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Posts Tagged ‘Macon Arts Alliance’

This is How Much Art Matters in Macon, Ga.

Posted by southwrite on June 14, 2014

Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers.

Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers.

You’ve probably noticed – or maybe you haven’t – that big media doesn’t cover the arts as it once did. Gone are book sections. Music reviews tend to be crammed into a slim weekend section. In-depth reporting and incisive criticism is elusive.

Of course journalism in general and newspapers in particular are suffering and have fewer resources for covering much of anything – much less the arts. There’s still a lot of criticism and reporting going on out there, but it’s harder to find and tends to be more specialized than ever before.

Musicians are also finding it as hard to make a living as many editors and reporters. The internet has pushed newspapers and magazines to the brink, but in some ways it’s even worse for performers. With songs going for a dollar, it’s hard to make a living.

That’s one reason why the recent Art Matters Symposium series in Macon, Ga. is so interesting. This series of panels with artists and journalists bills itself as a means for “engaging the community through high-quality arts journalism.”

A creation of The Macon Arts Alliance and Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism (CCJ), the program is embedding journalism interns in various arts organizations served by the Alliance. These journalists will create news articles, blogs, video reports and provide general coverage for local news outlets, the CCJ’s newsroom, and Alliance’s website — – and other publications.

The program also provides for a critic-in-residence at the CCJ and a public symposium series pairing artists and critics in discussion on the state of the arts and criticism.

The last of these symposiums kicked off at the historic Cox Capital Theater in downtown Macon. The topic for this last program was music.

In case you didn’t know, Macon, Ga. has a storied musical history. It was the home of legends such as Little Richard, Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers to name just a few. Capricorn Records was headquartered here while its co-founder Phil Walden played a decisive role in popularizing Southern Rock for a wider audience.

The city has also become something of a model for innovative journalism education. The Collaborative Center, with financial support from the Knight Foundation, has pushed a new model of educating journalists. Based on the teaching hospital approach to physician training, students at Mercer work closely with editors and reporters from The Macon Telegraph and GPB Media in producing real stories about local events. [A Mercer student interning with GPB became the first reporter to break the story of the Atlanta Braves move into a new stadium in suburban Cobb County.]

Both those news organizations have moved to new digs on the Mercer campus to put them in close proximity to students.

These two forces came together in a panel with Patterson Hood, Athens based singer songwriter and co-founder of Drive-By Truckers, and Josh Jackson, co-founder and editor in chief of the award winning Paste Magazine.

Later that evening Hood would be performing solo during a house concert held at the renovated “Crisco House” – one of the mansions that fill the city’s hip and progressive College Hill Corridor. This afternoon he was talking about the challenges of being a professional musician and what it takes to make a living along with music.

What became clear in their discussion is musicians and journalists are facing many of the same challenges in adapting to a rapidly changing media landscape. As both newspaper and musicians struggle to survive, both fields are changing their tactics to make a living. Musicians in particular have to realize that that it’s not just about playing music, but in taking control of their careers and creating a recognizable and salable brand.

Having a top 40 record is no longer a path to financial success. Bands must be able to perform night after night. “We’ve been able to carve out a decent living,” said Hood. “We’re known as a good live band.”

Even this constant touring has to be supplemented by other revenue streams such as t-shirt sales.

Branding is also vital to standing out. Hood and the band have devoted considerable effort into developing the art and graphics that adorns their albums, posters and t-shirts. “You need a recognizable visual element,” he said.

Even with good business practices, bands often end up in debt and seeking funding from friends, family and other supporters. Hood works his own day job to support his primary occupation of music.

While advancing in recording technology has made it easier than ever to get a record out, it can be challenge to gain attention and earn money for it with so many people downloading music.

The free streaming services for music only exist because (investors) keep pouring money into them,” said Jackson. He added “the streaming services pay so little because they make so little.”

He explained the role of music criticism has also changed dramatically. While critics no longer have the influence and impact they once did, they are even more important in helping listening find good music amidst all the clutter. They can champion good bands and help them be found and understood.

Music criticism is not as broad as it once was, but it does go deeper,” he explained. “It’s the rare review that really gets people talking. Music journalism is much less centralized and that’s a good development for fans. It’s no longer up to a small number of people to decide what you’re going to hear.”

By helping to bring forth good music they can also help musicians to achieve something that can seem elusive these days – “a middle class lifestyle.”

One thing that became clear is that music and journalism are tightly linked to each other and the success of one is vital to the other.


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