Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Letters to the Editor:

A Performer's View of SL Music: 
    A State of the Music Address

    "Can I get a "Yep. We're okay. We’re fine.”? 

    No, this is not another gripe about SL music or "SL MUSIC IS DEAD" rant. But, if you will indulge me: I think SL Music may be "showing its age".

    Once upon a time, in the early days of SL music, the music scene was abuzz with creativity and excitement. New venues were opening at a rapid pace. New musicians were finding their way into the music community. Collaboration and camaraderie between performers and the voracious, music-seeking crowds was palpable. There were many musicians playing original material back in the golden era of Second Life music. 

    It wasn’t uncommon for track singers to ask live musicians for a track of an original song they loved and they’d include that performer’s song in their own sets. Everyone felt so privileged to be a part of these performers' musical journeys. With each new performer there seemed to be a new sound and style. It was like there was a major concert every day. 

    People logged in and never knew who might suddenly be playing that night. All kinds of collaboration and creative events were happening. There was also curiosity about who would be in the crowd. Who was dancing with whom? What interesting and fun things would happen during the course of the day/night around the music crowd? It felt more like a community than an ‘industry’. 

    So many people packed venues at times that sims would crash!  Having overflow areas when two musicians collaborated for a show was a fairly common thing. Making sure you were paid as much as or more than other performers and refusing to play somewhere because it was an only tips venue didn’t automatically make someone more valued as an artist than another. The main focus was on making music and supporting each other’s efforts. There were no management companies. You either asked a venue if you could play there, or you found someone you trusted, who believed in your music, and they would become your manager. 

    That person would go to venues and get you booked. They would handle your notices and your group chat; they’d be your host and biggest cheerleader. It was more personal and connected. If you saw someone gesture “I love this voice!” you believed they meant it and weren’t just paid to be there. 

    Musicians valued their fans and took the time to get to know them. People came out to support every artist. Other musicians even supported their fellow performers by actually attending their shows and cheering them on. Behind the scenes, most of them knew each other and, other than the occasional drama as has always been a part of SL – people got along with each other. 

    Being in someone’s group wasn’t just a way of finding out where they’d be playing next. It also meant you were part of their circle. They’d invite their fans to do other fun things with them. They’d hangout with everyone after shows, play games, and get to know their audience better. Ah, yes. The good old days of the mid-Noughts and the early Twenty Tens. 

    They are but a memory now for the seasoned and determined veterans who were around then during that heyday and continue to stick with it, hoping for the return of the musical brotherhood that once was. Music in SL is fine. But therein lies the rub. It’s just ‘fine’. 

    The SL music offerings are uninspiring and bland. Dare I say – boring? 

    Yes. There are many fantastic performers still to be found in SL. But the spirit of SL music has withered away. If you are new to the music scene in the last 6 or 7 years, you don’t understand the difference. You won't miss what you never knew. Going to shows in the current SL music landscape is akin to going to your grandmother’s house. Sure, you want to go see Granny. You’re even excited about it. But then you get there and it’s all familiar and nice, but after that first 15 minutes of greetings, then you’re bored, and your mind wanders to what you’re going to do after your visit. 

    Between the "Songbird/Sex Kitten Whisperers" and the "Introspective/Sensitive Guitar Guy" performers, there is extraordinarily little variety in one’s daily intake of SL music. From show to show, you consume the same thing. Even the rockers of the bunch tone it down as to not wake the audience. And performers all seem to play many sets a day, so there’s really no build-up or excitement about going to see them. If you aren’t at one show, you can catch their next show in a couple of hours. Dual streaming and collaborations are all but dead. 

    A few people do it now and then, but it’s not as common as it once was. And if a couple of performers decide to get crazy and dual stream, they seem to be bound to only dual stream with each other. Only a handful of performers seek out other people to collaborate with. People aren’t reaching outside their immediate inner circle (or management group). Thinking outside the box is non-existent. 

    Where’s the energy? Where’s the passion? Where’s the creativity? 

    It’s all backwards, really. 

    Performers are given a place to play. That’s their reward. They should be grateful for that. And though most talk the talk at shows (“Please donate to this venue. I wouldn’t have a place to play without places like these.") they obviously don’t walk that walk. Many demand to be paid, and paid well, before they agree to play. They expect tips on top of that as well. 

    The real truth is, for a majority of performers, it’s all about the lindens.  For some, it's also about status. They play in SL to make extra cash for any of several reasons (many cash out their linden for real world money). Others act like they are Elvis-like and are looking for validation and love from venues and their adoring fans. They need their ego stroked and their goal is bookings at the ‘in’ clubs, getting people to attend their shows who will tell them how wonderfully talented and amazing they are.  It's like a drug for them even if they are neither. Harsh? Maybe – but also true. 

