I once heard a woman say that no woman would have a second child if our minds were able to remember the pain and process of childbirth. Well, I think moving is kind of like that. I am in the last throes of a move, and really looking forward to getting back on track with the creation and publishing of my upcoming interactive multimedia iBook, Light 2.0 (see mediabench.com), plus related music performances and art shows. And, of course, back to my RiffingOnBooks blog.
When most people talk about the pain of moving, they are not referring to what a new media artist goes through! Not only did I move my living space, but my multimedia studio space as well – with all its computer gear, music gear, art gear, writing space and files, and the accompanying supplies and work. I am happy to report that the move is almost complete.
Of course, I set up my computer system first. Still have to hook up all the music gear. And this morning I had space to practice my guitar for the first time. Feeling rusty. But I love my new place and look forward to many hours of creation to be spent here.
Outside one of the rooms’ windows is a giant oak tree, which makes me happy because I love looking out to nature, but also because it reminds me of my roots in Northern California – where oak trees are abundant. My cat, Salomé is also in cat heaven with unlimited squirrels to keep an eye on all day!
For the last many months, I have been working on ways in which we can get coding / programming into our public schools. I gotta confess: the outlook is dire. I had no idea when I started my research just how dire.
We see all these catchy headlines about the need to get more girls interested in computer science and coding. Well, that is really just the tip of the iceberg! It turns out only 10% of US high schools even offer computer science (to boys or girls), and, in case you are not aware, coding is just a small chunk of computer science.
As a matter of fact, as I made my way through research and interviews I discovered that our first problem is not how little coding girls are getting, or even how little all our kids are getting. The problem is that most people in our society don’t even know what coding is! Worse, most people lump all technology into one bucket. To them, technology is just technology, and they want nothing to do with it for the most part.
Coding (also referred to as programming) is the set of instructions that someone has to write in order to make just about everything in the modern world work. Coding is not done in English. We have dozens and dozens of programming languages that are used to write the instructions for creating different things. Languages used to code / program web sites, mobile apps, your automobile’s various systems, your baby monitor, your home security system, the software you use on your computer, those electric signs on the freeway . . . .
Remember all the discussions we’ve had (for decades) about how girls are discouraged from math, messaged with the fact that girls are no good at math from the time they are born? Well, turns out we are doing the same thing with technology. And we are doing it for girls and boys. We give lip service to the fact that we are falling behind in the tech world, that we are not training enough tech workers, that not enough students are enrolling in tech. But, the fact is we have a societal aversion to tech, a wink and a nod attitude that tech is in the realm of a few geeky guys and the rest of us don’t need to bother with it, a lack of understanding about how many different kinds of tech there are, and a frightening lack of technology education of any kind in our K-12 school system.
Looking only at the coding / programming niche of technology: There is no curriculum requirement to teach coding to kids in our US K-12 schools. None.
And if that doesn’t startle you, how about this? In China kids all start learning to code / program at the age of 5. And by age 11, they are required to know at least 2 coding / programming languages.
I will be tackling this subject here in bite size pieces over the next months.
In the last post, (Part 1) I talked about the loss of studio musician jobs in the U.S. to London as a result of the removal of music education from our schools, the lack of paying venues for musicians and the lack of practice time for musicians because they are so busy supporting themselves with non-music jobs. All of these factors result in a lack of qualified U.S. musicians according to entertainment company executives. Today I want to look at another reason we are losing music jobs to London players and orchestras, and that has to do with our countries’ respective employee pay models.
As the music panelists of the Hollywood Future of Entertainment forum stepped off the stage, I turned to the two music industry reps at my table and told them that I was still confused. During our table introductions, the woman executive from the musician royalty paying agency had told me that this digital age is, in fact, a great time for musicians in that they have so many more royalty income revenue streams. She had explained how a studio musician who played on a soundtrack in the past was only paid when a film or TV show was in its first run, and a bit more during re-plays or re-runs. Today with all the various distribution outlets (DVD, Netflix, online streaming, hotel distribution, etc.) musicians are earning money from many more sources.
“Something doesn’t add up,” I said to her and the Union Rep at my table now, post panel. “You earlier explained to me how studio musicians are making more money today than ever, due to the increase in income royalty revenue streams from movies, TV and recorded music. But the panel just told us that producers are all going to London to record music, and there is a huge loss of work for musicians in the U.S.”
