next steps for “community supported music”

Posted by on Feb 27, 2012

Judging by the many friends who are going on a “Facebook Fast” for Lent, I am tempted to observe, given my very infrequent blogging as of late, that perhaps I should give up NOT blogging as a Lenten discipline this year… (GRIN). Well, I won’t promise any kind of dramatic up-tick in blog posts, but there are some significant developments in this music ministry that I want to let you know about.

The mission statement of SmallTall Music is “to build up the body of Christ by creating and sharing songs of faith for small and tall.” 10 years on, this continues to describe very well what this music ministry is all about, I remain passionately committed to this mission (sporadic blogging notwithstanding), and am grateful to have such humble-but-important work to do, and so many colleagues and co-conspirators in the cause.

Waaaay back, when I was first dreaming what it might look like to take this songwriting thing seriously as my “main thing” instead of as a “side thing,” I was doing a lot of thinking about the nuts-and-bolts of how such a ministry might be structured, including its economic structure. Fairly early on, the diagram came to include 5 main “revenue streams,” and this “business model” has remained remarkably durable: Performances, CD sales (which has come to include songbooks and digital downloads), Publishing, Special Projects (a bit of a “catch-all” category for one-off contract work that comes up from time to time), and the Membership system.

As far as a “business model” goes, it’s that last category – based on the “community supported agriculture” or CSA model – that I saw as the most innovative, and that I hoped would grow to be a major means of support for the long term viability and sustainability of this music ministry. I thought about it a great deal, blogged about it quite a bit (here’s a series of blog posts, if you’re curious), worked hard to envision an economic structure that could be coherent with my faith and my values and the way I understand my music ministry to function.  Much to my surprise, I found this thinking/dreaming/analyzing/strategizing to be an energizing creative outlet in itself!

These were the days before Facebook… days when it took a lot of time and energy to explain to most people what “community supported agriculture” was, much less to try to describe what I had in mind by adapting this model to a form of “community supported music.” After working on this idea for a few years, I officially launched my “CSM,” invited people to join, and made my first “delivery of songs” in October 2006. Since then I have made 19 “deliveries” of songs to the “members” of SmallTall Music – some 60 new, original songs over that time, including mp3 audio files, lyrics, chords, notation, thoughts and reflections and activity ideas for how the songs might be sung and used in different kinds of settings.

It has been – and continues to be – an interesting journey, to say the least! The concept of “community supported agriculture,” of course, has spread dramatically in the past number of years. Now, instead of launching into an extended explanation of the concept and philosophy behind my CSM, all I have to say is “it’s kind of like a CSA, except with music,” and most people get the basic idea right away. And the concept of “community supported music” (and art, and theatre, and fisheries, and restaurants, and so on), in various forms, has also caught on in a “poly-genesis” kind of way, with sites like making it easy to adopt elements of a “community supported” approach for all kinds of different projects and initiatives. I think this is a good thing.

At the same time, as I evaluate my own “community supported music” initiative, I have been coming to the conclusion that it is not sustainable in its current form. So I’ve begun re-thinking it from top to bottom and from the inside out. I’ve decided to put this CSM membership system “on hold” for a while, during this re-thinking process, which I expect will likely last a year or so. I expect to be posting further thoughts on this as time goes on.

Remember – the CSM is one aspect (in terms of the “business model,” it is one of the 5 “revenue streams”) of SmallTall Music. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the whole picture. So I want to be clear – SmallTall Music is not “going away” – this music ministry continues to be very active, with a busy performance schedule and a number of exciting new projects on the horizon (I’ll try to keep you posted). The work of “building up the body of Christ by creating and sharing songs of faith for small and tall” goes on. It is a delight and a blessing to hear how this is happening, as these songs are “finding a home” in families and communities in many different places.  I am deeply grateful for this vocation, and for the encouragement and support expressed by so many people in so many ways.

And I am looking forward to discerning and taking the next steps for “community supported music” as we sing our way into the future…