Stephen Sondheim is one of my heroes. Lately, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack of Sondheim on Sondheim. A lot. As part of the show, Sondheim talks about his creative process and at one point says that, although it’s a cliché, he feels that putting on a musical is a lot like having a baby.
I must admit that I’ve used the baby metaphor quite often myself. While completing my new cd, The Day the Money Runs Out, I caught myself whining (more than once) about how I had to go through all of the emotional ups and downs of “pregnancy” and “delivery” without anyone bringing me casseroles or rubbing my feet or throwing a baby shower for me.
But, I’ve done some thinking since then, and I’ve decided that creating an independent cd is almost nothing like having a baby. And here at the reasons why:
A cd takes a lot longer: it can take years to conceive an album and gestate each of the individual songs. The labour of putting an album together can also last for years. The delivery and birth (final mixing, mastering) can take days, weeks, months, or even years.
You don’t have to walk that lonesome valley: the gestation and delivery of a baby is very hard to outsource (unless you really plan ahead). With a cd project, though, collaborators and guest artists come with the territory and can make the final crunch less painful & more satifying.
No one makes you wear a stupid paper plate on your head with ribbons stuck all over it while everyone in the room tells you how the upcoming labour and delivery (that you can’t possibly avoid) might form the most agonizing experience of your entire life: I believe baby showers are a form of hazing. And they should be banned.
Process over product: to create a cd, you need to put love and passion into the process of creation, but you don’t have to pour love into the final product. When that final master gets delivered into your hands, there’s no time to bond and cuddle, because you have to run your baby down to the manufacturers so it can be cloned thousands of times. Also, by the time the master is done, you might be kind of sick of listening to the damn thing and need a break from it (admittedly, a couple of candid parents have told me that that sometimes happens with babies, too).
They grow up so fast: As soon as the copies of the cd come home from the manufacturers, you immediately pack them into envelopes and send them off to media outlets, critics and consumers.
There’s no sibling rivalry to contend with: when you bring the new cd home, you don’t have to worry about your previous cds getting jealous. Let’s face it, they know the new cd is going to take up all of your time and attention and you’re probably going to sell off any old cds at a discount. That’s just the way it is and you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
Smaller carbon footprint: a 1,000 copy run of an independent cd has a carbon footprint estimated at ~0.8 metric tons* vs the lifetime carbon footprint of a baby born in a developed country: ~1,360 metric tons**.
It’s not a life-long commitment: Unless you get to the level of the Rolling Stones and feel doomed to play Satisfaction 100+ nights a year for the rest of your life, you can always shelve a cd and/or most of its songs when they no longer suit you as an artist. And, you can do it without worrying about future therapy bills and recriminations.
So, I think I’m officially swearing off “the baby metaphor”. But that said, I hope you’ll be able to come celebrate the christening of The Day the Money Run Out on October 21, 2010 at Bread and Circus in Toronto.
*”THE ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS OF DIFFERENT MUSIC DELIVERY METHODS” by Christopher L. Weber, Jonathan G. Koomey, and H. Scott Matthews (for an independent cd distributed directly by the artist, I removed the warehouse and retail store costs and assumed that most people cycle, walk or take public transit to my gigs to buy a copy of the cd).
**http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/187_11_031207/wal10921_fm.html (estimate based on the figure of 17 metric tons of carbon per year cited in this article multiplied by an average life expectancy of 80)