The challenging realities of Community in Art and Music

Submitted by 1000 Conversations on November 7, 2013 - 11:10pm
A community conversation with a couple of artists in Oakville

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a woman named Pam who works at the Oakville Arts Council.  Her husband and son are musicians and she talked about how difficult it is for aspiring artists now that people download their music off the internet.  How can they make money to sustain themselves?

I shared with her my belief in building relationships with one's fan base, which then breads loyalty and that many musicians are now using social media to do this.  She agreed, but cautioned that friends are sometimes the worst because they expect you to play for free for them.

For me, this brought up an interesting conundrum about payment for the exchange of services between friends.  

In some cases, payment is more easy and obvious.  If I need work done on my house and I know a friend of mine is a carpenter, he will be the first person I go to for help and I will pay him for this service.

However when I move and lots of friends and family come to help, I am not going to pay them for this service.  That just feels weird. Welll... in that case, the payment is pizza and the promise that I will help them move when they need it.

I think that’s the key: it is the exchange of services that allows these transactions to happen without money and the trust that underpins that.

The difference with the construction example is that this is the person's livelihood and so as a friend, we want to support them in it.  

So this brings us back to the music example.  Maybe in this case we forget that music is a livelihood for some, since for most people we know who play music it is more of a hobby.

Also what about advice or counselling.  There are people who get paid for both, but when we are friends it once again feels weird for paying for something that we often associate as what friends do.  Friends give advice and try to help council us through difficult times.

I think what this conversation brought out for me is how messy and difficult this topic is.  Communities develop strong ties through the sharing of good and services between people, like helping people move, but this can also become divisive when there is a misunderstanding about this exchange and the compensation expected with it.


Did Pam have anything to say

Did Pam have anything to say about the exchange of services within the context of the music industry?

It all comes back to food and a bed

Its true that there is a large amount of reciprical exchange within the music industry.  I have a couple friends who are in the middle of it and you end up in lots of I give you a gig, you give me a gig situations.  its beautiful and really helps the industry run.  I am actually surprised at how much of a community it is.

Pam's thoughts though are that if all it is, is sharing of gigs and in the end there is no transaction of money, you can't sustain yourself.  That too often people take for granted that you need money for food and a bed.  Because of that it is really really hard to make a living in music.  Musicians are often taken advantage of.