Carsie, Kickstarter, and a New York Sandwich
Carsie Blanton's jazz kickstarter has got me pondering sandwiches again.
When I was a little boy, there were two ways I saw my life going: option a) live in a van and be a famous musician; option b) live in a van and sell sandwiches.
My first lesson in entrepreneurship centered completely around sandwiches. As a fun activity, my dad had us kids buy sandwich ingredients, figure out how much a sandwich actually cost to make, then multiply that by two and sell the marked-up product to the friendly workers in the office next to our house. Tiny kid Chris, astounded by the concept of profit potential, suddenly imagined the vast capitalist sandwich cartels of his future.
New-Brooklynite Chris, after his initial stupefaction at the Great Wall of beer in Park Slope's Bierkraft, thought he’d found all the cosmic treasures.
But then, from shop’s corner, emerged one of this lifetime's glorious, magic things, wrapped in brown paper with string: The gourmet sandwich makers section. Ingredient possibilities ranging from cornichons, avocado, housemade chutney and honey mustard, to gruyere, istara and fourteen other artisanal cheeses. All this made to order in a perfect (ie huge) baguette.
The only downside was the $9 price tag ($11 these days), but I remember thinking "it's a New York sandwich, why would it be cheaper." Once in my hands (and teeth, etc), however, the sheer righteousness and two-mealness of this sandwich justified the expense.
Non-tiny kid Chris decided to follow the musician-in-a-van plan. But I still spend hours pondering sandwiches, and I've started to wonder why people see songs and sandwiches so differently. At this point in life I've been to thousands of shows and had thousands of sandwiches. We the (NYC) people shell out $10 for a sandwich and $8 for a first beer without so much as an eye twitch. But when it comes to buying an independent musician’s album, $5 or $10 suddenly feels heavier.
Maybe the difference is that it’s easier to digitalize an album than a sandwich, and thus folks are used to paying nothing for music. Or maybe it’s because almost everyone has made a sandwich for themselves, but very few have made an album.
We Know This
If you want a grilled american cheese/Wonder Bread sandwich at home, it will be cheaper. But everyone understands that buying a healthy, filling sandwich with European cheeses and housemade tapenade, is going to cost more. When you buy a Bierkraft sandwich, you're basically voting to support the existence of such a sandwich. You're supporting those artistic folks behind the counter. You're supporting the idea that a glorious shop like this should exist in a high rent neighborhood--that if you don’t pay what they need, the shop might shut down. And that's worth $11.
Sandwiches and Songs are the Same
The thing is, an album has all sorts of ingredients too: studio time, musicians, production, engineering, mixing, mastering, artwork, printing & duplication, publicity & distribution, not to mention all the guts, love, time and sandwiches that go into writing the songs in the first place. The ingredients can be as cheap and insubstantial as Wonder Bread, or as complex as cave aged gruyere, but they don’t come out of nowhere. The reason my Buffalo album cost only a few thousand dollars to make is that musicians donated their time and folks donated cabins and bedrooms to record in.
Sure an mp3 file itself doesn’t cost anything to duplicate. But when you choose to pay for an artist’s mp3, you’re doing more than just supporting the cost of the ingredients that made it possible. You’re voting for more music of that quality and complexity. You’re contributing to the sustainability of art you think should exist. And without that support, most of us musician folk will end up hiring ourselves out to make sandwiches instead of write songs.
Sandwiches and Songs aren’t the Same
I’m the first to admit that there’s something magical about a great sandwich. But the amount of money paid for its ingredients is quantifiable, and so the price makes precise sense. Not so with songs. To quote a Carsie Blanton blog post, “Songs are magic, money is just money.” After the price for a song’s quantifiable ingredients has been paid, what is the song worth?
That’s why so many of us put our music online and simply say “Pay What It’s Worth To You.” Every dollar is a vote towards artistic sustainability. And Carsie’s kickstarter campaign is showing me that folks are ready to put their money where their mouths are, so that an artist like Carsie Blanton can afford enough sandwiches to inspire and sustain her as she makes the next great American jazz record.
To runaway with Carsie Blanton’s runaway kickstarter campaign: click here