On the Road
A summer favorite, Donavon Frankenreiter is on the road for much of the year, as are many other musicians in the internet age.
(I'd like to thank my friend and Nantucket photog extraordinaire Jonathan Nimerfroh for these great images of Donavon. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Just before Donavon Frankenreiter arrived to play The Chicken Box a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with him on the phone about his upcoming visit, his thoughts on Nantucket, where his musical creativity was taking him, but the aspect of our conversation that I found most interesting was his thoughts on where the music industry has been and where it is going.
While Donavona is not the most heavily played artist in my personal music collection, I've always enjoyed his concerts here on island. His laid-back, sandy tunes fit well on Nantucket and he never has any trouble filling the The Box (sometimes a couple of nights in a row).
But behind the apparent, Donavon is an artist who hit the national music scene in the late 1990s when CDs still reigned supreme, the major labels were flush with cash, and no one had ever heard of pirating or Spotify. He is an artist who experienced a great deal of early success alongside his friend Jack Johnson, selling many records and touring a manageable amount of date per year.
He is also an artist, however, that was hugely impacted by the worldwide popularization of proliferation of the internet. Hand in hand with internet technology came digital music technology and the ability to purchase and download music online.
Whether they knew it or not, this was the beginning of the end for nearly every major music label in this country. Some have adapted, but surely almost all of them earn a fraction of what they once did. And while I have no sympathy for these bloated, corporate taste-makers, I have a great deal for many of the artists they once represented and produced.
Those artists found many of themselves on the street professionally, busking for themselves, no longer held comfortably within the grasp on the big labels.
People stopped buying entire records, and began downloading from online music services such as iTunes, as well as those that allowed listeners to pirate music for free (Napster and Limewire were a couple of the big ones). It seemed to me that pirating music was almost in vogue for several years, and even those who remained free of the temptation to download without cost began buying single tracks rather than entire albums.
This phenomenon for record labels and artists alike meant: adapt or die. Many died. Some artists' popularity kept them above the fray, but most learned to adapt. That almost exclusively meant touring the U.S. and much of the world for the majority of their year.
I love concerts. Going to a great concert is one of the most personally rewarding things I find myself doing on a regular basis, and it's simply because I love music and I love the infusion of energy and community that concerts provide. That said, artists get tired after touring two-thirds of the year, missing family, friends and any semblance of a normal life. I've been to the first show on a tour and I've been to the last show on a tour. There is a world of difference and it all has to do with personal and creative expense long months on the road cost an artist.
Donavon is one of these musicians that now tours most of his year to make a living. He goes all over the world seeking out the audiences that love his music and want him to continue making it.
I'm sure he gets tired. I can't imagine that life-style, even if it does allow him to do the thing he loves.
He's not bitter toward the changes, though he remembers his early days with Lost Highway and Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records fondly. He now has his own label and can record his own records. He enjoys that freedom, but the market that there once was for album sales is no long there, and the royalties from Amazon, iTunes and Spotify are often the subject of ridicule. So, he works harder, he tours longer, as most musicians do, and hopes for a secure future doing the thing he loves.
And despite the difficulty and all the extra hours on the road, many of these artists, including Donavon, have their energy restored along the way when they come to a place like Nantucket, play for a packed house, and are reminded why they keep on keeping on.
Here's to hoping we see you next summer, Donavon.