Folk, please indulge me.
Back in the winter of 1984 I wrote this as my April column in Come For To Sing magazine out of Chicago. Emily Friedman, the editor, a good friend then as well as now, was going through a bit of a snit. She was ticked and wouldn't talk to me, so I was writing columns for the magazine that were designed to get a rise out of her.
So here's my Links On The Chain column. The topic of that months magazine was similar to the topic of this thread.
Dr. Freud, Dr. Freud,
How we wish you had been differently employed...
The future of folk music depends largely on those same factors that have determined the health (or lack of health) of the various folk scenes today.
I'm pretty sure that we can always asume that traditional lore and songs will always be with us. As long as we've got people, we will always have lore being transmitted from one person to another. Herbs will always be used as charms and cures; traditional rules will always be used by some to govern planting, harvesting, births, deaths and marriages. The people may never know they carry songs and lore; they may not even care. Folklorists will continue to collect these tidbits and store them away in their archives. Yes, the real thing will carry on because it's a natural process.
But I'm not so certain about this thing called the folk revival, where the music of the people has been turned into show-biz. Any art form can only survive when the people care about it. There has to be a performer and an audience---an in group and an out group---places where people want to congregate to hear the music.
In talking about music as a business, we are really talking about dollars---hard cash---$$$$$. I'm wondering if the folk of the future will care enough to pay to see/hear people perform it as an entertainment. There's no real way to tell what people will hold onto and want from the entertainment world years down the road. All I can really say for sure is that I know why I like folk music. I know why I would go to hear it years from now (I think). I also know that the mass of Americans rarely seems to like what I like ! If you took my ideas about merchandising into account before going into business, you'd go broke in record time. Therefore, I've decided that, since my own business instincts are generally so very far off the mark, it 'd be a good idea to present the opposite viewpoint here. Then we can see quite clearly what a good folk businessperson of the future ought to do in "folk biz--1995". Maybe some of the same ideas would even work today...
Yes, basic to all success in folk music are dollars and sex.The latter can always help to generate the former. The music is only a tool to create the proper atmosphere so that one thing can lead to another, with the ultimate purpose of filling that cash drawer with big bucks !
In the future, folk music can survive as big-time cabaret and nightclub entertainment if the clubs provide excellent reasons for the patrons to part with their cash. In the future there will be 285 channels on cable TV. The clubs are going to have to fight hard to stay in the race. Waitpersons, both male and female (whatever), are going to have to be knockouts. They'll be a bigger draw than the folksingers. If you thought the '50s were sexist, just wait until you see 1995. But it just won't be one way sexism. "How do I love thee---let me count the ways." This trite old saying will be profound in 1995. Small, personal booths lining the walls of the showrooms, will provide needed privacy for the club's patrons. The singers of classic Child ballads will have to put up with groans of various sorts, as well as the clickety sounds of dollar coins disappearing into the slots of certain unique machines within the little booths. The bellowing of sheep will occasionally have to be tolerated. But it will all go to pay the rent. You can perform through anything as long as the club's doors stay open, right?
Some folks may decide that this isn't their cup of tea---er, scuzz. After years of tolerating mediocrity, they might decide to dig deeper into the serious side of folk music. They may start a concert series at a university in the basement of the Frizbetarian church. (Frizbetarians beleieve that when you die your soul gets stuck on the roof ! They have great pot-luck suppers though.) Naturally, because no booze is served, and the admission price is only a dime, these gigs don't pay the performer very much.
If the performes have any smarts at all, they'll negotiate a percentage deal with the house. By that I mean that he or she should have it in writing, in the contract, that he or she is to receive in cash, at the end of the evening, at least 70% of the proceeds from thos little booths that line the church walls. What with the continuous clanking of those dollar coins in those little slots all night long, this can often come to quite a bit of cash. I'd imagine you could make close to $500.00 extra in this manner----just enough to fill the gas tank (at 1995 prices) so you can hit the road to your next gig. You might have enough left over for a quick stop at the White Castle.
Real folk music, being mainly music of the past, lends itself quite well to school programs (if your city still has any schools), library concerts and concert/workshops for local historical societies. And 1995 will definitely be the era of creative booking. If you are a good fast talker you can convince people that folk muic can be bent to fit into almost any situation. Hockey banquets and wrestling matches are two possibilities. Gigs for high energy folksingers will be commonplace on spaceliners to the moon and to Mars. It should be noted that the spaceliners will all be equipped with private coin booths, and the performers should try to negotiate the same kind of percentage deal previously mentioned for the Frizbetarian church. (NOTE: School programs and sports banquets do not (usually) present these same lucrative possibilities.)
...How this set of circumstances enhances the finances.
Of the followers of Dr. Sigmund Freud...