April Q&A: Laura Stevenson

Laura Stevenson tackles the Fingertips Q&A–five questions about coping and maybe even thriving as a musician in the digital age.

Laura Stevenson (with her band, the Cans) had a song featured here yesterday in the early afternoon, was asked if she might like to do the Fingertips Q&A later in the afternoon, and returned with her answers shortly before midnight, while she was otherwise getting ready to leave town on a seven-week tour.

Her accessibility, I think, relates to something else she says in answering the questions. For all her organic sound and heartwarming vibe, Stevenson is a thoroughly 21st-century musician, which is to say her career post-dates the MP3. “I don’t know first-hand what it was like for a musician before this technology existed,” she says, which surely gives her a different take on these recurring questions about music in the digital age than many who have been here before.

Stevenson is heading on tour to support the impending release of her new album with the Cans, Sit Resist. Her 21st-century cred notwithstanding, she remains a believer in the album as a means of expression, and there is no better evidence for that than Sit Resist—a strong and engaging piece of work that registers far more powerfully as the specific series of songs that it is than any one of its songs does on its own. The album will be released later this month on Don Giovanni Records.

Laura Stevenson

Q: Let’s cut to the chase: how do you as a musician cope with the apparent fact that not everybody seems to want to pay for digital music? Do you think recorded music is destined to be free?

A: I think there’s no stopping people from getting music. And I’m psyched that people can share things that they love with other people so easily. I recognize the fact that it completely changes the way people live as musicians, but I still think it rules. And it’s not like it changes it for the worse in every case—it exposes people to your band, it makes them want to come see you play and be a part of what you’re doing.

I guess I don’t know first-hand what it was like for a musician before this technology existed, so I just accept it without looking back fondly on the money I used to be making. What you have to do now is tour like a maniac and be glad that there is still a vinyl culture—especially in the community of bands and fans that we are grateful to be a part of.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud” and that music fans, even if paying, will not need to own the music they like any longer, since they will be able to simply listen to everything on demand when they want to. How do you feel about this?

A: I think it sounds like a paradise where no one owns anything and everyone shares and everyone is equal. Sounds pretty incredible…except when you think about the jerks that run the site—they just kick back and collect. If it was completely free then I think it would be a lot more fair for everyone. No one should profit off of that if the artist doesn’t.

Q: How has your life as a musician been affected—or not—by the existence of music blogs?

A:I don’t read music blogs but my band mates do and so do a lot of other people, I guess, because it has been a great way for people to find out about us. I just get afraid of some of the sites that have too much sway, that dictate what is cool and what isn’t. I think it pressures people into liking something that kind of sucks. It’s an emperor’s new clothes kind of thing.

Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity–does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression? If listeners are cherry-picking and shuffling rather than listening all the way through, how does that affect you as a musician?

A: We still really believe in an album as a whole, I think that a lot of artists are surrendering to the death of the album and not putting the energy into creating one anymore. It’s just a collection of singles mish-mashed with filler, and that’s really a shame. We put this record together with the intention that it should be listened to from start to finish. I know people are going to listen to it however they choose, we just did this for the ones that still want a thoughtful record that they can experience all the way through.

Q: With the barrier to entry drastically lower than it used to be, there is way way way more music available for people to listen to these days than there ever used to be. How do you as a musician cope with the reality of an over-saturated market, to put it both economically and bluntly?

A: I used to try to ignore it but when we were at South by Southwest it was something that became crushingly obvious. It was scary reading the booklet that listed all the bands and realizing that each of those band names that I’ve never heard of and probably will never hear represented people that know that the only thing in the world they want to do is play music and make people know who they are because this is what they were put on this planet to do. And that’s scary because that’s me! And people skimmed over my name because it was just another bunch of words on a page.

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