Alaska Robotics

Dick Dale, the Future of Music

Tuesday, June 14th 2011 by Pat

Marian Call is a smart, geeky musician I met in Anchorage and she’s part of a pioneering crowd of independent artist/entrepreneurs who are developing quality, creator-owned content and imaginative, dynamic business models. They’re lashing together raw instinct and bold hope with fiber optic cables, running up colorful flags and setting sail.

Marian sent me some great articles by Jonathan Coulton and Amanda F. Palmer detailing their evolving careers. It’s nice to see these successes and it’s nice to know the same stories also exist outside music, that people are making a living from webcomics and even soap.

All this has happened before, all this will happen again.

The thing is, none of this is new. I think we all know that but it’s exciting to think we’re discovering new land. Yes, to some extent we are, but it’s full of the same poisonous plants, wild animals and punji pits as whatever we just left behind.

Wm. Spear Design is headquartered upstairs from our office and carries a world class collection of enamel pins. Bill got started designing his pins well before I had a dial-up connection and his business model is similar to any Etsy success story: Create something wonderful and sell it to people who love your brand of wonderful.

It’s nothing new, it’s small business, but even Bill has made adjustments over the years. He was an early adopter of technology in the form of an online catalog, he had me make a little QuickTime movie starring some of his pins, and he even developed a widget when those were the rage. He’s flexible and smart and willing to experiment, it keeps him afloat.

Getting back to music, Dick Dale is probably my favorite case study, he offers up some great advice here for aspiring musicians and not a word about the Internet but it might as well be coming from JoCo.

So who the hell is Dick Dale? He’s the king of the surf guitar, probably best known for his song, “Miserlou,” featured in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction.” He melts through guitar picks and is still kicking ass in his seventies. [Edit – The Ed Sullivan clip I previously embedded got pulled, so here’s something more recent as an example of his work.]

Unfortunate Elephants

The Internet is changing the world! As hopeful artists like myself delight and established businesses struggle to cope and we all flail around trying to understand what direction we’re heading, Barry Dallman points to the elephant sitting politely in the corner, “The reality in the music business now is the same as it’s always been – that most people don’t have successful careers in music because they’re not good enough.”

Amanda Palmer hits on another problem, artists asking for money, “People don’t like it.” Historically there’s been a layer of protection between artists and their income, the label or the manager take care of that part. People don’t like an artist looking for a handout, it tarnishes the experience. It’s uncomfortable, like a smelly hobo asking for change.

Palmer provides the solution in a very straightforward, A.F.P. way, “It’s time to destroy the myth that artists shouldn’t ask for money.”

Me Me Me Me and Meeeee!

So what does this all mean for me? I don’t really know, I’m working through it. I think it’s a little different for aimless filmmaker/cartoonist types than for musicians.

Aaron, Lou and I already tried firing all our clients and making a go of Alaska Robotics full-time but it didn’t last long.

If we were a band, we would have been the guys who had no bookings before we jumped in the van to tour. We had trouble meeting self-imposed deadlines. We had trouble producing work on a regular basis. We had trouble finding food. We had trouble building an audience. We had fun.

Lately we’ve been doing a lot of work-for-hire, still very independent and still succeeding as a business, but not doing exactly what I want as frequently as I want. This is where a little voice jumps in (I suspect it’s my mother) and she tells me that it’s selfish to expect to be able to do what I want all the time and get paid for it.

Yeah. OK. I can understand the sentiment but I’m pursuing a calling that isn’t hurting people and fits neatly into a social context. I’ve always been encouraged to follow my dreams by people I love and trust and even if there’s a little voice (maybe it’s not my mother) trying to convince me my pursuits are selfish or vain or futile, I’m here, typing, drawing, dancing, and doing whatever needs to be done to get there.

That brings me around to the final little piece of the puzzle.


This is a note for me. If you’ve read this far through my meandering, metaphor-laden post, you won’t have any trouble with perseverance.

Keep going. You can learn talent. You can learn business. It’s ok if you can’t build your boat while you’re underway. It’s ok to pull over and regroup after a storm.

Patch the holes, mend the sails and get back in the water.

One Response to “Dick Dale, the Future of Music”

  1. Pops. says:

    It.s not only OK it is maintainability that floats the BOAT.