The Union Rep told me she did not know what was going on. “How is the Musicians Union fairing?” I asked. “Is this outsourcing of work to London something you all talk about?” She did not know.
I pondered aloud, “London is supposed to be like the second or third most expensive city to live in today. If London musicians are being paid so much less than their U.S. counterparts – making it cheaper for U.S. producers to travel all the way to Europe to score/record, how can those London musicians afford to live? And if they are paid so much less, how can they afford the time to educate themselves thoroughly and constantly practice to keep up their skills?”
(Remember in my first post on this, the panelists explained that U.S. musicians are paid so little that they can’t afford practice time because they have to work “day jobs.”)
The Union Rep shrugged. The Royalty Exec had to ask: “How long have you worked for the Union?”
“Nine years,” she said.
I guess she’s been listening to streaming music all day rather than her constituency.
Finally the Royalty Exec filled in for me. But this is where she told me she had to be off the record. Sad.
It all comes down to the difference in work and pay models and governmental support.
In the U.S., we have taken music out of the schools, so anyone who learns music does it on her/his own without the lessons and practice time and music exposure that schools could give them. There are no longer sufficient paying venues for musicians, and most that do exist pay very little. All but a relative few U.S. musicians have to work other jobs and play music “on the side.” For those few who do manage to get studio work, the pay is good, thanks to unions and, now, numerous new digital revenue streams. But the operative term here is “those few musicians.”
Musicians in London have it vastly different. They live in a society that has not removed music from the schools, that respects musicians.
“But, how do they manage if they are paid less than studio musicians in the U.S.?” I continued to press.
“Because for one, they have plenty of work – since they are taking it from U.S.” she explained.
“How ironic, but still not enough to tip all this in their favor if they are working for much lower wages,” I thought. Aloud I responded, “How can the simple fact of lower hourly rates for musicians really make it more affordable for an entire film or TV show post-production staff to pack up and travel across the ocean to hire an orchestra and score all their music? I would think that travel and lodging would pretty much offset the musicians’ hourly wage savings.”
Her next statement finally shed the light.
“Not only do they work for lower wages, they don’t take royalties. This makes them even more attractive to producers from a financial standpoint.”
“No way!” I was stunned. “How can British musicians afford to live with low wages and no royalties?”
“Because their government, in addition to supporting music education, also subsidizes the health care and pensions of musicians. They have financial security.”
Couple that with plenty of work, and the musicians in London are set.
But, this is just wrong. Because of government subsidies people in England can afford to be musicians. No such luck for citizens of the U.S.
I sat back in my seat deflated. Outsourcing of U.S. jobs took on a whole new meaning. It is not just about lower wages. We are not just competing with workers in developing, low-cost-of-living nations, who can afford to work for a fraction of what U.S. workers need to earn. We are not just competing with foreign companies who are exploiting their workers for lower wages. We are competing with foreign governments! And what chance do we stand against a foreign government who underwrites their workers when the U.S. government meanwhile rails against even a living wage much less worker subsidies or universal healthcare!
Well, as luck would have it, I happened to tell this story to a staff member at the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board a few weeks later. And from him I learned that this form of government sponsored competition is illegal – well, caveat, it used to be illegal, and may still be illegal. That is what I will write about it Post III. Stay tuned. . . .
I’m currently consulting as a technology expert for an education grant that one city is writing in order to create a model program that will use music to teach math and sciences in their K-12 schools. Of course, the fact that I am also a musician and composer will benefit my participation on this grant. The input I provide and the research I do, as well as the grant’s process, seem like they will be interesting material to include in this blog of mine on sciences and the arts. Usually I am talking about books that deal with these subjects, but I think slices of life around topics are important as well, and perhaps this post will encourage others to write more books on this topic.
In December I attended a conference on “The Future of Entertainment,” hosted by Variety Magazine and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Although most of the conference was dedicated to the future of movies (now that California has passed an incentive bill, AB839, to help keep film production in the state), there was one panel on the status and future of our music industry.
Coincidentally, at the table where I was seated were a Musician’s Union rep and an executive from the organization that pays out the royalties due to musicians for playing on movie soundtracks, commercials, music recordings, etc. After the music panel, my head was filled with unanswered questions. I turned to the two music professionals reps at my table.
The Royalty Woman shared quite a few insights, but remarked that her comments were “off the record,” so I won’t make note of her name here, and, to tell the truth, I have forgotten the name of her organization anyway. I won’t be naming the Musicians Union rep, either, because she and the union will undoubtedly be embarrassed by the comments I will make about her responses to my questions.