    If you don’t believe it, go ask almost any performer if they’ll play your club for less than their booking fee or for tips only. It’s beneath many of them. They will give you the “I’m giving you an hour of entertainment and deserve to be paid” line which, for most, hardly applies (refer back to 'uninspiring and bland'). 

    Truth be told, most SL performers would be sitting home playing to their plants for nothing if venue owners didn’t agree to give them linden from their own SL pockets. Before someone steps in to say that some performers actually do play shows at real venues and make money doing it in RL - Ok. Then log off and go make money there. SL venues aren’t calling you at home to book you on a Saturday night. They’re providing you with a place to play for free, with an audience to play to, when you don’t have a booking on a Saturday night. 

    SL is not a concert hall or a bar generating money because you’re coming in to do a few songs. But the compensation system in SL has long been debated – so we’ll leave that for its own article. Performers should remember the gift they have been given which is this music outlet in SL. They have a dedicated and committed audience of listeners who are enthusiastic and want to support them.

    Unfortunately, dwindling audiences have spoken. The standards have been lowered and not much is expected from a performer or a performance. SL music audiences are partly to blame here too. They ask for little and demand nothing for attending a show. Gone are the days of collecting gestures and t-shirts and actually participating during a show. Being in a group and getting excited when the group chat window opened up to announce someone was going to do a show! 

    So many shows are done in almost a total text blackout now except for "Song. Applause gesture. Silence."  Audiences are boring too. A performer feeds off the energy of their crowd. If you have a crowd of 20 or 30 people, but they aren’t saying much and aren’t requesting songs, I don’t care who you are – you start to feel like you’re not doing well. Could it be the material you’re choosing?  Could it be your playing is off? Could be that your singing is awful, but they like you so they’re just hanging out? 

    Even if people are tipping them, in a performer’s mind – a quiet audience is a disappointed audience. Venues are less to blame for the general lackluster SL music experience, but they do bear some of the burden to the overall dulling down of the music experience in SL. Running a venue is time and money intensive. If you don’t have much of either – *please* don’t open a venue. 

    Also, don’t think the burden is on the musicians to bring people in. You are asking people to come perform, yes. You aren’t asking them to bring a crowd with them when they do. IF they do – that’s a bonus. Gather your audience. Create a space people come to for the fun and friendship. It takes a village to have a successful club. You need to be an actual ‘club’ – as in cult. You need to have people who will be there, no matter who you book. Musicians do not bring their audiences around the grid with them like they used to either. Sure, they may have a following and people will come see them, but there are fewer musicians and less music lovers who go to every show (refer back to the – same time/day/songs). They go to one show and then skip the next 2. If you want your club to be a success, make it a success and then add performers to enhance it. It doesn’t work well the other way around. 

    Also – unless you stop actually paying performers stupid amounts of linden to come do a thing they’d do for free if you made them – then you’re going to keep paying stupid amounts of money to run your venue. Owners should unite and set ground rules they all stick by. Back in those good old days, people cared about SL music so much, there was even a series of meetings between musicians, managers, venue owners and Linden Labs! Can you imagine? The entire community felt passionate enough to go to 'Big Brother' and ask for things like the 'Events' listings and more promotion on the Destination Guide. 

    Maybe there needs to be a call to action again? Maybe that would infuse some much needed oxygen into the stagnant air of the music sector. 

    Maybe no one gives a shit anymore. 

    To sum this all up – currently, the state of music in SL is – BLAH.  And if everyone likes blah, then I guess "it’s fine."

- SG -

Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Vendetta Publications.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I know this post is three years old but I just stumbled across it and read it with interest, some agreement and a lot of disappointment. I am an SL musician who has been playing for over 10 years in SL and other virtual worlds. I DO play tips-only venues b/c I realize how much real life money it costs to simply provide a venue (i.e., pay rent) plus provide a stipend to performers. At least being tipped something by the venue owner is courteous. If you don't feel a sense of community among musicians and fans, you need to check out the SL Live Jams which happen at least a couple of times a year (with a Covid pause in 2020-2021) around the country. These are real-life meetups in various cities with 80+ musicians and fans for a weekend which are video streamed for folks anywhere to watch, enjoy and interact with (in chat). People who have met at the live jams often connect inworld and support each other musically. There are also open mics and campfire circles where SL musicians and friends gather to share music and community just for fun, try out new material, or learn how to stream for the first time. Maybe you are not seeking out/finding the places where SL music is vibrant and alive. Yes, there are boring performers and dull venues and musicians who expect more compensation than they are deserving of. But look a little further and the exciting music scene you describe from days of yore is alive and well in Second Life. P.S. Thanks for doing a story about SL music.


Comments are welcome!