NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Jazz may be among America's greatest cultural contributions to the world, but for the record labels, the clubs and for the musicians themselves, it's also a business. Like other musicians, actors, writers, freelancers of all varieties, jazz performers often work from gig to gig, in arrangements that leave them on the short end of the financial stick. Benefits, health care, retirement packages are all but non-existent.
We'll talk today with different generations of jazz musicians about what's changed in the business and what hasn't, about the shrinking club scene and new opportunities on the Internet. Later in the program, we'll go to Rome, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi addressed Italy's Parliament today on the trans-Atlantic conflict over the death of an Italian intelligence officer on the Baghdad airport road.
But first: making a living in jazz. If you're in the business, call us with your story. How do you pay the rent and support a family? Are you worried about your future? Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We begin with NPR's Felix Contreras, who joins us here in Studio 3A. He reported on the aging jazz musicians in a four-part series on "All Things Considered" recently.
Felix, nice to have you on the program.
FELIX CONTRERAS (NPR News): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Take us back to the subject of that series. What are the major issues that concern older jazz musicians, especially?
CONTRERAS: Well, just like many other older Americans, health care, I think, is probably at the top of their list. And I focused specifically on musicians that were creative and did a lot of things post-World War II, so health-care issues in light of their limited resources--because at their age, their contemporaries who were in the corporate world or working for a living in other industries--you know, jazz didn't provide a pension for them. The jazz world doesn't provide a pension in most cases. So getting adequate health care is probably at the top of the list.
CONAN: And, as you say, pensions, looking ahead to retirement, if there is such a thing in the jazz business.
CONTRERAS: Well, there are, for example, through an American Federation of Musicians, but not everyone is--not all musicians are able to participate in that. So those that aren't participating have to struggle.
CONTRERAS: In income, as well--I mean, a lot of musicians--when you see an older musician, a lot of times, they're playing partly because they like to do it and partly because they have to. You know, they still need to go out and work. They still need to go out and bring some money in to help them pay their expenses. And then again, just trying to survive in the record business, playing music that's not a popular music--you know, it's small part of the big record-buying pie, so any work in that field's going to be a bit of a struggle.
CONAN: Sure. A lot of people do it because they love to do it, but, as you suggest, some people have to do it to make a living, put bread on the table.
CONTRERAS: Correct. I mean, in the series we interviewed a number of musicians, and one of them, vocalist Jimmy Scott--he's still--he's quoted in the piece as saying, you know, "I like to do it, but I have to," because he has to pay his bills. He's got to take care of his family. He's got to take care of himself.
CONAN: Let's bring some jazz musicians into the conversation. Joining us now are two men very familiar with the business of jazz. Jason Moran is an acclaimed young pianist and composer with Blue Note Records. His latest CD is called "Same Mother," and he's with us from our studio in New York City.
Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.
Mr. JASON MORAN (Jazz Pianist): My pleasure. My pleasure.
CONAN: And from member station WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia, Frank Foster is with us. Foster is a composer and a former player and bandleader with the Count Basie Orchestra.
And it's good to have you on the program, sir.
Mr. FRANK FOSTER (Veteran Jazz Musician): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: Frank Foster, with the Count Basie organization, you had regular work for most of your career. People may remember hearing you in Felix's series. Did that translate, all that regular work, into much of a retirement fund?
Mr. FOSTER: Well, not really adequately, but a good deal. It was good because, actually, I had a total of 20 years with the Basie Orchestra, which included 11 years as a sideman and nine years as its leader, which didn't happen consecutively. I was a sideman from 1953 to 1964, and leader from 1986 to '95. So in between that time, it was 22 years of freelancing, in which I suffered the usual hassles of, you know, no insurance, $50 gigs and that.
Mr. FOSTER: Only I was one of the lucky ones, because I was married to a woman who was in the corporate world as an executive secretary, and she made a pretty good salary. And it was a nice supplement to the money that I made as a freelance musician.
CONAN: All those years as a freelance musician, did you give any thought to, say, `Well, gee, you know, come the turn of the century, I may want to retire'?
