Fingertips Q&A: The Spring Standards

The three members of the Spring Standards have been playing music together since they were teenagers along the Delaware/Pennsylvania border. Each of them sings, writes songs, and plays a variety of instruments, which lends an unusual fluidity to their sound, not to mention variety to their live performances.

The band released a double EP called yellow//gold in May on Parachute Shooter Records. The song “Only Skin,” from the “Yellow” half, was featured here in April.

In the picture below you’ll see, left to right, James Smith, James Cleare, and Heather Robb. Heather took on the job of answering the Fingertips Q&A questions, and quite thoughtfully at that.

The Fingertips Q&A, for the uninitiated, is a recurring feature. More than 30 artists to date have participated. The Q&A’s sole intent is to allow actual, workaday 21st-century musicians a forum for discussing the state of music in the digital age. So-called experts and futurists have far too loudly dominated this discussion for too long.

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, as some of the pundits insist?

A: This question is popping up all over the place and is a tricky one. Even within our band we have slightly differing opinions, but in the end we all share the same yearning to be paid for what we’re doing.

One of the biggest challenges is that it’s simply impossible to record music for free free. Even if you skip all the middle men and do in entirely by yourself on your computer—you had to buy the computer, the mic, the guitar, you had to spend time when you could have been working a paying job to do it all. So somewhere along the road someone has to put money into the music if you want it to be recorded. Whether its with a record label, fan funded or out of pocket, an album release comes with costs and needs to be funded. So to say that once all this time and money has been spent the product should be free—that’s a doomed business model.

Now, it would be lovely if everyone that was listening to music felt an overwhelming sense of duty to pay the artists for the product that they’re enjoying. But in this modern era that’s pretty unrealistic. So we’re left in this weird no man’s land where music is free if you, as a listener, want it to be. Just a click and the entire Beatles catalogue is yours.

To me it’s like stealing from a farmer. If you pass a corn field some people might be tempted to grab a few ears of corn. why not? There is so much of it, and corn is so tasty. But if you went to the farmers market and saw the man selling the corn from his stall, would you just take it and run? There’s been a massive shift in the definition of “stealing” because of the ease and lack of accountability.

For some reason, getting music for free is seen as totally acceptable— pretty much everyone we know, musicians included, does it. And as more people do it the landslide affect sets in—the “well if they do it I guess I can” thinking takes over. So as a band you start to feel like like you’re being old fashioned or selfish by asking to be paid for your music. Friends and professionals encourage you to give it away for free—“at least then the people will have it,” is the thinking. And that model has worked in certain situations—maybe that is the way of the future. But it certainly doesn’t ease the burden of the thousands of dollars we forked out, with the help of our fans, to make our latest album.

Hopefully the future holds a better solution—right now we’re definitely in a state of limbo and it’s incredibly challenging to imagine a financially sustainable career under the current circumstances. So our stance is this: if you like the music, support it. It’s hard out there for a farmer.

Q: What do you think of the idea that music is destined for the “cloud”?

A: The cloud is pretty amazing…risky if there’s an internet Apocalypse, but still cool. It’s obviously a great way to store insane amounts of music and save space in your tiny NYC railroad apartment, have everything at your fingertips, all that good stuff.

But I love physical copies, as both a musician and a listener. I like handling the thing, there’s just something about it. The content is the same but the the experience is entirely different. It’s so cool to go over to a persons house and rifle through their boxes of vinyl or look through their DVD collection. It’s not quite the same to scroll through their iTunes library. It loses some sort of personal and visceral connection.

But I’m definitely not an either or kinda person on this one. They both have their uses and this will ultimately be something each individual will decide for themself.

Q: How has your life as a musician been affected–or not–by the existence of music blogs? Do you miss old-style music criticism, or do you welcome the non-professional music fan into the mix?

A: Our life hasn’t really been affected much—we haven’t been celebrated or slandered yet by the “heavy hitters,” though we have seen both happen to friends and it’s definitely shocking how strong the impact can be. The saddest part about the rise of blogs is the decline of printed music magazines, but everyone is entitled to share their opinion.

Q: One obvious thing the digital age has introduced is the ease of two-way communication between artist and fan. Does this feel like a benefit or a distraction, or a little of both?

A: For us, it has been a huge benefit—we have an incredibly dedicated and loyal fan base that has helped us fund two records and kept us afloat as an independent band through four years of national touring. So we are lucky benefactors of the new trend. It does, however, undermine some of the mystery that used to exist around bands, even some of our favorites growing up. And that mystery is a powerful tool, it’s exciting and dramatic and every little piece of information you gain is precious and rare. But, especially given the modern musical climate, it’s vital that bands create personal relationships with their fans. They’re the ones that will keep you alive.

Q: There is clearly 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: You really just have to believe in what you’re doing and carry on. You have to try your best to stay true to your unique voice and not be swayed by all the trends that come and go—your audience will find you but you have to give them time, so it also requires enormous amounts of patience. Patience and perseverance—just like all your best teachers always told you.

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