Thoughts About Survival Part 2

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From the years 1986 (when I graduated with a highly useful Film Studies degree from McGill University) until about 1996, I worked day jobs to pay the rent and bills- at a 7-Eleven and hardware store in Boston; at the Art Institute of Chicago (museum shop and accounting department [I passed their math exam and could type]) and the School of the Art Institute (accounting for the Video Data Bank). In ’96 my wife, Ellen, supported the idea of ending what was now a part time job to see if I could make as much money with music (teaching some private lessons- this didn’t last very long- and gigs). Because I was pretty much the only one in this position (most of the musicians I know in the United States have to supplement their income with a day job of some kind, no matter how good or well known they are), I put all my energy into trying to organize gigs in Chicago.

As mentioned in pt. 1 of this “essay,” during the mid 1990s it was still possible to work on the model generated by the 80s Indie Rock scene, and that’s what the musicians I collaborated with did, even though we were buy in canada playing music associated with another “scene.” In 1999 I was fortunate enough to win the MacArthur prize for music (it’s not a grant, you can’t apply for it, and you don’t even know that you’re in the running for the award until they phone you in the middle of whatever you’re doing to tell you to sit down for some news; in my case the call came while loading in for a show in Chapel Hill during a rainstorm, that night I slept on someone’s floor). Because I was already surviving with my music and Ellen’s support, this money afforded me the opportunity to work with large scale projects and tours (the Territory Band, the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet, among others) in Chicago and North America; I could put all the funds into the creative work. When these economic resources ended, in 2004, the landscape for the international music scene had changed drastically. The most significant differences caused by the rapid evolution of the internet, and the greed of the major labels. Artists were faced with biggest paradigm shift in the dissemination of sound since the start of public demand and access to recorded music at the end of the 19th century.