Knitting is something that people do for relaxation, but it is something that always makes me nervous when I try to do it. I can never trust that I will have the right number of stitches, and what for most people ends up being a square or a rectangle, becomes some kind of lopsided triangle in my hands. I love the idea of knitting, but I am keeping my relationship with it conceptual.
The other day I met an extremely interesting woman who is not only a knitter but a knitting "composer." She designs patterns for other knitters, and publishes knitting books. She also spins her own wool, keeps a garden with flowers she can use for dyes, and is a font of anthropological and historical knowledge about the practice of knitting. You could call her a "dyed in the wool" knitter. Here's a pair of her socks.
We got to talking about music, and it was not at all surprising to her that in addition to being a performing musician, I am a composer. It went hand in glove (to use a knitting metaphor) with the idea of designing and knitting, or making designs and making them available for other people to knit. She is happily involved in the world of internet commerce. Knitters all around the world get great pleasure out of following her patterns and wearing their handiwork.
I found myself a little bit envious of her ability to make money with something I would have considered a hobby before our conversation. In the current e-commerce world, what I do is much more of a hobby than what knitting pattern designers do. They fall into the category of "makers," and some of them even think of themselves as artists. I just write and play music.
I began writing music with the intentions of a craftsperson. Once I had enough technique to manipulate my materials in more than a functional way, I held the lofty ideals of an artist, and I had the expectations that my musical successes would be reflected by some kind of monetary reward. And there were a few good years (financially speaking and relatively speaking) when I worked with a publisher who took a keen interest in the music I wrote (and in me and my family). Unfortunately that publisher is no longer living, and the music of mine that he published is available, but it is heaped in a large digital mass with nobody to promote it except me (and I'm not very good at self promotion).
Now I feel more like composition is a hobby, kind of like knitting. I believe that I am much better at what I do now than I was during the handful of years when I felt I was on the path towards commercial viability. Those outside of music would say that making new music available for free (as I have been doing for the past several years) gives a signal that the music I write is not worth selling. I'm not quite sure what people inside the world of music think, because we are all living in the same larger world, but I like to think that some of them might be grateful not to be "customers" in a world where people who play music are far greater in numbers and less and less in demand as professionals.
I came across a great post by Matthew Guerrieri over at NewMusicBox that address the problem of music (and art) in a capitalist-modeled world. It provides excellent food for thought.