Mr. FOSTER: Well, as I told Felix before, I didn't have any thought of retirement, and I didn't even have any thought to living to age 50. I just thought I was going to have fun during my young years and then die pretty.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Jason Moran, you're laughing at that, but...
Mr. MORAN: That's beautiful.
CONAN: ...there must be some resonance to your experience in jazz.
Mr. MORAN: Well, yeah. I'm 30 and I guess I'm pretty right now, and--but, you know, after hearing Frank say...
Mr. FOSTER: If you're 30, you are pretty.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MORAN: But I hear what Frank is saying. And my wife--she has what I would consider a normal job or office assistant job, and that's the only way that I have health insurance. It was one of the perks of getting married, was being able to actually walk around without thinking that if I got hit in the street or something awful happened to me that I could actually go into a hospital and not, you know, become bankrupt after I got out of the hospital.
CONAN: Hm. I wonder, Jason, when you hear about the struggles of older musicians--and, certainly, there are a lot of them; struggles as well as older musicians--I wonder, are you taking any moves to make sure that your story ends up differently?
Mr. MORAN: Well, I think my parents took moves when they raised me to really think about saving and putting away, because I'm not a part of the union and so I don't have a pension plan. And the only way that I'm going to be able to do that is actually to either invest early, which I did for a little while, but then--you know, I can't watch Bloomberg all day and see what stocks are going up and what stocks are going down. I don't have time to focus on that. And so I actually just started buying art. And so I figure that, you know, hopefully, art will be able to sustain me for a little while, but--as well as just putting money away slowly. And that's a very hard task to do, because you work really hard, you make your money; you want to spend it and you want to enjoy it.
CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation. Again, if you'd like to join us, our number is (800) 989-8255; the e-mail address, email@example.com. Let's start with Ty. Ty's calling from Ithaca, New York.
TY (Caller): Hi. I love the program. I would say that I've--I'm in my 20s and I'm a jazz musician, and what I've realized in that the way--how things have not changed over the years in regards to jazz, for one thing, is that there's a reason that jazz musicians head off and go to Europe to be appreciated. I don't think we're a country that really appreciates its true--you know, its best art forms. It's not interested in investing in it. So I think anyone who chooses to be a jazz musician basically is taking a huge risk, because they are forgoing all the benefits that would potentially come to them in corporate America, whether that be a pension, whether that be a health-care program. You know, there are scholarships. There are things that are available for musicians, but that's constantly under threat. And I'm not, like, a left-wing radical at all. I just think that in our government and economically, we are not supporting of jazz musicians in a way that Europeans have tended to be--not to put them on a pedestal, but I just think that's the reality. Thank you.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Ty.
Frank Foster, I wonder what you think of that.
Mr. FOSTER: Well, I have found through the years that European audience seemed to be much more appreciative of my efforts. And whenever the Basie Orchestra went to Europe, our salaries doubled. I don't know what that has to do with it, but I've found that American audiences have become just as appreciative in the time, but they're still small. I think that the jazz audience is still only about 1 percent of the total population, 1 to 3 percent of the music listening audience. And...
CONAN: I wonder...
Mr. FOSTER: ...that's what makes it rough.
CONAN: Yeah. Jason Moran, there's a lot of musicians in classical music that get subsidized one way or another in various orchestras. Do you think there should be similar kinds of programs for jazz musicians, or do you think that, you know, jazz musicians, you know, ought to be able to make it on their own?
Mr. MORAN: Well, you know, part of both. You know, visiting in Denmark--you know, they have programs set up for young musicians and they kind of subsidize some of their living expenses, and then some of those musicians actually lose their hunger, and then they stop growing. I think what's sad here in America is the overall kind of attitude that art is actually kind of useless. So whether you're a contemporary painter or you're a contemporary dancer or you're a contemporary classical composer, all of us are in a pool where not much is being handed to us, and so we really have to scratch and scratch and scratch to try to pull ourselves out of this deep pool, and some of us get to make it to the top and actually see what else is going on in the world, but, you know, that's just one of those, you know, bad--like Frank said, it's--you know, it just makes things rough. But sometimes the music benefits from rough situations, as we know.