Let’s start with the number one question and concern regarding U.S. musicians in the movie and TV industry expressed by the morning’s panel: Why are so many film and TV producers going to London to record their music soundtracks rather than recording here in the States?
The answers will not surprise our local musicians, but I hope it will wake up anyone else reading this post.
The producers go to London to score their tracks not just because it is less expensive to hire musicians there (I will address this topic in next post) but also because they are finding more qualified musicians in London. According to them, the caliber of musicians in U.S. has been steadily falling over the last decades.
And why is that? Well, that is something I have been writing about in this blog for some time. Our society has removed the Arts (including music, of course) from its schools, and denigrates the Arts as being “frills” rather than necessary elements of education and life. One of many negative results of this, of course, has been a falling number of musicians in our country. Turns out that not only are the numbers of musicians falling, but the caliber of those who do study music has also fallen precipitously. If musicians do not have years of classes/lessons and plenty of time to practice, they will never be great musicians.
For those of you who are not musicians out there, let me add a bit of clarification emphasis to that point.
In the world of music, studio musicians are regarded as the elite musician class. All professions have their elite class, their best and brightest: in the Navy it is the Seals, at Disney it is Disney Imagineering staff, in tech currently it is Google programmers and idea generators. In music, the musicians able to work in studios are not only polished players with a keen understanding of music theory, tempo, ensemble-playing, etc., but they are the ones who can read music. Many musicians who are really really good, never learned to read music notation, but this is a studio requirement. Not only will a composer put a chart in need of reading in front of a studio musician, but that musician must be able to read it, properly and with expression, at a first glance.
No one learns to be a studio musician without years of study and practice. And practice is not something a musician does during the course of study and then stops. Good musicians must practice every day to enhance and maintain their skill.
So what happened in the U.S. when we began to take music out of the schools and denigrate its usefulness, especially as compared to math and science? Well, we stopped developing that pool of studio musician caliber players for one thing. And that is the first reason that our movie and TV producers are now going to London to record their music soundtracks. Europe still values musicians and the education of musicians, so they do have an elite class of studio players available. And because their musicians are getting this work from the U.S. they are making enough money to afford practice time in order to keep up their “chops.”
According to panelist Ricky Minor, Music Director of American Idol: “Arts in schools are gone. There are no public places for musicians to play and master their craft. There are no jobs for musicians. Musicians are now waiters. With all of this, we have witnessed a plummeting of the skill level of musicians in U.S., while European musicians are supported.”
And panelist Paul Broucek, President, Music, Warner Brothers Pictures, agreed: “Yes, what London offers now is a skilled talent pool.”
Musicians in the U.S. not only are lacking in access to music education, but are hard pressed to find the time to keep up what skills they do acquire due to the lack of practice time. They are too busy working other jobs to support themselves . . . (more about this in the next post).
Today President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced they had come to an agreement to reduce carbon emissions in their respective countries. Republican U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnel and Republican U.S. House Leader John Boehner immediately mounted a fresh propaganda catch phrase campaign, accusing the two country’s leaders of waging an “idealogical war on coal.” In his morning column, Robert Reich asked what we think of this. This is what I think: I think those of us who are educated, who follow the work of our science experts (the scientists who have been warning us about the threat of global warming from carbon emissions since the 1970s), are currently learning what Galileo must have felt like when the Church sentenced him to house arrest for the rest of his life because he insisted that his scientific research proved that the earth circled the sun. Today the Oil, Coal and Gas companies who are attempting to rule our country and public opinion via their ownership of many in our Congress, are subbing for The Church; they are “climate change deniers” because they will be out of business if science wins the day. Galileo spent a lonely old age, but of course we all know that his Truths eventually won the day.
Several years ago I arranged for two of my female web and interactive students to video interview a woman scientist at Caltech. I asked the administrators there if they could line up a couple of their resident scientists who were both women and people of color. It took me some time to realize, after they arranged for a single interview and no more, that they apparently only had one woman of color scientist on their campus.
When Janelle and Cary interviewed her we were all fascinated to learn how many human obstacles she had overcome to end up a scientist at Caltech. Although she had wanted to be a scientist her entire life, many in her family, teachers and school counselors had all discouraged her. Not because she did not have the aptitude or stamina for such an achievement, but because she was female and black. I am not saying, either, that these people were out and out racists in their advice. It is, rather, part of that subtle racism (and sexism) that so pervades our nation to this day. These people all believed that her chances of becoming a scientist, because she was a woman and black, were so scant that she should not even attempt to scale that wall.
