Anya Kamenetz asks “Who’s American Dream is it Anyway?”

In culture, Miraverse, music industry by Michael Tiemann

Silly me. While I’ve been focusing on how the music industry seems hell-bent on its own self-destruction, Anya Kamenetz has been looking a far larger picture: the whole American way of life. And I think she has a point.

My complaints about the mainstream music industry have been twofold:

  1. Live venues that have mutated from intimate experiences that connected artists and audiences to arenas, with terrible acoustics, dangerous volume levels, and the sale of large quantities of alcohol to dull the senses and numb the brain.
  2. Recorded products that suffer from poor production values, particularly excessive loudness, and which are wrapped so thickly in plastic and legal accusations that consumers are looking elsewhere to spend their dollars.

And so while I look at how to build an environment where both the performance of music and the production of music can thrive, Anya comes along and says the whole system is about to change, and maybe sooner rather than later.

For me, the most encouraging insight is the section she writes about “Time, not Stuff”. It’s a theme I’ve written about before. Now, one can take the optimistic view, as Robert Frank did in his piece Experience is the New Luxury, or the realistic view that Anya Kamenetz takes, where she says:

As we weather this economic downturn, I predict that even more young people are going to choose — or be pushed into — a smaller-scale, downshifted lifestyle where they make do with less stuff and trade more money for more time.

People are already planting more gardens, driving less and riding their bikes or public transportation more, canceling their cable subscriptions, and spending more time at home. This is a perfect example of making a virtue out of necessity — all these changes save money, but they also mean a slower, healthier lifestyle that for some is its own reward.

Indeed, the freedom to choose what one does with their time is one definition of luxury, one that does not require millions of dollars to realize. As she also points out

Once a nation has a per capita income above $12,000, for example, there is little correlation between wealth and happiness.

And in the U.S., researcher Daniel Gilbert found, once an individual passes $50,000 a year in income, more money has little effect on his or her happiness on average.

That’s not to say that all forms of luxury are available to any who wish for it, but if people are intentional about what they want, and what they want is to share and experience the resources of the community, maybe musicians will find that they get a better deal from a downshifted lifestyle to one that’s so focused on excessive and conspicuous consumption.

Comments from Detroit suggest that car buying habits have changed, perhaps permanently. Whereas previously consumers were thrilled to wrap themselves in 2 tons of steel to drive to the corner coffee shop, now we are walking, experiencing our neighborhoods instead of barreling through them. And as we downsize our cars to a sensible level, where could we spend the money we’re not squandering on gas and raw tonnage? On authentic experiences meaningful to us, of course!