CONTRERAS: You know, Neal, one of the things--I think that one of the differences between musicians from Frank's generation and Jason's generation is technology and how the Internet and things like that have really opened up the jazz market. And there's always, always been a big jazz market in Europe and in Japan, and I think the technology, the availability of people being able to buy CDs from their home in any part of the world, opens up the market a little bit as well.
CONAN: We're going to be talking about that more specifically...
CONAN: ...a little bit later in the program, but, Jason Moran, I wonder--do you think that you should need a subsidy by the government to be able to compete in the jazz business?
Mr. MORAN: Well, it's that--you know, it's not to compete; it's actually just that you feel like you're being patted on the back--like continue to work on your art form.
Mr. MORAN: I mean, I think, you know, if you look at CEOs of some of the great corporations in America, they're being subsidized by their own companies. You know, they can make their salary as large or as small as they want. They're patting their own selves on the back. But for us, you know, I look to people like Frank Foster or Ann Driel(ph), elders in the music, who can give us a pat on the back, and I kind of receive that as some sort of payment to kind of continue to move forward, because to look for it coming in checks sometimes may not happen. And then, on those rare occasions, it does happen.
CONAN: We're talking about the difficulties to try to make a living in jazz. You can find more from NPR's series on growing old in jazz at our Web site, npr.org. And this hour, we want to hear from musicians about what it takes to make ends meet. Give us a call: (800) 989-8255; (800) 989-TALK. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back after the break. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
We're talking about making a living in jazz, or trying to. Many musicians end high-living careers on the sour note of financial trouble. Of course, you're invited to join us. Jazz musicians: Are there specific problems with the business that worry you? What are your ideas about improving it? Our number is (800) 989-8255. E-mail is email@example.com. Our guests are: NPR reporter Felix Contreras; and with us are two musicians, from WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia, saxophonist Frank Foster; and from our bureau in New York, pianist Jason Moran.
And let's get another caller on the line, and this is James. James is with us from Detroit.
JAMES (Caller): Hi, guys. I'd first like to say that, Mr. Moran and Mr. Foster, I've admired your work for quite some time. You guys are true cultural warriors. I have a different take on the business. I'm a jazz promoter, and about two years ago I finally had to get out of the business. And after much reflection, and after losing a lot of money, I've led to the conclusion that the failures and troubles of jazz as a business is due to the overall dumbing down of cultural consumption. You know, the corporate-led music industry--it's created expectations for music. We expect music to be easily reproduced, Xeroxed, short and delivered by pretty models. You know, even mediocre jazz musicians have much more talent than anybody I've seen on "American Idol." You know, I finally had to leave the music business because I just kept losing money. And there wasn't enough members of that glorious demographic between 18 and 34 years old, you know, that went out to clubs. And, well, I'll take my comments off the air. Good show, guys. Bye.
CONAN: OK. James, thanks very much for the call. Frank, I wonder if you have a response to that.
Mr. FOSTER: Yes, I do. I think he's right on target. I especially like the expression `dumbing down.' That's what's happened in our culture. And jazz, as one great artist once said, is too good for the country.
Mr. FOSTER: I'm not speaking anti-American rhetoric, but the corporate world, the media, they've all seemed to work against us as artists, and that which draws great income is that which is considered good, and I can't go along with that.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Jason Moran?
Mr. MORAN: Well, yeah. Well, that's--they hit it right on the head. You go to Europe, and it's not only that when you go--or no--if you go to the new Museum of Modern Art here in New York, you don't see a lot of New Yorkers in there. You don't see a lot of Americans in there. You see people from Spain, you see people from Italy; you hear French, you hear all the other languages from around the world. And when--you know, coming to clubs or at least playing around, you know, in Europe is not only, you know, older people who go see the music; it's also a lot of young people. I mean, there are small festivals happening in tiny, tiny towns in Italy, and the entire town comes to see the music.
Now I'm just thinking, like, if there was a huge festival in a small town outside of Nashville, like 300 miles away from Nashville or 200 or whatever, and like--would the entire town--and would people flock to that, just to hear some music? And, you know, we've been faced with a dilemma now. And hopefully, you know, my generation of musicians and artists will try to bring some, you know, folks back to the music and back to culture.
