Originally published in Vortex Music Magazine 3/5/2020
Anybody who grew up on PBS television remembers the lack of advertising on that station, save for this humble announcement: “This program was made possible in part by viewers like you. Thank you.”
Viewers like me? I asked my parents what that meant and they explained that some individuals donate money to create the shows and put them on TV, but also, that the American people pool their money to pay for it (via taxes), and so, it was ours. Reading Rainbow, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Masterpiece Theatre were all ours. And best of all, because we funded it, we didn’t have to sit through the obnoxious toy and cereal commercials that saturated the other channels.
Typical Saturday morning cartoons felt like fluff—gripping enough to keep you hooked through the next commercial break. Whereas PBS felt human. When corporations invest, you get content developed from inception to maximize profits. But when people invest, as in the case of PBS, you get content developed to enrich society and the human spirit.
Here in Portland, thanks to listeners and viewers (read: investors) like you, we have a thriving independent music scene. Songwriters here are writing for live audiences in this very city, because that’s where most of our income is coming from—tips, record sales, merch booths and venue booking fees. From showgoers like you.
This past summer, I played a solo winery show where in exchange for bringing the amplification equipment and playing original songs for two hours, I was compensated $400. On top of this, a music lover and patron handed me a $100 bill as a tip. That was actually the third time I had been given a $100 tip this summer alone. As I drove away from that show, it struck me that the venue itself and these generous music lovers were keeping my music alive.
Almost all music lives on the internet now, and record sales have dried up. It’s convenient to stream music via internet subscription, and so that’s how we all listen. But Spotify’s business model is profit-centric, like any other: It pays as little to musicians as it can, charges consumers as much as it can, and pockets the proceeds. In short, musicians are not being paid for their work even when people are listening. And although music is now virtually free to listen to, it’s still expensive to make, costing at least $1,000 per track including professional studio time, session players, mixing and mastering.
How can we afford to keep creating? Get a second job to pay for studio time and session musicians? Be left with less time to work on our songs? Even when people are listening to our work and would like to hear more from us?
Never underestimate the power of your entertainment dollar and where you spend it. Devoted showgoers matter more now than ever—those of you who purchase tickets to see us, buy our T-shirts and vinyl, hand us $100 tips. Most of you have been early adopters of crowdfunding sites, pre-ordering our albums on Kickstarter and setting up recurring monthly contributions on Patreon. Your dedication to our music is quite literally the reason it lives to be heard on Spotify at all. Your investment in the musicians of Portland not only keeps us in studios, recording the music you want to hear, it benefits an entire web of creative professionals.
When musicians have money, we spend it on sound engineers, session musicians, producers, photographers, cinematographers, graphic designers, T-shirt printers, makeup artists, bookers, agents, CD printers, vinyl pressers, and instrument and equipment shops. Musicians are great for the creative economy and excellent community builders. And we are nothing without the audience members who actively support us live and online.
Portland’s music scene has grown up, and there is an immense amount of professionalism, collaboration and pure talent here, with additional talented people moving here every day. The audiences who come to see us and experience once-in-a-lifetime moments with us are helping us build the sound of the city. And it belongs to all of us.
Next time you are deliberating between the newest Netflix special and coming out to see a show: Lace up your shoes, text a friend to bring along, and come join us in creating a local music scene that enriches our spirits and our sense of community—one that we can all be proud of.
Made possible by listeners like you. Thank you.
Katelyn Convery and Margaret Wehr captivate fans at a show at OMSI's Kendall Planetarium this past October: Photos by Calico Randall