Sad, huh? Well, fortunately she ignored all of them. And fortunately she had one male scientist early in life who served as a role model to her. And fortunately as research even shows, sometimes a person succeeds simply because of ONE encounter with a role model. Sometimes all it takes is a one time encounter example, or one word from a role model! There has been much written about this, and I do not plan to delve into the subject of role models and mentors any more deeply right now, but since I was thinking about it, I thought I should share a mentoring story.
Last Sunday night my friend Ric Ickard added a lead guitar to my Tiger’s Tiny Sparrow Song for Light 2 – an interactive book series I am writing / creating. Beautiful! Not many guitarists can lay down music so amazing after only one run through. And this is not some simple 1-4-5 song: it explores some very nice jazz voicings, and is in two separate time signatures.
I had fun engineering the session. I am relatively new to the software he uses in his studio, Digital Performer, and I had never engineered a guitar session for him before. One of the most incredible things that my friend and mentor Richard has given me in this lifetime is to enhance my self confidence. He does it with a “throwing me in the deep end” approach. Every time he has taught me something, he goes over it once and just assumes I will be able to do it. The funny thing is, I have always been able to, in great part because of his belief in me.
That is another very important aspect of role modeling and mentoring: having the person who is mentoring you truly believe in you. It is something that is often sorely missing for women and people of color: that one person who does what you want to do and tells you that you can, too.
Yes, it was one of those science fan nights for me at Pasadena’s Caltech Beckman Auditorium last week. I’ve read most of Freeman Dyson’s books and for years have admired his sensible approach to science as well as his accomplishments and ideas. There really is something special about seeing someone you have long admired in person. My niece Tess will wait for hours in line to hear Beyonce perform. I waited four hours once to hear Stephen Hawking talk in Santa Monica – and yes, it was worth it (not to mention the interesting people I met in line waiting with me – for there is also something intoxicating about knowing the people around you all share something of importance to you).
What I had not picked up on from Dyson’s books was his fun sense of humor. When someone inquired about his concerns regarding communication loss once space travelers reach interstellar space, Dyson quipped that it might not be such a bad thing, considering that the tax collectors could not reach us out there.
Still, there was something eery about this evening’s presentations. We are in the midst of a terrible heat wave currently in Southern California. 106 today as I write this post. It was close to that the evening of this lecture. The discussion with a former astronaut, Dyson, and the Voyager Mission scientist, was about plans to send humans in search of life on far off planets – through interstellar space. How will we fund it, what needs to be done to get us to that point, who is working on what? But all the while I could not help but be reminded of my favorite essay (another mystery as I read it years ago and have never been able to find it since, don’t remember title, author, anything except the premise) which positioned a classical music lover treading water in the sea surrounding a sinking island which housed a chamber orchestra and attentive audience, water to their waists, refusing to budge out of politeness and denial as the island sank around them.
For it suddenly struck me as very odd that so many great scientists should be discussing how we are going to get to outer space when our own planet meanwhile is on fire. Now, I am sure some will say that we need people pursuing all sorts of ideas and plans if we are to move forward. But, as I said, it just struck me that we would be better off if all scientists, politicians, business people, citizens, artists, writers, everybody – would come together for a time to solve global warming, to get our own planet back on track, before we tackle any other big challenges. It seems that important. And to do otherwise, seems, well, arrogant and blind to reality.
Global warming is not somebody else’s business, we need all hands on deck, please.
Just because someone is a brilliant scientist, it does not necessarily follow that he/she is a brilliant anything-else. But our society misses this important fact time and time again. We turn to our premiere scientists, top technologists and successful businesspeople for their opinions on social issues. We ask them to speak at conferences on any number of topics unrelated to their fields of expertise. We call them when an important legislative issue is being deliberated, assuming that because they are so smart, they can help us.
The first time I started thinking about this was in 1998. I had just returned to Pasadena from Washington DC, where I set up an interactive media department in the then largest law firm in the United States. I am not sure exactly how or why I received an invitation to a luncheon at Caltech, where journalist and long-time presidential advisor David Gergen was scheduled to speak. But what I vividly remember was what David Gergen said about Microsofts’ Bill Gates during his speech.
