Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A new age – Words and Music

Nowadays everyone wants something for free. Or at least as cheap as possible. Once information and entertainment found its way onto the internet, lots of people searched for ways to download it for free. It's already out there, why should I have to pay for it? seemed to be the attitude. It doesn't cost the musician or the author or the movie producer anything extra for my copy. There are no printing costs, paper costs, theatre rental fees, etc.

Free download sites have proliferated, many of them offshore and beyond the reach of any copyright or licensing laws. Even a cursory Google search uncovers dozens of places where you can download anything from songs to films and TV shows to ebooks (including mine) for free. The fact that the original creator of the material might need to pay the mortgage or eat doesn't seem to enter their thoughts. Creators are struggling with ways to stem the tide (likely a futile endeavour) and to find alternative funding models to keep themselves afloat. Newspapers, bleeding red ink, have tried to erect firewalls on their digital content, at the risk of pricing themselves into extinction. Digital ad revenue have become big business. Musicians are hitting the concert circuit, hoping the sale of tickets and signed CDs will make up for the thousands of dollars lost on free song downloads.

Authors are offering their wares for 99 cents, and even publishers are discounting select titles in the hope of attracting readers who will then pay a fair price for another work by the same author. Cyberspace is awash in books, all competing for readership. In many ways, one could argue this era is like Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. The best of times and the worst of times. At no time has it been easier for writers to get their work out there, and at no time has there been more selection for readers. But at no time has it been harder for individual works to be noticed and at no time has it been harder for readers to wade through the sheer volume in search of that gem worth reading. The slush piles of dozens of publishers and agents are now on the web for the readers' perusal – the good, the bad and the just plain awful.

A couple of years ago I attended a panel of publishing luminaries at a book conference. They likened the state of the book business to that music industry a few years earlier. Basically the message seemed to be that you can't fight progress and if authors and books were going to survive, they would have to find a way to adapt to the new digital reality. That meant cheap downloads by the thousands, crowd funding, and developing a way to entertain. Musicians make money with performances and CD sales, so authors, the most introverted and limelight-shy of all artists, had better learn a new skill set.

I left that panel feeling furious and frustrated. Music, like theatre, is a performance medium. An evening of songs is an evening of engagement and contagious enthusiasm. But reading is a private experience, an interaction between the author's and the readers' imagination. You read curled up in a comfy chair with your drink of choice at your elbow. The sheer pleasure is in the solitary journey, not shared with a hundred or so people in a concert hall. Even worse than that, most authors can't read their work; we are introverts, not actors, and we bury our nose in our books and mumble desperately through to the end of the excruciating hour. If the audience wasn't so polite, it would have left in droves. In my experience, getting readers out to a FREE reading event is like pulling teeth. If they had to fork out money for a ticket, the hall would be empty!

But today, I want to share a cool new vision. Fusion is all the rage these days. In cooking, in arts, in architecture. This vision is about the fusion of music and storytelling. I know it's been done before, in operas, musicals, and even in poetry. But the town of St. Thomas has for several years experimented with the interesting combination of jazz music and author readings. A specific author and book are chosen and the musical director organizes a series of pieces to complement the story and to intersperse with the readings. Part performance, part reading. Hopefully pure entertainment!

Tonight, Wednesday, I have the privilege of being the author at the centre of the event. Thanks to Ric Giorgi and his talented musical crew, I will be learning firsthand about the power of this fusion. I have picked out five medium-length readings of 5 - 9 minutes each, and Ric has paired musical interludes with each. By all accounts these events have been very successful in the past, necessitating a move to a larger venue. I'm very interested to hear Ric's treatment of THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS and to see the audience reaction to the story as told with music. It's so much more exciting that simply "author reads book".

For anyone interested in attending, the event is at 7:30 at the Princess Avenue Theatre in St. Thomas. We'd love to see you! And stay tuned. In my next blog I will tell you how it all went. Hopefully well!


Donis Casey said...

This sounds fascinating! I can't wait to hear how it goes.

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