It’s July and we’re again celebrating that quintessential and sometimes amorphous sense of American independence. And another perennial activity that we always need to be doing in the music world is examining how individual or independent artists, of all kinds, are faring in advocating and presenting their work in the shadow of whatever the mainstream happens to be. Even the mainstream of the avant-garde or new, because surely, we see fashions of a particular moment overshadow other new work of great integrity. We try to always keep this in mind in our work at the AMC, and I’m heartened that in recent NewMusicBox articles, columns, and forums, there brews a larger discussion of the identity of the new music field, and its relationship to the “mainstream”. Because the “we” that is all artists creating new work, needs to always be mindful of our independence at the same time that we may seek more broad acceptance.
Greg Sandow’s recent columns and the resulting forums have vigorous discussions regarding new music’s place in the realm of the classical music industry. The questions raised almost tread into the realm of cultural assimilation, and the positives and negatives of what is lost and what is gained when the “mainstream” catches up to accept a part of the new. And this month, jazz and improvisational artists have much to say about sustaining their art outside of support from mainstream record labels.
It is fair to say that the jazz artists discussed in this issue are not the AMC’s core membership. To many of them, the kinds of things we usually talk about here may represent another kind of musical mainstream. Of course, I would like to convince them that we have much to learn and gain from each other, and that by adding their voices to an alliance of creative musicians, we deepen the credibility and power of all new and alternative music.
And to composers of a more post-classical orientation, there is really a lot to learn from the independent and entrepreneurial approach our brethren in jazz are somehow forced to adopt. It is in part about capturing the moment, and a deep commitment to the risks of live music-making and celebrating the results. And perhaps we see this in the new music labels of John Zorn and Tzadik, the BOAC folks and Cantaloupe, and Jim Fox and Cold Blue.
No matter the genre, there are many aspects to the fault line between independent and mainstream: artistic purity, access to creative opportunity or commissions that are not proscribed by the funder, marketing of one’s work, and the benefits of forming or joining an ensemble or composers’ collective. This discussion always returns to our work, and how we can share it with the world when it seems there are not enough resources to help us. What are the ways that you think independent artists can help each other? What do institutions in the field need to be doing? How can we continuously transform and rejuvenate the mainstream?