An Open Letter to the New Patrons
January 22nd, 2008
Recently, a comment was posted here on my blog that I felt needed a response:
“Bear, No offense, but I’ve been spoiled by itunes. I’ve come to appreciate the ability to purchase a song from an album without having to purchase the whole album. That being said, and again, no offense, but I really have no interest in buying your album to hear one song. I really dig your version of “…Watchtower”, but not enough to go through the hassle of purchasing the whole album online. I have to admit that I would probably like your other music too, but, that’s besides the point, I would love to purchase your version of “All along the Watchtower”, but if it’s not available as a single, you’ll lose my support. I’ll just wait till someone uploads it to a bit torrent site and get it for free. Wouldn’t you rather get paid for your work?”
I’ve been sent variations on this theme an alarming number of times. I don’t feel the need to clutter the internet with more diatribes for or against illegal downloading, but at the very least, I’m presenting this open letter to Battlestar Galactica fans, in fact, to anyone who gets their media from the internet…
An Open Letter to the New Patrons
For centuries, artists have balanced the need to express themselves creatively with the need to sustain their livelihood. We’re all aware of the cliched starving bohemian artist; its a cliche because its true. But, even successful composers struggle with this balance daily. J.S. Bach’s incredibly influential canon of contrapuntal works were originally composed for weekly church services. Mozart had his royal patron, Emperor Joseph II, and the vast majority of his music was essentially written for pay. Indeed, were he alive today Wolfgang Amadeus would be writing music for film and television to pay the bills. Shostakovich wrote Stalin-approved music for the tyrannical Russian state, literally writing for his life.
Yet artists today are faced with the ultimate double-edged sword: the internet. Here is a venue where we can reach an unlimited audience. They are not the passive spectators of film, television and radio. The internet is a two-way mirror. We can react to them, learn from them, and see how they react to us. Our musical ideas can be developed before a global audience, changing and developing in real time. Composers used to be resigned to letting future history decide their merit, but now we know instantly if our music is connecting with someone… anyone.
There’s only one problem. In the digital age, everybody can steal your music.
Once again, artists are straining to find a balance between expressing themselves creatively and surviving in an increasingly complex economic world. And the ultimate irony is that the struggle can take place even when your music has found a loyal audience, even when your music is being heard by people all over the globe.
I ask all Galactica fans to stop, and think this through for a moment. Consumers of media in the digital age are in an incredibly powerful position. Whether or not you realize it, you are no longer spectators… you are all now patrons of the arts.
The course of contemporary music has always been decided by the Church, the Emperor Joseph IIs, the Stalins and the ruling elite. Now, it is decided by you. You determine which artists thrive and which are relegated to obscurity.
I believe that Battlestar Galactica is genuine art. Everyone working on the show brings incredible talent and craft to it. And we create it… for you. After all, mainstream audiences will never appreciate a show this layered and complex. The writers, musicians, actors and directors are not unlike Bach, Mozart or Shostakovich in their day. We are using our skills and talents to get by; but art needs patrons to survive. We need you to survive.
If Battlestar means something to you, if the show has done anything at all to brighten your life, to bring clarity to moments of confusion, then support it. Support the people who have dedicated their lives to their art, to giving something back to society that is worthwhile.
My music is an integral part of Battlestar. It is one of the many reasons that this series resonates with audiences. And I spend every waking moment bringing it to life. If the result of my work affects you emotionally… support it.
Unlike the radio and television audiences of the past, our relationship is symbiotic. Like all artist / patron relationships, ours has the potential to be incredibly rewarding for all involved. But, if you download the show illegally, you sacrifice your role in the relationship. You’re no longer a patron of influence, but a spectator from the sidelines, a political pundit who doesn’t vote.
The Church, Emperor Joseph II and Stalin are no longer deciding what music survives and what music is drowned in the shadows of obscurity. Now it’s all up to you. Let’s take advantage of this new era.