Conflicts of Interest: Talking about money

City Paper

At the same time that I was reading Cory Doctorow’s book, I was a couple of months into the experiment of only listening to local music—or, let me be clear, only actively listening to recorded music that is made in Baltimore, and sometimes “actively” really just means that I don’t hit play on anything not made in Baltimore. This means that sometimes at home, my wife becomes the DJ (one time you do not want to be listening to music by people you might know is when you are having sex—unless you’re into six-somes or something). And it means that when I need to hear something for reference at work, CP editor Evan Serpick has to be, as he referred to it, like my shabbos goy and hit play for me. 

So it’s not all that pure. 

Part of the draw (except when you’re having sex) is that you could bump into the person whose songs you’ve really been spending a lot of time with. That happened a few weeks ago when I bumped into Blacksage at MAP or when I went out the other night and saw the young kids in TrunkWeed, who wrote me a rad letter when I first announced the project that began with “Hey Baynard, (please correct me if you prefer to be called something else)” and ended with “I guess that is all, sorry for being scatter brained and improper, I’m only 19 and still learning.” 

How could I not listen, right? And Tucker Neill, the bass player, displayed the same humor on the stage at the Windup Space the other night when the amp for Brady Kelly, the singer/ guitarist,broke early in the set. 

Tucker began to berate him. “Oh, this is great. You fucked it all up. Is Baynard here to see this?” he asked wryly. I was. And then they rocked wigged-out blissful surf-rock jams with big hooks, pretty harmonies, and the same kind of slacker, self-deprecation as comes across in their stage banter and email. Along with Goblin Mold (who I was also really digging but I hear may have just broke up; I’m running the picture that Tedd Henn took of them partly because he had to see them naked and we at least want him to get paid for that, and partly in the hopes that maybe it will inspire them to stick it out) it feels like this younger crop of bands grew up with parents who liked Pavement and the other Matador bands first and then something like My Morning Jacket (when they were weird instead of “weird”), rather than Nirvana and the other Sub Pop stuff that influenced the last wave of rockers.   

Anyway, I wouldn’t have these experiences or thoughts listening to music by people who are dead or who are far away. And always being around musicians (I play in a band with people who are serious musicians despite the fact that they also play with the Barnyard Sharks), I started to think more seriously about how people who make music make money. And more, even though I get free music for work, when I really enjoyed someone’s work, I started to feel the strong desire to give them a little money (obviously, going to the shows and buying a record or a shirt or something is the best way, but you can’t go to every show). I posted a question about it on Facebook and got an overwhelming response. 

One of the first was Jenn Wasner, of Flock of Dimes, Wye Oak, and Dungeonesse (I stole the headline from the Wye Oak song of that title off of “The Knot”). She wanted to talk about music and money and, even though she was about to go on tour with Horse Lords, whose record release she was playing, she suggested we meet that night. As we talked over bulgogi tacos at the Crown the night of the Horse Lords release, various other musicians walked by. And, of course, everyone had something to say about this. It’s so fascinating because it is not just about economics but it is about art—David Byrne’s book “How Music Works” has some really cool arguments about how the forms our social and economic lives take create the context for the music we play. 

Wasner was telling how much money she made when Wye Oak was constantly touring—or rather how little; it was a shockingly low salary for being on the road all the time—when M.C. Schmidt of Matmos came up and he mentioned that they got the check for the last eight years of streaming of all of Matmos’ dozen-plus records and it was smaller than most City Paper bar tabs (you may have noticed that I follow the old Spy magazine maxim that says a column should have heroes and villains—you can guess who the villains in Conflicts of Interest are, but Wasner and Schmidt are two of its heroes for their niceness as much as their music). Schmidt, like me, has the benefit of having a university professor as a partner, in his case Drew Daniel. Terence Hannum, who is in Locrian and released a spectacular solo record “Via Negativa” this year, also works as a professor, at Stevenson University, so it’s not uncommon to find musicians in academia, as the book “Punkademics” (edited by my good buddy Zack Furness) shows. Hannum is also one of the panelists at City Paper’s screening of “Blade Runner” on Nov. 23 at the Windup Space and he’s showing his visual art down the street at Guest Spot at the Reinstitute in “Decay,” a solo show which just opened last week and runs through Jan. 17. 

But I’m not going to tell you all the really interesting things that Wasner and Schmidt and Ami Dang and dozens of other musicians have said—not yet. Because it is something that requires more reporting: I need to listen more, talk more, learn more. 


Later that night, at the Crown, as Wasner performed a beautiful set, her voice soaring, her face ecstatic, it was clear she was having fun. And she would go on the road with Horse Lords to play bass for them. For fun. That’s the crucial thing. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get paid. She and all the rest of the people we listen to also have to make enough money to live. “I wanna use what ever bit of recognition I have to try to figure this out and help other people,” she said. Because, mostly, no matter how popular they are, musicians today work other jobs. If you are there, a musician stuck between love and money and have thoughts about this, I want to talk to you. Write me at

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