CONAN: Felix, how much--I know you've got some figures there on just how popular jazz is today.
CONTRERAS: Well, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, which is the marketing group for the record business, on their Web site in their 10-year projections or their 10-year look back--in 2003 it was 2.9 percent of the overall records sold.
CONAN: That's pretty small, and growing smaller.
CONTRERAS: Yeah. That's from 2003.
CONAN: I wonder, though, isn't it--doesn't it--to say, `Look, we're producing wonderful music. It's great art. And if you poor people out there who've been dumbed down by our culture don't appreciate it, well, that's your fault'--isn't it the faults, to some degree, of maybe musicians and promoters and bandleaders and everybody in the business to try to present jazz in a way that would attract new audiences and bring new people in?
Mr. MORAN: Well, I guess I'll start. You don't see--I mean, you know, when I am traveling around the world and I decide to go to visit a museum, it's just that I decide to go visit a museum. It's not because, you know, they advertised this new Andy Warhol exhibit or anything; it's just I'm trying to check something out.
Mr. MORAN: And I don't think necessarily a lot of people in America are trying to check something out. We've, you know, grown up where you're supposed to then get a job and you're supposed to work that job for the rest of your life and then, you know, have some children, and then that'll be that. But, you know, I don't know. This is a strange one.
CONAN: That's a pretty bleak existence you're describing.
Mr. MORAN: I'm sorry.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOSTER: May I add something here?
CONAN: Yes, please.
Mr. FOSTER: In recent years, at my wife's suggestion, I have tried to get closer to my audience by presenting something that was a little more visual than 17 men sitting on a bandstand yawning...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOSTER: ...while some other section was playing or while someone was soloing, and looking bored. So I try to give a presentation where everybody looks happy and we're all having fun, and at least--we might even put a little silly dance into it. But I felt like too much of that would be sort of compromising the art or prostituting the art, and I don't want to sacrifice any of the musical value of what I'm doing with any kind of shenanigans or floor show. But I realize that it seems like, since the advent of television and so much visual entertainment thrust on the public, we have to become more visual. And I've been trying to figure out how to become more visual without sacrificing any of the art or the quality of music.
CONAN: Yeah. Felix?
Mr. FOSTER: I'm still working on that.
CONTRERAS: I think Frank hit it right on the head. It--you know, jazz is--above all, it's an emotional art. You know, there's quite a bit of emotion there, and as well as quite a bit of intellect. There's a lot of intellectual things going on. It's mathematical. There's a lot of different challenges to the musicians to express themselves and eventually get down to that emotion. And, as Frank said, I think with--there's so much influence of the outward senses, the stimulation of the outward senses, some of that stuff gets lost. And it's a little hard to train people to try to get back to that. I mean, if you're a fan, you're a fan for life. And the challenge to the industry, as I did the research on the story, is how to maintain that, as well as how to grow new listeners and new musicians. And the schools around the country, the colleges and art, music schools, etc., they have a pretty good and active curriculum, and a lot of musicians going through and young musicians learning about the music. So it's there, but it's not as big.
CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Carol. Carol is with us from Dansville, Michigan.
CAROL (Caller): Hi, Neal.
CAROL: First of all, I've got to tell you, I've been listening to your show for three years on my way home from work every day, and this is the first topic--although many have been very interesting, it's the first time I've decided to call.
CONAN: Well, thank you for that.
CAROL: And kudos to your guests, both for their work and also for having the good sense to marry women who have health benefits.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CAROL: I am one of those wives, also, married to a jazz musician. I...
CONAN: Ah! See, if you were married to a foreign policy analyst, you would have called years ago.
CAROL: That's true. That's true. No, I'm a teacher, and I keep my job and will probably never retire because, of course, my husband will never retire because he's a musician. He's a jazz musician. And I just don't think they do that. But I guess all I wanted to say is--there's a couple things. So many interesting things you guys have mentioned; in particular, I have to agree wholeheartedly with the caller who talked about the dumbing down of the culture. And, you know, I guess another whole topic of conversation is--I fully agree that this whole country is being dumbed down in a lot of ways, and it's no surprise, then, that it would trickle into the music world as well. But I appreciate, certainly, what my husband does and what all you folks do.
