I will tell no lie, when I first started writing music, I wanted to make money. I idolized djs as a teen, and I wanted to make the kind of music that djs played– and to become a public figure, with sunglasses and lots of cash.
Adding fuel to the fire were my early successes. The fact was, my approach to music (using fractals, mathematical sequences, and other formulae) was quirky enough that it got some attention, including a few features on prominent websites and a mention in “Spin” Magazine.
I don’t think I realized at the time how far away I was from the prototypical dj/dance musician. The images I had of success were borrowed from the lives of people I could never be.
After this initial burst of fame, I spent some time finding myself. My descent happened rather quickly.
I kept spamming my friends about new releases, until one pointed out diplomatically that that was not the kind of e-mail contact they wanted, so I stopped. I joined every possible music site, entered every contest I could. I flailed around crazily in my hoodie sweatshirts, using any means possible to become a famous techno artist. Still, no major label would sign me, and there were no top-40 radio smash hits.
My arc downward somehow, perhaps due to fate, met some arcs upward. In the early ‘oughts, there happened to be a growing netlabel scene. My dabblings with noir, atmospheric urban hymns landed me a spot on several up-and-coming netlabels.
At the time, though I realized that I would be making no money from these releases (in the ethos of the creative commons license), I felt that they might be a means to an end. Perhaps more and more people would discover my music this way, and one day, I would become highly successful and make my millions playing for huge crowds.
Netlabels were, in fact, the beginning of the end of my money making schemes. I no longer was netting pay-for-play bucks from mp3.com. I stopped producing special cds through various websites (except for a few such as Mixonic, which allowed me more control over authorship). My first record label turned down additional submissions– as my music moved towards a darker, more industrial vibe.
In the midst of failure, I found success. Mystified , my then musical act, became very highly regarded in the netlabel scene. Tens of thousands of listeners enjoyed my frequent releases. I developed a following of people (much like myself) who liked strange musics, and preferred not to pay for them.
My urge to succeed had by no means disappeared. I tried many tactics. I rode coattails, working with more successful artists in hopes that their fans would become mine. I offered composing services for little or nothing, investing in strange projects such as a pornographic science-fiction video game, for which I created dozens of theme tracks. None of these were used, as I left the project– and I assume it was left to fail. I sent scores- perhaps hundreds– of demos to various labels. I wanted to appear on “professional” cds, perhaps even on vinyl.
I did appear on vinyl at one point, but that was mainly because of my growing acclaim as a netlabel artist. A German label offered me an appearance on a 12” record. The record was a great success artistically and critically, but a total flop in terms of sales. Very few people took a chance on the record, shelling out the money to purchase one.
A few years after the record was released, the label offered me a chance to purchase the remaining copies– by sending the label my hard cash, they would respond by shipping me an equivalent value in vinyl records (which I had authored).
That was one of the times that I realized that– as long as my art had nothing to do with money– there were no problems.
In fact, I could list my conflicts with labels and artists pretty much on one hand– and they always involved money. Several were with the German label that produced my 12”. I think they wanted to milk my act for money. Another was with a small indie cdr label– there was a misunderstanding when I tried to re-release a remix I had done of a more popular drone artists’ work. The artist noticed what was happening, stepped forward, and raised a fuss. No one was happy about that business (though in some strange way, I felt it was fated).
One problem with making music for money is– what kind of music are you going to make? I got started in the wrong direction, with mathematics. I moved even further away with stuff that was dark, gloomy, and depressive. My insistence on exploring the darker sides of human experience kept me from making it big commercially.
When I started using my own sounds, this sealed the deal– that there would be no deal. Some of my most well-received netreleases involve using sounds I recorded in my low-rent urban dive in South Saint Louis. This apartment made for great art, lots of listens– and no money. Hardly any whatsoever.
I did have strategies for success- though these perhaps might have referred more to artistic success. I knew that I could not do the same things others were doing in the same ways– unless I did them technically better. I could not afford to do this– so I did things differently.
I explored the sounds to be found in my poor apartment. I transformed kazoos, nose flutes and similar carnival instruments into drone pieces. I created rhythms– that were broken, into very odd time signatures. I released sounds I made placing a microphone on my window sill.
One of my most well-used sounds came from a continual set of leaks in my bathroom ,where the sink, toilet and tub conversed with one another all day and all night.
I suppose that’s how, deprived of financial success, I became a bit of a poor-man’s musician. My songs were for those times when the gas got turned off, or for when the food stamps had been cut– when there was no steady paycheck, no car.
The less commercially viable I was, the more artistically successful.
There was a rebirth, of sorts. Later in my career, I found employment, and invested in better equipment. I began thinking of music in terms of high fidelity.
I started referencing myself– or having others reference me. When Shane Morris made a series of dark, primitive dinosaur drones using my trombone sounds, these were released on a prominent ambient label as a professional cd– and became, in time, part of the “Inspired Evolution” (Spotted Peccary Recordings) trilogy.
In 2017, I looked back on my years of writing about poverty, and made, “Morning City” (2017 Spotted Peccary Recordings)– which used as source material the very recordings I had taken of my low-rent apartment, as well as drones from earlier periods when I cared less about fidelity. These early sounds were treated like gold– they were rendered to extremely high bitrates, and mastered by a true professional. They were released on the same prominent ambient label as the “Inspired Evolution” trilogy.
I am happy to say, then, that when I really “sold out” in music, I only sounded more like myself.
And, looking back, I would much rather have a body of work that reflects real moods, atmospheres and situations than something that used a ton of equipment and was a product of glib or cynical fantasy.
Nowadays, I am retired from music. I believe that art and money should have little to do with one another. I work a day job for income.
For enjoyment, I spend hours listening to the products of my years attempting to prove otherwise.