While going through old musicisart email archives, I came across a kind letter from musician Andrew Thoreen of the band Har-di-Har. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it is so refreshing to stumble upon an actual genuine letter from a talented artist who has taken the time to be appreciative of what you do. Part of Andrew’s email went like this:
“Hi Danielle, I’m making humble contact because I stumbled upon your blog this morning with a dark cup of coffee…then the cup turned into a pot!! The best part of finding a good blog is that minutes of enjoyment turn into hours. Your selections of Taken by Trees really grabbed me, both visually and sonically as did the rest of the music on your playlist… Cat Power, Tennis, Father John Misty. Great stuff! The playlist reminded me of summer days during my childhood, my mother putting on Joni Mitchell and the wind chime blowing on the back porch. Thanks for the picks, and for the feelings.”
After listening to Andrew and his wife of Har-di-Har’s beautiful dream pop music, it felt important to have them apart of our guest series here. Please enjoy Andrew’s words below:
More Over Forward
We are in the midst of a beautiful and prolific creative renaissance in which an endless amount of music is being made and so much of it is being ignored. This idea resulted from hundreds of highway hours and discussions my bandmate and partner, Julie, and I had in a tired, overloaded Ford station wagon while touring as Har-di-Har. We started Har-di-Har with the intentions of touring and playing as much as possible as the means to make a living. We also wanted to write music together that pushed the boundaries of the traditional pop/folk song as a way to further the genre, taking risks with song structure, harmony, vocal arrangement, and meter, while maintaining pop hooks and melodies. However, after touring for the better parts of 2012 and 2013, it seems that in the over-saturated, under-funded music climate now, emerging bands are discouraged to advance and take risks with music and instead, encouraged to focus on “savvy” ways to build their following. At the same time, potential audiences are discouraged from actively supporting such obscure music, and rather, encouraged to simply passively “follow” artists over the internet. We as bands and consumers alike need to recognize that unless we start fighting this trend by better supporting our fellow musicians financially and educating those who are not participating in music culture, we will miss this incredible opportunity during this unique time in the history of music to maximize the potential for unknown, forward thinking music to greater affect the evolution of popular music.
Starting in August of 2012 we toured all over our local music scene in Iowa, Minnesota, as well as most of the Midwest. By September 2013 we had booked multiple national tours to the South, East, and West coasts. Any band that tours a lot realizes how many obscure bands there are who are working incredibly hard and still struggling to make money or gain notoriety. We often found ourselves inspired by the successes of brilliant groundbreaking bands and yet also discouraged that many others are achieving something we think we want we would like to achieve. Envy and jealousy seam to be inherent human emotions all artists at all levels have to deal with, and they seem to gain new strength in this truly over-saturated, under-funded market.
This is the situation we’ve found ourselves in: the result of the DIY era and ethic has given rise to the amount of obscure music being created but at the same time has done very little to address how the given music market can grow and adapt to support and accommodate a booming supply of new music. This, combined with free streaming services and trends in social media, has also made it easy for us to become passive music consumers. I wish that streaming, liking, posting, and sharing music was enough to sustainably support all this emerging music, but it is not unless you are commercially successful and able to tally hundreds of thousands of streams. From the artist perspective, this means that we need to put energy and time into finding ways to gain and maintain attention. Every day there are more services for DIY artists to pay into that will help us promote and market our music better. Rather than supporting other artists within a community, we are encouraged (as any business is) to better compete. Constantly bombarded with these distractions, we find ourselves asking why do we, as artists, even feel we need to prove that our music is better and more important than someone else’s? At the same time, if we choose not to push our music, it seems the support of an audience will suffer.
We feel that begs the question, why do we choose to listen to the music we do? Because it has been proved that many others also like this music or because we’ve assessed this music by ourselves without context and we conclude that we want to support it? In my heart of hearts, I’d like to see a movement in the music industry driven by bold tonal and textural exploration rather than a movement driven by advertising funding, publicity, savvy branding, and marketing plans. I do think that tastemakers and gatekeepers in the music industry hold important roles and have contributed to evolving music for the better, but I genuinely believe that the money and the success-driven nature behind a large amount of the decision making within the music economy (as well as popular culture) is broken and flawed. What happens to the bands that are creating thoughtful music but not marketing it or working to “build an audience”? Will they be lost? We as creative people should NOT be pitted against one other to fight over the financial scraps (and fleeting attention) left over in the music business. Instead we should focus energy into asking ourselves why we are creating the music we are, what ways we can better support peers who are taking risk with music, and how we can show an entire generation that obscure music has value.
For hundreds of years personal patronage has been a very effective way to support and advance art. I’m talking about active patronage here. Passive patronage doesn’t generate enough revenue for an obscure band to live on, much less allow them to continue to create good art. The notion that music should be free to consume is not sustainable, unless we are willing to endure even more advertising in our digital existence. I try to buy $30 of recordings a month both from labels as well as straight from bands. Sure, I support bands on successful labels like Atoms for Peace, Alt-J, St. Vincent, Volcano Choir, and Dr. Dog, but I also buy just as much obscure music on bandcamp and at shows from bands that need the support much more. Yeah, I could easily spend that money somewhere else and still hear the same amount of new music, but I wouldn’t be contributing and actively helping support an art form’s evolution. A simple change in the way we show appreciation monetarily for obscure music we stumble upon could have vastly profound effects to music history. In 200 years from now, the people listening back to the music of this generation won’t care how many records or tickets sold, I’d like to think that they will care about how it changed the art form and if the music still resonates well with them.
Samples, Horns, and Harmonies
Be sure to check out Har-di-Har on their upcoming midwest tour!