Dear Mr. Capitalism,
My name is Lia and I want to be an Iris Dement tribute artist.
Mr. Capitalism, I just love to sing! Well, I really just love music. There’s nothing I love in this whole wide world as much as I love music. Well, maybe nature. And butter tarts (or any sweet pastry, for that matter). When I was in elementary school, I enjoyed singing in choir a whole heckuva lot. And then during middle school, I started to become more passionate about singing…umm…well…never mind those three years of my life. When I got to high school, I learned how to play some basic guitar and sang and played guitar a whole lot. I loved it.
But growing up, my family didn’t really have much money to buy records or pay for lessons. My folks immigrated to Canada in the late ‘80s and as is true for a lot of immigrants, they brought very little to this country and had to start from scratch building a life for us. It was really hard for them! We never lacked basic necessities, but couldn’t really afford to have as much music as we would have liked to have in our lives. And not just music – my folks couldn’t really afford to put me through ballet or gymnastics lessons either. Things are a bit different now. A lot of music is available on Youtube and Grooveshark, and I steal tons and tons and tons of music from Soulseek! But I still don’t have a ton of money so I still can’t really afford lessons. And even if I had the money, with the amount of time I spend working, volunteering, spending time with friends and family, doing chores, reading and sleeping, I barely have any time left to dedicate to studying music.
I’ve always wondered: if I had had the opportunity to spend my whole life studying music, could I have become a songwriter like Iris Dement? Volunteering with environmental groups, spending time with loved ones, doing chores, reading, sleeping – these are things I wouldn’t be willing to cut out of my life. The only way I could really allot a significant amount of time to studying music is if performing could also be my work. I don’t want to be a big-shot world-touring musician. Just a local musician who plays in front of small crowds of fifty to a hundred people with whom my music truly resonates. I just need to make enough money to get by, help my folks out once they retire, and pay for music or dance or art or sports lessons for my children if I ever have any. My folks always instilled in their children the value of education. As immigrants, they worried a whole heckuvalot about financial security. And that’s why they never really supported the pursuit of music as a serious livelihood. It could only be a hobby. The pursuit of education is more likely to lead to a career and financial security.
Mr. Capitalism, I just don’t see why music has to be a luxury that so many people can’t afford. And why making money playing music is such an unrealistic goal for so many people. Music will always be the one thing that I love more than anything else in the universe. And I will always believe it’s a valuable service to the world. I’ve never been religious or spiritual in the conventional sense. But I have always found music to be spiritually nourishing in some indescribable way. And I couldn’t imagine what my life or what this world would be like without it. What do you think?
Below I’ve added a link to my favourite song by Iris Dement. It’s called “Our Town”. Maybe one day I’ll do an open mic and bashfully send you a recording of myself covering it 🙂
May you always sing and shuffle your shoes,
P.S. Sorry about the stupid ad in the beginning – Youtube’s gotta stop with these stupid ads.
I think your comment about youtube ads is very telling. You want people to be able to earn money making music, but you see a company like Google (who has owned youtube since 2006, hence the ads) working hard to feed their families and yet you complain.
Art does not exist without money. If you write a song, play it, and millions of people listen to it and love it, but you don’t make a dime off of it, then what was the point? Nothing, that’s what. The point of art is commerce, whether it’s purchasing paintings not because you like the work but because it will inevitably appreciate in value, to a record label signing an artist for their physical beauty not their musical abilities. You call music a “valuable service,” and that’s exactly right—the value of pleasure always has a price, that’s why the record industry exists in the first place.
As far as you hero, Iris Dement, I strongly suggest that you get a better role model, the woman has never even sold more than 50,000 copies of her records! That’s pathetic, she is a failure in every sense of the word. Look to someone like Katy Perry or Kelly Clarkson if you need someone to emulate, now THERE are women who are true to not only themselves, but to the record companies that own them!
I must furthermore abhor you admission of using those file-stealing sites to pirate music. As an aspiring artistic-capitalist, you should be against anything that does not make creators cash off of the things they create. I think you, like the vast majority of the younger generations, have forgotten the all-important term “intellectual property rights.” All this file-stealing and sampling makes me sick. Fortunately, respectable members of our society like Google, Sony and Apple are beginning to turn the tables by privatizing every corner of the internet that they can (including through ad placements). And are they doing this for their own sake? Heck no! It’s for the sake of little aspiring artists such as yourself, so you and others can learn that nothing is free and everything has to be owned by someone.
The final sentiment in your letter that I would like to address is your concept of “just living to get by.” You speak of your immigrant-parents. Is this what they wanted from you? Was this what they dreamed of when they moved all the way around the world to find a better life for their children? To have their kids living in garages and making music for a dozen pot-heads at the open mic coffee shop down the street? They were right to steer you towards education and learning, but they must have done something very wrong if this is the daughter that is the product of their teachings. Make them proud, become a druggist not a guitar-strummer. (*according to Glamour magazine, the highest average paying job for American women in 2012 was pharmacist!)
There are really only two options you. First, if you are dead set on this music career thing, then study those who have been most financially successful in the last ten years. (note: if you don’t look like the artists who sell records, just skip right to option #2, because at least half of your marketability is looks, not sound.) Second, get a real job and stop complaining. The last thing on the planet we need is another bleeding-heart, crying in their beer, soft-spoken singer-songwriting woman. You can’t imagine your life without music? Well, imagine your life without food if you want to try to be an artist. I trust you’ll make the right decision and make your parents proud.