay is their invested time while listening and reflecting. Their span of attention resembles what the product appears to be worth. From a consumer’s perspective, the musician’s energy, effort and musicianship, the process of making an album in a “conservative” way is not a part of the equation, since the new system of endless free flowing music which is pumped into the world wide web represents a totally different market. Unlike the film industry, the music industry has largely accepted presenting and streaming content for free (or through a subscription at a streaming platform with ludicrously low remuneration for musicians) as a certain and given circumstance of this new century. A protectionist argument may be, that musicians these days are underpaid, which is wrong, we are being paid exactly what the market bears, which means we are being paid what we are worth, economically speaking. Today recordings serve as a promotional tool for live concerts, which are the only way left to generate profit.
The tape series as a new approach
For me, making this series was a way to push myself into this digital age, mainly by working with Lukasz Polowczyk from Initials LP (www.initialslp.com), who inspired me to seek new ways of presenting my music, may it be through social media, better visual implementation, or by using a cassette as the physical object to release my music on. The idea was to present my music in new and creative ways, break the pre-set mode of releasing it and at least symbolically restore some of this lost value that I mentioned before. Simply put, this is a way of symbolically ascribing value to something as intangible as recorded sound, and thus honoring the music.
I like the idea of presenting new music on regular bases (roughly every 2 months) to highlight what I have been working on recently. Plus, releasing the music in the form of a single long track (taken from the idea of a mixtape) forces the listener to take a short time off to listen to the music as a whole, rather than skipping through tracks and avoiding what might appear to be boring on a first encounter.
Presenting the series hand in hand with my blog is also a key idea. I’m trying to connect with YOU the listener and offer some extra insight on the music, that will shine light on what I do. And hopefully also makes you return soon to hear and read more.
In essence it’s about making music personal, and supplementing or even subverting the online experience.
Thank you for listening.
Interview with Lukasz from Initials LP
For Jazz musician a lot has changed about how music is being presented today, especially since the music is streaming for free and making records means losing money for most artists out there.
What forms of music presentation will be present in the future and why?
This isn’t just the case for Jazz musicians, but for musicians from all music genres, and pretty much anyone who chooses to release recorded music. And it’s not that you’re set up to lose money by releasing records, it’s just that things work differently nowadays, and your revenue streams will come from different places. Most of your income will probably come from shows, merchandise, streams and, if you’re lucky, sync options.
In regard to presenting music, I think that videos are definitely still king. They’re very immediate and they amplify the emotional affection of music, if they’re done well, of course. They’re the quickest way to convey maximum information about your music, sort of what the LP cover used to do back in the 70s. I could imagine that video streaming will grow in the next few years, with folks getting more creative with it. It’s all pretty shabby and basic right now. But a live stream could, technically, be as good as a great music video. I think that portals such as Spotify will start integrating video content soon and, possibly, live streaming as well. VR will have its moment too, but mainly as a novelty. Whether VR will really work, that really depends on how widely accessible it becomes for an average consumer; right now, it’s still very niche. But, at the same time, as the experience of music becomes progressively more intangible, the demand for physical products and real experiences will grow in response. There’s a reason why people are selling cassettes right now. I can imagine that more musicians and labels will invest in limited edition products to stand in for their releases in the coming years. When you go to Bandcamp it’s already a proper industry. All this aside, what matters most and will always matter is the actual quality of the music and whether it has something to give to the world.
What would you recommend people from jazz communities and alterative, creative music scenes about dealing with social media?
If you have something to say, then social media are your friend. However, like with any other tools you must learn how to use them effectively. If you treat your social media channels as a chore or just throw random things on there because you think you have to say something, it’s not going to work. The most important thing is to define your communication strength and choose the appropriate channel for you. If you’re great with words, use twitter. If your strength lies in images and videos, go for Instagram or YouTube. The point is to be able to create great content that is an extension of your music, and that helps to understand it and contextualize it. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, find people that are good at it. And I don’t mean just the online marketing mavericks, but visual artists: graphic designers, illustrators, videographers etc. Work together with them to create a world around your art. Have fun with it and treat it all as an opportunity to explain yourself and your art using different media, because, in essence, that’s what you’re doing. And if you’re working with visual artists who have a voice and something to say then what you are doing is facilitating the creation of more art. And that’s a beautiful thing! Which is why I always stress this point: Do not treat the visual tools as mere packaging or branding devices. Of course, they also have to be effective in these ways, but they should also match your music artistically and emotionally. Look at the cultural impact and the longevity of classic LP covers. The great ones live on twenty, thirty, even 50 years on down the line and are being quoted, remixed etc.
How do visuals serve the music in the digital age? What would you recommend to musicians from a creative music scene?
Music and visual expression are great partners and they always have been. I really can’t think of any relevant music scene (historically) that didn’t have a visual component to it. Design, typography, fashion, the marriage of music and film – it’s all there whenever a new music subculture emerges. Music doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it’s a voice in the polyphony of culture. It’s funny that current-day Jazz aficionados, at least here, in Europe, tell upcoming musicians to forget about everything, but the music. But when you look back at the beginnings of Jazz and how it evolved, it was all about style and personal expression; and great photography and painting. Blue Note set a standard for embodying music in visual form, and I would even argue that thanks to them the record cover became a true extension of recorded music, and was recognized as a piece of art. The difference now is that most indie labels don’t handle the artistic direction and the production of visual tools for the artists and that it all falls back on the artists themselves and their own resources. Some artists are very capable in this field, others not so much. So, I always tell upcoming artists, invest in your community. Find out who’s doing interesting things around you. Ask around about photographers, illustrators and painters. Check out your local galleries, and if you see a great piece of design, see who made it and reach out to them. Find people that you connect with and make things together with them. Collaborate. And, most importantly, stay loyal to them and grow together. When it all happens organically and it’s about the joy of creating things with other people, that’s when great things happen. That’s how all the amazing scenes in the past came to be – from passionate people just doing things they love, together.
Interview with Lukasz Polowczyk by Max Petersen, Summer 2018