“A Brief New Year’s Observation” / John Cage – The Number Pieces 6, etc

I received this statement in the Mode Records email bulletin, and I think it’s worth distributing further.

Written by Brian Brandt :

“A BRIEF NEW YEAR’S OBSERVATION: The arts and the music business continue to be battered economically, and internationally, with governments cutbacks of funding along with depressed sales of music both physically and digitally. Though Billboard’s wrap up of 2011 U.S. music sales shows that total sales were up 6.9% for the year, this is not necessarily experienced by the independent and niche labels.

At the risk of being accused a “dinosaur” or “irrelevant”,  I feel it is important to note that there a ramifications to the democracy of the web, in particular the circulation of illegal free downloads (whose effect is obvious) as well the the “legal” use of streaming services like Spotify, Rhapsody, etc. Music listeners should note that these streaming services pay very little per stream – $0.0045 on the average. As an example, Mode had 28,060 streams via one of these services in January and we were paid a total of $6.2034! (you are not misreading, that is SIX dollars – the decimal places are indeed correct). Yes, these services may be convenient and liberating but listeners should be aware that such income is not adequate to sustain labels or artists.

When writing and talking about this subject, I have been accused of needing to evolve and this is how the world is going to be. Maybe so. But the costs to make a quality recording, whether issued physically or into the ether digitally does not change. Such recordings cannot continue to be made if income is severely diminished. And unlike major labels, the independents cannot easily make up the difference by promoting concert tours, selling T-shirts, posters and other merchandising.

So yes, those who can make their music at home or in their garage may (or may not) benefit from this “democratic” level playing field. But quality niche recordings cannot continue indefinitely in such an economic environment. And so in time less and less quality adventurous recordings will be made and the digital democracy’s effect can actually starve out and diminish the amount of new music you will hear – the exact opposite of the digital utopia predicted by so many pundits.

In closing, please consider your approach to music and how you obtain it. Purchase it, whether physically or digitally, and consider the impact of the music you obtain by streaming. Every person can make a difference.”

On another note, the email bulletin also mentioned a new John Cage “Number Pieces” volume, part of Mode Records’ extremely valued and thorough series documenting much of Cage’s work. The series is listed here. The new volume, #44, is called “The Number Pieces 6”. This volume will contain :

Five (1988) 
for any five voices or instruments

Seven (1988)
for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano & percussion

Thirteen (1992)
for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, tuba, 2 violins, viola, cello & 2 xylophones

Thirteen is a rarely recorded piece. These were performed by the ensemble Essential Music. Forthcoming on Mode as well, apparently, is a collection of percussion pieces by Third Coast Percussion.

There are a number of John Cage recordings forthcoming this year, as well as festivals focusing on his music. Last year we didn’t see many new recordings, so perhaps this one will make up for that. Some of those festivals and events can be read about here.

John Cage’s music, philosophies, artwork and (especially ?) his personality have been extremely important to me over the past couple years. His work is as unending as the cosmos and as grounded as the roots below us. I’m very excited to see what 2012, his centennial, will bring us.


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