And I guess the other thing I wanted to say is it just seems to me that musicians, in general, really are forced to keep ungodly hours. They need to drive, you know, miles and miles and miles in order to get from gig to gig, just to make ends meet, and you can't--to me, I can't help but appreciate their dedication to doing that. And so I think it's a shame that they don't have some of the benefits that the corporate world presents to people.
CONAN: Let me ask you, Carol--teaching is a profession that's not known to be wildly overpaid, though...
CAROL: Oh, no.
CONAN: ...you do get benefits most places, anyway.
CONAN: I wonder, how much do you make--the IRS isn't listening--and how much does your husband make?
CAROL: Well, I'm a fifth-year teacher in a growing school district, and that's the good news. I'll be very honest: I make $45,000 a year. I have a master's degree in educational technology, and my benefit package is a very good benefit package. I would say, because my husband is a dedicated musician and is willing to travel and take gig after gig after gig, he probably makes $30,000, maybe $40,000 a year.
CAROL: That's the hundred-dollar gigs. I mean, that's a rough estimate. In all honesty, I can't tell you the exact. I can't tell you exactly.
CAROL: But he doesn't make, really, even what I make.
CONAN: Carol, thanks very much, and good luck.
CAROL: Thanks. Thank you very much.
CONAN: Appreciate it.
CONAN: Gentlemen, before we let you go, given all the problems that you're talking about, given the concerns that we've all heard about, is what you do worth it? Frank Foster?
Mr. FOSTER: Yes.
Mr. FOSTER: All the hassles, all the pitfalls, all the heart breakings, I find it is worth it. I couldn't do anything else. I couldn't want to do anything else. I think I have the best profession in the world, even if it is the lowest paid--one of the lowest paid.
CONAN: Jason Moran.
Mr. MORAN: I echo his sentiments. It's one of the few jobs that actually lets you speak your mind, and you can curse out the boss onstage through the piano, if you want to.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. FOSTER: That's right.
CONAN: And most likely the boss won't even know.
Mr. MORAN: That's right.
CONAN: Jason Moran, thanks very much for being with us today.
Mr. MORAN: Thank you.
CONAN: Jason Moran is a pianist on the Blue Note Records label. His latest CD is called "Same Mother." And he joined us from NPR's bureau in New York.
Frank Foster, good to speak with you.
Mr. FOSTER: Thank you.
CONAN: Frank Foster, veteran saxophonist, bandleader with the Count Basie Orchestra. He joined us from the studios of public radio station WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia. And thanks very much for being with us.
CONTRERAS: You know, Neal, one thing I want to mention, one of the things I got out of doing the series, besides an eye-opening experience about the business of jazz. But I was impressed by the dignity of the musicians as they faced some of these desperate situations. There's always, in just about every case that I've come across--that there's a tremendous level of dignity in presenting the music, presenting the art and presenting themselves. I just wanted to make a comment on that as well.
CONAN: We're talking today about making a living in the jazz business, an example of people who have the same kinds of problems making a living as actors, as writers, free-lancers of all sorts.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
Whether from a desire for artistic and financial control or simple necessity, artists often try to start their own label to get their music out. Joining us now from his home in Oakland, California, is John Santos. He's an Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist and composer who founded Machete Records in 1984. He has a new CD out this week called "Twentieth Anniversary."
And thanks very much for being with us.
Mr. JOHN SANTOS (Percussionist and Composer): Thank you. It's a pleasure, an honor to be part of this.
CONAN: Well, congratulations on the new record. When did you decide to start your own label?
Mr. SANTOS: Well, you know, in the beginning of the '80s when I had my first experiences producing records and really working with labels in a more intimate way, it became very obvious that that was not going to be very fruitful for me. So I decided early on that if I was going to be putting my own music our and doing what I wanted to do, I would need to basically take the bull by the horns and do it myself, and not depend on the record companies or wait for record contracts or try to go after these lucrative, you now, contract pie-in-the-sky type of things.
