[Announcement] Interview Archive Re-Releases & New Gift Model

Welcome to the second year of Endarkenment!

In this issue I have some good news about changes I've made for the newsletter, along with some "thinking aloud" from behind the scenes.

Short version: I've decided to re-release all the first-year interviews by opening them to the public. I'll release the Desiderii Marginis, Northumbria, Hypnagoga Press, and Ulf Söderberg interviews one by one, with dates yet to be determined. I'll also do so unconditionally - in other words, as a gift to the community.

Read on for a bit of the reasoning behind this decision.

(N.B.: If you're not interested in backstage process stuff, you can stop here and save your attention for the Cryo Chamber interview, which releases this Friday.)

In thinking about re-releasing the archived interviews, I asked myself: OK, if I'm no longer going to charge for access to the interviews and distribute a portion of the subscription funds to the artists, then what exactly is my business model for the newsletter, and how can I ensure that it's sustainably funded and community-driven? I'm in this for the long term, after all, and I don't want to risk burnout. Am I selling a product or service? Am I requesting donations, tips, or patronage? Or something else entirely?

I concluded that it's all of the above. That's why it took me awhile to clarify my plans for the second year of the newsletter. I sifted through my motivations with a fine-toothed comb, and considered the ways modern music distribution factors into my long-term goals.

I started with attention.

My biggest challenge as a music writer is attention overwhelm. The information firehose is not going to slow down; in fact it's only increasing. In this climate of endless distraction, it's tough to maintain the focus necessary to do the deep work this newsletter asks of me. When I notice that I'm spending the bulk of my time on research, social media, and organizing, and yet I have several unfinished pieces of writing waiting for me to free up enough cognitive resources to give them my full attention, it starts to feel ominous. (And not in that good-ominous way that dark ambient listeners love so much.) It crowds out time for deep listening, which is a prerequisite for deep writing.

The problem is thrown into sharp relief for me because I wasn't primed for this kind of music discovery. I've had to develop a whole new set of skills. My music-finding habits were developed in a world where one had to exert considerable effort to find the kind of obscure music I yearned to hear, because it was so scarce. Now I face the opposite condition: abundance. Non-scarcity. There's so much amazing music released that I can't even give a cursory listen to half of what I'd like to hear, let alone become deeply engaged with it over time. My limited attention forces me to be even more selective with decisions about writing: out of every 50 artists or so who have released work that I enjoy, I'll probably only be able to write about two or three of them to the depth I'd like. And that's only if other factors in my life cooperate, such as my health.

Thus, if I don't write about a particular artist or album, it's not necessarily a reflection of my appreciation or lack thereof. There are thousands upon thousands of releases I appreciate greatly, but will never write about due to insufficient bandwidth. That does not diminish my enjoyment of them.

Let me be clear: this musical abundance is a good problem to have. I much prefer this world of music discovery over the world of the 1990s that required me to figure out how to get connected up with the right people, send cash internationally, and wait weeks or months for a dark ambient CD to arrive in the mail. Yet this era carries its own set of challenges, and the most daunting of them is attention fatigue. It's a problem for almost all of us these days, but for music writers it's further compounded by the deluge of promos, review and feedback requests, etc., which increases the risk of burnout.

Next, I considered the time and funds I invest in publishing a digital newsletter. I noted that the bulk of the expenses and time investment happen up-front. Once I've uploaded an issue, the vast majority of the work for that issue is done. After that, my expenses remain largely the same whether one person or a million people read it.

This presents me with a dilemma. On one hand, keeping the interviews behind paywalls is counterproductive with respect to my goal of helping more people discover, listen to, and learn to appreciate good dark ambient music. On the other hand, charging directly for the work is aligned with my solidarity-based goals of helping the "invisible" creative labor of artists and musicians to be made more visible and properly remunerated. I charge standard professional rates elsewhere for my editorial, copywriting, and proofreading services, after all, and the tax authorities consider this newsletter publishing venture a business. Subscription models for digital content are proliferating for good reason: because of the growing awareness that without sufficient funding, even the best publications will eventually go under and cease to exist. Some of them already have.

So what to do?

I quickly ruled out fund-raising drives. I'd prefer to just make all the work available, let people take their time to read at leisure, and give them room to decide where it fits on their priority list. I'd also prefer that those who support this work do so out of appreciation and a desire to read more of it, rather than guilt or obligation.

Plus, at the end of the day I don't care much about "reach." I mean, I care enough that I want the work to reach those who are interested, but not enough to give up sizable chunks of my limited writing time to devote myself to publicity work. This isn't meant as a dig at marketing or publicity folks, as I appreciate what they do. I'm simply thinking through the factors that influence my decisions. If it comes down to writing versus publicity and marketing, I'll pick writing every single time.

And as much as I love it when musicians gain new fans and fans discover new music through my writings, ultimately it isn't even for the sake of the musicians or the listeners that I write for the newsletter. I do it because I enjoy the process itself. I find music appreciation - and writing about it - valuable for its own sake. It brings out the best in me, and I'd like to think it works that way for the musicians I write about too.

Is that a "selfish" reason? A cynical reader, including the annoying one that lives in my head, could frame it that way. Yet I don't consider pursuing one's art or craft to be selfish. Art is a way of tapping into a community's gifts. The creative process enables artists to participate more fully in the flow of gifts within a community.

Now, there's nothing wrong with charging fairly for creative work in the standard ways. The fact that many artists must charge because so many of us are "starving" points to larger issues of structural injustice that need to be addressed. To paraphrase a saying that often makes the rounds among writers: "It's expensive to make the work free." I don't want to undermine my solidarity with other writers and artists.

Yet at the same time, the source of art's true value - what makes it worth paying for - comes from the realm of the gift. I see no way for artists to escape this paradox. Digital distribution of art offers endless opportunities to critically examine this double bind, especially when making decisions about the intersection of art labor and business.

Can I publish Endarkenment sustainably by releasing everything publicly and placing trust in a long-term community gift-flow model? Maybe. Maybe not. Time will tell. If not, then I'll try something else.

So for the second year I've settled on a gift model, or some hybrid approximation of it. The newsletter can be considered a product and a service, and its up-front production costs are subsidized by patrons and my day job as an editor. So as long as I'm in the fortunate position to do so, I want to gift this work to the dark ambient community, with the option for readers to support the work (or stop supporting it, guilt-free) at any time.

Either way, the interviews will be released publicly because attention, like all gifts, seems to work best when it's given freely.

I'll honor your attention and support by publishing the best work I can offer at a sustainable pace, and by keeping you informed if I'm unable to do so consistently. I will not simply stop publishing the newsletter for months on end, leaving you to wonder what happened.

All that said, if you enjoy Endarkenment you can always express appreciation and help boost its reach (whether you're a paid subscriber or not) by clicking the little grey heart on each issue. It's rather faint, so it's easy to miss it. Look for it at the top and bottom of the copy archived on the website, and on the top and bottom of each email. Heart-reacts improve the newsletter's search rankings, and since more readers find it through Google searches than any other source, each one is helpful. The reactions also let the musicians know their fans are reading, which they appreciate.

Thanks for reading and listening. Drone on, and enjoy!

~ Danica Swanson
Editor, Publisher, and CEO (Creative Endarkenment Overseer)


Image credit: graphic art by Pär Boström (text layer by Danica)