One of the big recurring topics of the RPG community has recurred yet again. Commercialism. Are hobbyist publishers getting too commercial? Should they be asking money for their products? Is their interest in producing a salable product dampening their creative process?
I think I'm finally ready to write the post I've always been tempted to write whenever this topic rises up to slay us. I'm going to write about noise. And the Sims. But maybe I'll just do noise in this post and save the Sims for later.
"Noise" is experimental music. That is, it's musical composition or performance that emphasizes sound and occasionally rhythm over melody or harmony. The noise community resembles the RPG community in many ways, with many factions, personality clashes, snobbish dismissal of people who perform the "wrong kind of noise", and so on. You've got your harshnoise people, your power electronics people, your circuit benders; you've got drone, percussive noise, free jazz, musique concrete; you've got people who look down on "laptop noise", you've the ambient electronic and lowercase people who get excluded by the harsher-than-thou crowd, and you've got the snooty atonal people who look down on everyone else and would simply spit if you referred to their stuff as "noise".
I'm not as active in the noise community as I used to be, but I could tell a few tales. But what I want to talk about are noise recordings. A lot of projects and performers release their stuff, mostly on tape and CD, but there's also noise on vinyl and DVD. There are comp CDs, for example the comp CD released every year for the Norcal Noisefest, a big festival I participated in for many years. There are a couple "noise labels" with pretty decent production values; for example, a couple guys I know started one that focused on harshnoise. But a lot of noise gets released on tape or CDR with homemade production values.
Why? For trade. A lot of noise people trade their homemade release for some other guy's homemade release. It's not like anyone thinks they will make a lot of money. Hell, if they were in it for the money, they wouldn't be doing noise. They do noise because they like interesting sounds and they like hanging out at shows with other noise people, and they sell tapes mostly for gas money and to support their noise habit. Hell, for several years, I performed at the Norcal Noisefest, videotaped other performers, and created demos for their grant applications mainly because it got me into the show for free. It's not like I was wildly popular.
My point here: a lot of the money that changes hands in garage "industries" like the noise scene or the RPG scene is not really *profit* and certainly doesn't count as commercialism. A lot of one-person companies operate at a loss, if you were to actually include the value of the owner's labor. They're doing it to support their habit. They like being a part of the scene. People who complain about self-publishing -- in noise or in RPGs -- are basically saying they don't want there to be a scene. They want the hobby to be restricted to tiny, isolated groups with limited interaction.
And people wonder why the hobby is dying.