CONAN: And how's it worked out?
Mr. SANTOS: It has worked out. You know, it just depends on which glasses you put on. I mean, from a strictly business, corporate sense, it's been a flop and a disaster, but it's worked out certainly because here--you know, I'm still doing it and we're still putting out original music and getting our music out there, and we're working as a result of it. So it's been, you know gratifying to be able to document the work we've done over the past couple decades.
CONAN: As the starter, the founder of your own record label, I assume there's a certain amount of time you have to spend as a administrator, as an accountant, as all sorts of things. Is that why you wanted to play jazz in the first place?
Mr. SANTOS: (Laughs) You know, no. It's not. But it's been a wonderful learning experience. It's been--it's like putting yourself through school. It's really a constant learning experience. And learning about business and about what it takes to deal with contracts and deal with business, all aspects of the business, is very helpful in our field for any musician to have that information. Too often, our musicians don't even look at contracts because they scare them; they don't understand them. And it's very helpful to be able to get through a contract and know when you're getting burned and be able to speak up about it.
CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. Brian is with us. Brian's calling from Berkeley, California, right across the Bay.
BRIAN (Caller): Hi. I was thinking that because of the improvisational nature of jazz that probably some of the greatest moments in jazz history are never recorded; they happen in the live clubs all around the world. And so my question was, for the musicians, I wonder what they think of the bootleg recordings of these live performances, which I would distinguish from regular piracy of a regular album. You know, I've heard stories of these being very valuable to scholars and students of music. And as a music lover, I'm sort of guiltily glad that these exist. But as a supporter of the artists, I hate to see them, you know, not getting paid. So I wonder if the musicians see both sides of this, too; the benefit of the live recordings, even the unauthorized ones, or maybe if they would admit to having any in their own collection.
CONAN: (Laughs) John Santos, you have any bootlegs in your record collection?
Mr. SANTOS: Of course. Any self-respecting musicologist would have to have some of those. You know, we have to be realistic about that. You know, it's a wonderful thing to be able to have access to live recordings when you're not there. Those bootleg recordings--underground movement--the groups have made history with that. Like, The Grateful Dead used to go to their concerts and encourage people to record. And they have a cult following as a result. It really worked out for them.
You know, I think it's a great thing on one hand. But, you know, what's worse is just downloading everything and anything for free where the musicians just don't get anything at all.
CONAN: Thanks for the call, Brian.
CONAN: I wanted to ask you, the history of jazz is replete with stories of record labels being less than generous with some of their artists--let me put it kindly. What about your artists, John Santos? Do you pay them fairly? And another question, do you put money aside for your retirement?
Mr. SANTOS: Yes and no, respectively, to those two questions. No, you know, to the latter. I would say that, you know, I have not been able to put money aside, no. And I've been losing money as far as just strictly the record sales and the record business goes. But, you know, as a musician, I'm a person who does, like many musicians, a lot of things to make ends meet. I teach, I free-lance record, I produce, I write and I play with my own group. And with all those things added into the fact that I'm also putting out my own records, that's part of the whole thing. So if I don't make the money back on the records, it looks like it's a losing business, but in reality it all ties in. And the musicians do get paid very, very fairly for that. The record companies being very unscrupulous with musicians is the reason why I went ahead and formed the company, so that that wouldn't happen with us.
CONAN: John Santos, thanks very much.
More after a break. This is NPR News.
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
And here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following today here at NPR News. The House of Representatives has approved an $82 billion package of supplemental spending, most of it for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill also includes new restrictions on state-issued driver's licenses. And researchers say they're finding new ways to identify autism in children under the age of three. Blood tests and behavioral tests will aid in making diagnoses. You can hear more on those stories and much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.
Tomorrow, it's "Science Friday." Ira Flatow will be here with a look at the surprise of the successful hunt for the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird thought to be extinct, plus the intersection between physics and writing with poet and physicist Alan Lightman. That's all tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday."
Today, we're talking about making a living in the jazz business. And of course we want to hear from artists in the audience about what methods you use to stay financially sound. Our number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK; the e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here with us in Studio 3A is NPR's Felix Contreras. You can find more about his series on aging jazz musicians on our Web site. That's npr.org.
