For Young Musicians, Shows May not Pay, but Soundtracking That Chuck Close Promo Will
At Aaron Thompson's level, there's not too much money to be made in making music—the D.C. ambient folkie knows this, and sees his career as in an embryonic stage. But he's taking a forked approached to getting his songs out there. You won't just hear his music on his recent Sockets Records EP or on his Bandcamp page; you'll hear it in a recent video from the Corcoran Gallery of Art pimping its current Chuck Close exhibition.
Consider it a ground-level, and perhaps more artistically satisfying, version of the song licensing that for many indie rockers makes the profession sustainable: Thompson, for example, has lent his music to promo videos for cultural institutions in the area like the Corcoran and the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities. His song "Vals" also appeared in a CNN piece. He's been paid nothing for work like this, and as much as $200. One in-the-works project may pay $500, he says. The more work like this he does, the easier it becomes to do more.
"It pays better so far than playing shows," he says (true that). "I think ultimately I’d like to do both, work with film and TV and also go on tour."
In terms of his interests and his set-up, he's got an advantage: "I guess I have a lot of music that’s instrumental," he says. "I’m pretty fascinating with taking sound and textures and putting them together and coming up with some kind of musical arrangement—so I have a lot of work that’s quite different." He also home-records, so he can produce a wide variety of music, and would have no trouble taking commissions in the future.
I asked him if other young indie-rock musicians in D.C. do similar licensing or for-hire work. He couldn't think of any, suggesting that most young bands only make music in the studio when they're working toward a release. (On the other hand, a few months ago Devin Ocampo of Medications told me that he's been making less money lately through his home studio, since more bands are home-recording.)
As far as Thompson's noninstrumental music goes, he's working on an album right now, and shooting for a late-summer release on Sockets Records. And he's also discovered the side-benefits of licensing: He got to meet Chuck Close at a press preview, and even makes a cameo in the video.