Gergen had recently interviewed Gates, and admitted that he had been very excited about meeting and talking with the man many considered the smartest in the world. But, Gergen shared, he was stunned to discover that Bill Gates had less knowledge of social issues that any person he had interviewed in his entire career.
Think of that for a minute. This is the man who subsequently went on to start a foundation to save the world; the man who through his foundation is setting the world priorities for what gets fixed, and what does not. This is the man our legislators and news media call on all the time for his opinion about any myriad of topics: What does Bill Gates think of Net Neutrality? the Wars? Poverty? World Health? Education?
Yesterday I read in the New York Times how Gates has now teamed up with a history professor to rewrite the history taught in all our U.S. high school classes – after he took one course on history from Great Courses! Of course he loved that history course! Bill Gates was a college drop-out. He undoubtedly spent little academic time prior to college ruminating and studying anything more than computer science. This was probably his first actual exposure to history. And suddenly, because he is so smart, we think he should determine our country’s high school history curriculum? Oh, please.
Yesterday I sat out sipping an iced coffee at my favorite outdoor patio, and I listened to a Caltech astro-physicist telling his coffee companion all about what was the matter with this country: in a nutshell, he focused on the “illegals,” food stamps (“problem is you start a food stamp program and there is no going back”), welfare, etc. Case in point. And let me speculate here: all the while he trashed those who have immigrated to the U.S. from south of our border, one of those immigrants was meanwhile mowing his lawn back at home, and another vacuuming his house . . . . He may be the most brilliant astro physicist our country has (this is not actually an endorsement of his scientific acumen, I don’t know the man), but when it comes to social issues, he proved himself to me to be a socially uneducated racist bigot as I tried to eat my bagel sandwich and found myself quickly losing my appetite . . . . to be continued
I’m currently helping the cities of Glendale and Burbank to write a grant that will establish training in WEB and mobile technologies for entertainment studio workers who are being laid off, and for others who are long-term unemployed and being replaced by foreign workers on H1 Visas. There is more to it than this, but at its core: designers will learn coding, and coders will learn design. Well, I feel great about this. BUT.
I keep running into the new evolved world of Art Absence and Prejudice.
This Art Absence and Prejudices World exists because we have taken art out of the schools, and thus few are learning art skills any longer or appreciating their value. And we took Art out of the schools because so few people value the Arts in the United States. It’s a chicken and egg kinda thing.
And now our world, especially our business world, is facing the inability to innovate or run smoothly, because of a dearth of creative thinkers.
And so, we are inventing terms like Creative Thinking, and teaching classes in it at distinguished places, like Stanford (see my previous post), and the new name and locales of instruction are giving the subject credibility. And, HELLO WORLD! What they are really teaching and talking about – is ART!
Creative Thinking is what you learn when you study the Arts – Visual Arts, Music, Writing, etc. etc.
So, we are calling it Design Thinking, and suddenly it is okay, serious, respectable. But to us artists, it is still ART.
During my grant research I interviewed a man who was all excited that I had taken the Design Thinking course at Stanford. He went on and on telling me how that is the way of the future, how more and more businesses are incorporating the teaching and learning of Design Thinking in their staff development plans.
Did he even hear me when I told him that the Design Thinking course was more of an anthropologic interest to me than anything else; that I had spent my life studying art, and that the Design Thinking course just touched on a few of the topics and methods that a professional artist learns and knows?
We have an absence of Creative Thinkers, not because we have not been teaching Design Thinking, but because we have taken the Arts out of the schools.
Another example of Art Absence and Prejudices: the subset in art of Graphic Design. It is what artists have been doing in the commercial world for generations: creating art that sells things, that explains things, that illustrates points of view. Fine Art, on the other hand is considered art that expresses the Artist’s point of view, visual representation of something, feelings, etc. – a personal art. Most of us Fine Artists earn our living as Graphic Artists, because it pays better, quite frankly.
But in our society few people respect Artists, or Graphic Designers – they are all too arty. People think artists and designers are just “born” with a talent to make art and design. Some don’t even know what a graphic designer is – they think that products, magazine layouts, packaging and medical illustrations in textbooks just create / design themselves, I guess.
Now they are calling graphic art “Data Visualization.” In order to give credibility to the work of Designers / Artists. And, of course, we are calling them Designers, not Artists. Because Designer sounds more scientific, less arty, too.
You want more creative / innovative thinkers on your future accounting and engineering and scientific and business teams? Call your school district and legislators and tell them to put the ARTS back into schools!
by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey