The Slow Germination of the Future

Sam Goblin (Mister Goblin) talks the sustainability of releasing music in the landscape of 2024, and Candlebox.

I’d like to preface this with the following, and please understand I say it with love: I think that, by and large, musicians should stop running their fucking mouths about things outside the scope of their practice. Do we ask Olympic curlers what they think about Russia-NATO tensions? I guess we probably do, but… should we? Though I work in a completely different field, I happily count myself among those who should basically shut up and stick to what they’re mediocre at. Anyway, with that caveat, I’ve been doing music stuff for long enough to have developed some half-baked insights into how things function, and you’re more than welcome to ignore them.

It’s no secret at this point that things are rough out here. There’s just less of everything, and there wasn’t much to begin with. Fewer resources, lower bandwidth, fewer opportunities, lower incentive for people to care, and less of a payoff even for the most dedicated. I didn’t have to graduate with a 2.4 GPA from Springbrook High School to come to these conclusions; I just want to highlight some of the impacts of these conditions, how to avoid being reactive to them, and how I think we will survive.

The understandable response to playing a real dud of a show, having to squeeze music in between mountains of “grown up shit” for diminishing returns, or seeing artists 50x bigger than you canceling tours because they can’t hack it financially, is usually despair and/or lateral anger. We’ve all heard the siren whine of so many woulda-coulda-shouldas lamenting how hard it is to cultivate and keep an audience or find the kind of opportunities that used to be readily available. It’s admittedly tough on the old ego to play for little-to-no money to little-or-no people, but what’s most heartbreaking to me is watching friendships with former peers fall to pieces as you age into separate musical tax brackets. It’s at this point in the circling of the drain, reader, where I’ll invite you to consider Candlebox.

You remember “Far Behind,” don’t you? Candlebox were a ‘90s alt rock band who borrowed heavily from their contemporaries and wrote a handful of fairly memorable, respectable, serviceable tunes. What happens to a band like that in 2024? Would Edie Brickell’s “What I Am” be lost in the slush of endless, nameless Fresh Finds playlists? Do we all need to be pioneers in whatever we’re doing to have a song to sing, and to be able to afford to sing it? Do we have to be great to be good? Presumably Candlebox made a decent living doing what they loved and being good (but not, like, sick) at it. Anyway, when I find myself thinking about Candlebox too much I like to consider the following—

It’s easy to get hung up on scarcity and inconvenience, but that’s nothing compared to not even having a point of entry. Being a musician is tough for people already in the game, but how about people whose material conditions wouldn’t even allow them access to the game? There is a lot of “rising tide lifts all boats” rhetoric at the moment — the fight to achieve fair pay at big festivals or movements to boycott certain streaming services — and while I’m not knocking any of these efforts, I have to side with old Gandhi in that, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Generally speaking, this does not include South by bands (or my bands, for that matter). The idea of touring at all, of taking off work and abdicating all responsibility for uncertain financial return, would not even occur to so many swaths of the population. A rising tide may lift all boats, but doesn’t need to start with the small-to-mid-sized yachts. This is not a wholly original point, and I want to give credit to DC legend Luke Stewart who I first heard articulate some version of this much better than I just did on a radio interview several years back. Anyway…

The instinct to kick sideways is an obvious byproduct of living in a system that incentivizes walking on other people’s necks in order to get to the next plateau. If I get angry at other artists, I try (sometimes successfully) to remind myself it’s not them I’m pissy with, it’s the structures that pit us against each other and don’t allow room enough for us to stay connected through varying trajectories. Some of you guys are corny as hell though, I can’t lie, but I do at least want to wish you well.

So what do we do? How do we continue? My short answer is don’t ask me, ask the kids in Louisville, KY. Louisville is obviously a city with a rich musical history, but like any other it has fluctuated in level of activity over the years. Recently, a DIY scene helmed by a loose collective of savvy kids has been doubling and tripling in size, and it’s really like nothing I’ve ever seen. They get scores and scores of people out to all-ages, nontraditional spaces like skateparks, warehouses, church basements, gazebos, etc. There are usually (at least) two people dressed like Spiderman in the pit, a couple broken bones before the bands even start playing, and just a general sense of joy and rapture hanging over the controlled chaos. It’s a beautiful thing, and the energy and momentum poured into it has overflowed, leading people to want to get involved at any and every stage of the operation, from taking photos to booking shows to wheatpasting posters (that’s right, olds, not a lost art).

And the thing is: there’s room enough for everyone.

What I mean to say is that things will continue in the way they’ve always continued. In the words of poet Franny Choi, “The world keeps ending and the world goes on.” If there’s an inspiration to be taken from what’s happening in Louisville, it isn’t just, “Wow, look at that. Amazing, the kids will save us.” As with anything DIY, the message should be, “This could happen anywhere. This could be you. This is great, but there’s nothing inherently unique about it and nothing keeping you from doing the same.” I suspect that as the center that holds traditional avenues of releasing, touring, and making music continues to fall apart, scenes like this will continue to spring up, especially in places that were traditionally neglected due to not being seen as plugged into the machine that drives Big Indie or whatever. This is already happening (and likely has been for a long time) if you look at the hardcore scenes in Fort Wayne and Bloomington, IN, the completely fucking bizarre DIY circuit of Cincinnati, OH, or pick your town in upstate New York, just to name a few. I’m excited for all of it; for things to keep building up and collapsing and building up again. As a 30 something Candlebox type dude with no real reason to be anything but grateful, I’m just happy to be here.

(Photo Credit: Mat Schladen)

Sam Goblin currently lives in Tallahassee, FL and plays music with Mister Goblin and Deady. He hopes to never, ever, ever become a music writer.