And joining us now is Grammy Award-winning artist Maria Schneider, a composer and bandleader who turned to Internet technology to take control of her career and her livelihood. She joins us by phone from Oporto in Portugal.
Thanks very much for being with us today.
Ms. MARIA SCHNEIDER (Orchestra Leader, Composer): Thank you for having me.
CONAN: The company you founded, ArtistShare--how does this work?
Ms. SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, it's not my company, but I was the first artist to participate in doing a project with this company. And the idea behind ArtistShare is, first of all, that the artist retains ownership of their work, and that the artist is able to share things beyond just a recording, but to share their whole process through this Web-based platform called ArtistShare. And so the great thing is that I, to a large extent, funded my project before I even recorded it through pre-orders and letting people in on news about my process and everything, and putting up different things for composers, where they can download scores. And I create lectures about the music. And it has, for the first time, enabled me to not only pay for my projects, which are very expensive--I think I had 20 musicians on this project; it ran up to about $87,000 to make this record--and for the first time I managed to not only pay for it, but make a profit. So it's just been extraordinarily successful for me.
CONAN: And this looks like a different model for running a business.
Ms. SCHNEIDER: Oh, yeah. It's entirely new. And the whole concept behind it is different than anything that's been done before. Brian Camelio is the person who founded this company, and I think he's having great success.
CONAN: I'm wondering, Felix, is this model working for others?
CONTRERAS: Maria said she's the first to have this kind of success, and it's attracted a number of other artists. Guitarist Jim Hall has a new recording on it; a saxophonist...
CONAN: Been around almost as long as Frank Foster.
CONTRERAS: And saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom has a new recording. So it's attracted attention. And I got to say, it created quite a buzz in the jazz business, in the jazz press as well because Maria had such--she won a Grammy. She had such good success, not just artistically--financially as well--on a new business model. So that created quite a buzz, and a lot of people are kind of checking that out now.
CONAN: Maria, I wonder, do you think musicians in general and jazz musicians in particular need more education about the business side of things?
Ms. SCHNEIDER: Oh, there's no question about it. You know, the fact--I think it was Frank Foster that was saying before that, you know, he would do his music no matter what. And the fact that all of us are like that is what has kind of enabled the rules of the game to be what they are for so long. The people who set up the rules of recoupment and all these things that have not allowed artists to make money have been put up by businesses. And artists have just accepted it and not really educated ourselves. I know so many artists that don't understand how their contracts work. They don't understand--they think because they're not getting royalties that the record company isn't making money on their records. And it's probably not true. The record business is set up so that the record company starts paying the artist a royalty at the point at which they've already made quite a large, you know, profit on the CD. So, you know, not that every artist turns a profit, but certainly, you know, the record company is making a big profit before the artist makes a penny. And so I think it's really high time that artists start to get educated.
And this is something that I'm hoping to help facilitate. I'm starting a big organization of jazz musicians under NARAS, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and our idea is going to be to bring in jazz musicians and really start educating people about the business so that they can make smart choices for themselves.
CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. Jim is with us. Jim's calling from Sacramento, California.
JIM (Caller): Good afternoon. How you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
JIM: I just--you know, part of the--I'm a professional jazz pianist. And actually I've made a really great living. I've got two kids, a house, a car; you know, God's provided. But the thing that I was really frustrated traveling is I saw all these great jazz musicians in Minneapolis and San Francisco and Portland--I would go up to them and say, `Do you have a business card?' And 90 percent of them said no, or, `I don't have a CD to sell you.' And I saw the poor business practices, and I decided that I was going to nip that in the bud right away. And so I worked for Kurzweil keyboards as a national artist--I'm a Kawai artist now. I do recordings for these player-piano companies. I do jazz in church, and I've had artists like Lionel Hampton, before he passed away, and the Stan Kenton Band. I think you have to have a niche, you have go to for it, and no one's going to knock on your door or call you anymore; this isn't the 1950s.
CONAN: I wonder, Felix Contreras, are any of these absolutely normal business practices--having a card made--this seems almost antithetical to the culture of jazz, in a way.
