Friday, November 17, 2006

pork for music?

“So if you ever want to exchange pork for music, just let us know…”

That’s what she said as I was leaving the performance, and I found myself mulling it over all week. Finally, I e-mailed her back and said “I don’t know if you were serious when you made that offer of pork for music, but if you were, I’d love to do it!”

Yet another step along the winding road of trying to develop an “alternative economic model” for this music ministry…

…a model that can be sustainable and viable over the long term… a model that is compatible with healthy family and community life… a model built around a different set of assumptions and expectations about what constitutes “success”… a model that is compatible with – and grows out of and gives expression to - my faith…

…a model that is an alternative to the “Tour! Tour! Tour! Sell! Sell! Sell!” that is the standard (and spectacularly unhealthy and unsustainable) model in the mainstream “music business” (including the “Christian” music business)…

That’s the idea, anyway. And last week I took what was, for me, the biggest step so far in that direction…

Essentially, what I’ve done is to work with the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model and adapt it to music.

On a CSA farm, you pay an up-front annual fee (or “membership” or “subscription” or “shares”), and receive regular deliveries (usually weekly) of fresh, locally grown produce throughout the growing season. This is good for consumers because they receive high quality produce that is local, usually organic, picked at the peak of freshness and nutritional value. It’s good for the farmer, because it guarantees a fair price for the produce, enables a small-scale operation to be viable, and shares the risks of farming. It’s also good for the environment, as the land is farmed more sustainably, on a smaller scale and with fewer (if any) chemical inputs, and the produce is not shipped over long distances to reach the consumer.

Another result of all this is the formation and strengthening of relationships, of local community, of local economies… Members of the CSA may volunteer their labour on the farm, may get together for special celebrations at times like spring planting and end-of-season harvest… This kind of model helps to bridge the gap between “producers” and “consumers,” and to create a partnership in the production/consumption of food and in the knowledge and care of the land where it’s grown.

We were part of a CSA called Earthshare in Winnipeg, and loved it. A long-time friend runs a CSA in Iowa (I once chopped down a whole field of his carefully cultivated pasture land in Bolivia by mistake… but that’s another story!). We haven’t yet found a CSA in our neck-of-the-woods here in Stouffville (there is now a Wal-Mart, though…have you heard…?), but we do frequent some local businesses that function in similar ways in the community…

So how have I adapted this “alternative economic model” to the world of music…?

Well, I've set up a system where "becoming a member of SmallTall Music" is like joining a CSA farm... you pay an annual fee and receive regular deliveries of fresh, home-grown, organic music - new "songs of faith for small and tall" - straight from the producer, yours truly.

The songs come as mp3 audio files along with a packet of resources - lyrics, chords and music notation, thoughts and reflections, activity ideas of how you might try using the songs in worship, in the classroom, at home - all available via download from a "Members" page of the SmallTall Music website.

As in the CSA model, the idea is that membership in SmallTall Music is much more than making a "consumer choice" to receive a certain kind of "product"... Becoming a member of smallTall Music is an opportunity to be an active participant and partner in the process of creating, testing, and sharing new music for the church and for families of the church...

Specifically, members are invited to participate in a whole variety of ways, including:

- using and enjoying the songs!
- sharing feedback and ideas ("We used this song for... this one really worked with our group... this one not so much... when we used this song we adapted it this way... added this action... wrote this new verse...")
- giving ideas/suggestions for new songs ("In our family/congregation we really need a song to sing when..."; "We're exploring this Scripture/theme, and could really use a song that would help us to...").
- writing and sharing your own songs, trying them out in your own local community, and sharing them with other SmallTall Music members via the annual "SmallTall Music Members' Jamboree" - a special "bonus delivery" made up entirely of songs written and submitted by the members of SmallTall Music.

Sound like fun? I'm having a blast!

And the most recent innovation in this process is the addition of bartering/exchanging goods or services as another form of "payment"... so there are currently different households exchanging pork, pies, photography services, website assistance, some painting around the house... as their means of "payment" for their membership in SmallTall Music. (For other households and congregations, of course, paying "the old fashioned way" with cash or cheque still makes the most sense...)

A bunch of other parallels with the CSA model are, by now, probably pretty obvious to you (or, perhaps, not so much) - I'll likely post further musings on that as time goes on.

Some people familiar with the CSA model have already taken to talking about this as my "CSM" (Community Supported Music)... And, of course, plenty of others tend to listen politely, with a glazed, far-away look in their eyes, and walk away baffled by all this craziness...

In any case, last week I sent out my first "delivery" of new songs and resources to the members of SmallTall Music. A quiet and modest beginning, but after years of dreaming and scheming and exploring and talking... always lots of talking... it feels like a pretty big milestone to me.

Thanks to those of you who have opted to set out on this voyage and participate in this experiment together. I am deeply grateful that I can live out this vocation with your support, and I look forward to seeing where it will all lead...

Speaking of which, I'd better go and attend to a host of household tasks...I should see about getting our car winterized... I wonder if our mechanic would consider an “oil change for music"...

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2 Comments:

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Bryan Moyer Suderman said...

Update one week later:

Sure enough! Not only is our mechanic now a member of SmallTall Music, exchanging an oil change for music, he discovered that another STM member just down the road (who is exchanging pies for music) also sells amazing sausage... and being a connoisseur of sausages as well as motor oil, he will soon be sampling succulent sausages as well...

 
At 8:56 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

I like the idea of trading goods for goods. It makes a lot of sense and gives those people without financial stability, but gifts to share none the less, a chance to earn things and grow in their own way.

 

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