Farm to Table, Studio to Earbud

Music is a lot like farming.

Before you think I’m crazy, hear me out.

I know a lot of musicians, and I know quite a few farmers. Not surprisingly (to me), there is a connection between the two. Musicians, at least most of the ones I know, are extremely interested in the natural world. Obviously, so are farmers. A lot of farmers are amateur musicians. (Admittedly, most musicians are not farmers and perhaps not even gardeners, but Giuseppi Verdi famously had a career in both fields simultaneously.) However, a love for the natural world is not the only thing that connects farmers and musicians.

This past summer while on a volunteer harvesting session at a local farm with Hope’s Harvest, I got talking with the other harvesters, one of whom was also a musician. She quipped, “Farmers and musicians are both dreamers.”

Yes, farmers and musicians are both dreamers. It is this that connects them.

It’s not just the hope of the dream coming to fruition. It’s not just the love for the people they serve, those who eat their food or listen to their music. It is also about the enormous amount of effort, time and money they put into their livelihood, the frustrations of the variability of income due to the season or other events outside their control, and the willingness to scrape by and create diverse avenues of income to piece together a living. It’s also about the shared experience of the average consumer having no accurate concept of what it takes to get food onto their plate or music into their ears.

The American consumer is subsidized in ways that most do not understand. Most simply pick up food at the grocery store without much thought to how it got there. They don’t see the billions of dollars the government gives to agribusiness to insure farmers and keep costs low at the grocery store. They don’t see the depression farmers face. They don’t see that many farmers save money by selling their produce and then buying canned veggies at the store instead of eating what they grew themselves. Most customers have only heard of the big-ag companies; they don’t know the first name of the small-time farmer living in the next town over.

Likewise, most music lovers do not understand that their listening habits are subsidized. Instead of being underwritten by the government, the costs are kept low for them through advertising. They can listen to the radio or stream music on the internet for “free.” They’ve heard of the music stars that get famous; they know the big record labels. But they don’t know the names of local bands or members of the local orchestra.

Most people do not realize how extremely expensive it is for both farmers and musicians to make a go at it. Farmers spend a tremendous amount of money on land, equipment and supplies, often going into an extreme amount of debt. They have to buy seeds and animals on “spec”, hoping that a good season will reward them with enough income to at least break even on expenses, excluding the cost of their own sweat. Musicians, too, must invest in instruments and travel. Some even mortgage their instruments because they cost so much! Independent musicians put up thousands of dollars of their own money to create albums to sell, hoping they will sell enough to break even on expenses, excluding the cost of their own time.

Farmers and musicians who work with the big companies have their hands tied in many ways. They are contracted to grow this or write/perform that. Ultimately, they do not own their own product; the big companies do. They farmers and musicians actually growing or creating the product earn pennies on the dollar for each sale.

The independent farmer and musician have control over their fields and their music, but they also take on all the risk themselves. As smaller operations, they can be more flexible, but costs are much higher. They are not required to conform to larger market expectations but can create a niche customer base, offering unique products and a direct relationship to their customers and audience.

As a consumer, you have a choice. You can stick to the familiar marketplace, or you can seek out the independent producers. It’s the difference between shopping at a big box store or frequenting your local mom-and-pop shop. When you support an independent farmer or musician, you are supporting a small business and contributing to your local economy. Plus, you will have the benefits of knowing your farmer or musician personally and access to food and music you can’t get anywhere else.

I encourage you to go small and go local!

The professional recording of my piece for string orchestra, “Daughter of the Stars” has just been released on Ablaze Record’s Orchestral Masters Volume 7. I partnered with Ablaze in this project. I paid for and own the recording, while they took care of production, the album cover and other things. They have permission to use the piece on the album; we split the profit from sales. I am a small business; so is Ablaze. By purchasing this recording, you support two small businesses for the cost of just $1. You can find the recording here: https://ablazeorchestralmasters.bandcamp.com/track/daughter-of-the-stars

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2 thoughts on “Farm to Table, Studio to Earbud”

  1. Wow! What an excellent blog!! As a musician who married a farmer, that totally gives me a new perspective on this strange pairing!! Thank you Heather!

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