CONTRERAS: I think it's generational. I think it's generational. I think a lot, as the caller's pointing out--you know, it's what you're exposed to. And I don't think that those kind of business practices were popular, necessary or even considered by musicians post-World War II, creating bebop, things like that. I mean, I think it's strictly generational. Now everyone has a business card of some kind or another. That's just the nature of how we do things now.
CONAN: Maria Schneider, let me ask you, a lot of jazz musicians these days come out of various kinds of programs--they're not necessarily self-taught anymore; at least the majority of them are not. Should these schools provide an emphasis, at least some part of their instruction, on--here's how to look at a contract, here's how to hire an agent, here's how the business works?
Ms. SCHNEIDER: Absolutely. And some of them teach business courses that are kind of based in kind of rules of the past. And I think that a good music business course would be showing students options for the future, especially now with the Internet. And there's so many other options now. And I think that, you know, with the creative mind of a musician, they can certainly put some of that creativity to use in their business. I don't think it's contrary to being a musician to be a good businessperson.
CONAN: Jim, as you go through this--first of all, congratulations on making a good living and raising a family in the jazz business. But I wonder, do you make enough money to put something aside for health care and retirement?
JIM: Yeah. You know, we're working on that right now. You know, money is always tight, no matter where you're at. But, you know, the jazz and the church thing for me has been huge, not just because I'm not there to make money at the church, but that's where I want to be, number one, being a Christian; but it's different. It's a different platform. There's thousands of churches in every city in America as opposed to one jazz club maybe in every, you know, five or six cities.
So there are great pianos in there, there's great--they're not smoking and drinking. And there's not 5,000 artists to fight with at the CD table at a jazz festival.
So I'm not suggesting everybody run out and do this, but for me, it's really been wonderful.
CONAN: Good for you, Jim. Thanks very much for the call.
JIM: Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate it.
Let's see if we can get one more caller in. And this is Joe. Joe's with us from Ft. Myers in Florida.
JOE (Caller): Hey, how you doing?
CONAN: Very well, thank you.
JOE: I've been listening to your show throughout my entire college career.
CONAN: That makes me feel old, Joe. Thank you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
JOE: I'm a 21-year-old jazz musician. I went to Florida State and I graduated recently. But lately, in order to get by, I've been having to go over and crossing over to different genres, mainly rock-roll music, and I actually played in a country band for a while.
CONAN: Did you study jazz in school?
JOE: Well, I studied composition.
CONAN: And was any part of your musical instruction about the business of music?
JOE: Very little. I had maybe a class or two in business. But, like one of your guests said, it was set by the old rules. I got a big slap in the face with my last rock band when we had a deal, and, well, we got duped pretty bad. And it ended up costing me a lot of money, throwing me in debt, actually.
CONAN: Yeah. Maria Schneider, the model that--the ArtistShare that you're involved in, there's no reason that couldn't work for other genres as well as jazz.
Ms. SCHNEIDER: Oh, no. Yeah. There's musicians--it could work for not only other music genres, but for artists of all kinds: photographers, writers, anybody. And I think that ArtistShare has actually--they already have, I think, a painter on board, and I think they're looking to get artists of all kinds.
CONAN: Well, Joe, what field do you hope to go into?
JOE: Well, I hope to go into songwriting and things like that, and also producing. I enjoy being in the studio very much. I've grown a tremendous love for it and everything. And that's why I hope to be in the studio every day.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for the call. Good luck. And when you're inducted into the jazz or country or Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, give us a call, OK?
JOE: OK. Thank you.
CONAN: Appreciate it very much.
Maria Schneider, thank you for your time today.
Ms. SCHNEIDER: Thank you. Thanks for having me here.
CONAN: Maria Schneider's album "Concert in the Garden" won best jazz album in 2004. And she joined us from the road in Oporto, Portugal. And we thank her for her time.
Felix Contreras was here with us in Studio 3A. Thanks very much.
CONTRERAS: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And again, if you'd like to hear more about Felix's series on the difficulties faced by aging jazz musicians, you can find that at our Web site, npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.