Double Shift

Jenny Toomey tries to figure out the future of music--for herself and everyone else

"As soon as I saw it and saw what it did, it was just this immediate response, where suddenly, I was like, 'Oh my goodness,'" Toomey says. "This technology has incredible power to break the logjam, to break off the bottleneck, the artificially constrained marketplace that keeps musicians away from fans. If you can make their music available directly, and if you can connect with your fans directly, you know, they wouldn't get to be Michael Jackson, but I don't know that most musicians want to be Michael Jackson. I think most musicians would be happy if they could pay a mortgage payment, have health insurance and maybe hear themselves on the radio every once in a while."

Toomey began working with Thomson to revise the Mechanic's Guide to reflect the changes of the digital age. In November 1999, they teamed up with Insound, an online retailer (www.insound.com) and clearinghouse for pretty much everything concerning independent music and bands, to create a new area on its Web site (The Machine) devoted to the Mechanic's Guide. As Toomey and Thomson began working on it, The Machine expanded to become a living, breathing version of the Guide, including interviews and essays about the current state of music and technology and how they intertwine, as well as a message board to ask and answer questions. But the more they became involved in The Machine, the more they realized it wasn't enough.

After writing an editorial for the Post on the potential of music and technology, Toomey assembled a board of directors for the Future of Music Coalition. The members included Thomson; Michael Bracy, executive director of the Low Power Radio Coalition; intellectual property lawyer Walter F. McDonough; digital music entrepreneur Brian Zisk; and Peter DiCola, a graduate student seeking a law degree and a doctorate in economics. Together, they wrote and published the Future of Music Manifesto, which stated, in part: "We build this organization as an attempt both to address pressing music-technology issues and to serve as a voice for musicians in Washington, D.C., where critical decisions are being made regarding musicians' intellectual property rights without a word from the artists themselves." The Future of Music Coalition was formed not just so musicians would have a voice, but so they'd learn how to use it as well. Mainly, so people would realize that, with the Internet's capabilities, "it's very hard to do things that were done illegally and privately, privately anymore," as Toomey says.

Meet Jenny Toomey, activist, and Jenny Toomey, musician. Somewhere in there is Jenny Toomey, person.
Meet Jenny Toomey, activist, and Jenny Toomey, musician. Somewhere in there is Jenny Toomey, person.

What kind of illegal and private things is she talking about? "Two and a half years ago, the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] snuck some language into a bill that almost took away the copyrights of all artists that go through major label deals," Toomey explains. "And it took almost six weeks for anyone to identify that it happened, right? Last week, the RIAA tried to slip some legislation into an anti-terrorism bill, this bill that's just being passed through the House right now, that would allow them to go onto your computers and destroy any illegally copied files. And what's great is, in less than a week, maybe four days since this thing happened, it's all over the Web."

That doesn't even get into major label record deals, which she says "are terrible because the only people that ever see them are the lawyer who has an investment in getting 15 percent of whatever your big advance is, the artist who is scared to sign and is just putting their faith in the hands of their lawyer and the companies who want you to sign the bad contracts." Given that, perhaps you would expect the 16 songs on Antidote to sound like manifestos, to be little more than the audiotape version of Toomey's speaking engagements. But there is no raging against the machine on Antidote, split into two discs, Chicago and Nashville, to reflect where each set of songs was recorded. At least not the machine you would imagine.

"I don't think it's particularly apolitical to write the songs I wrote," Toomey says, referencing All About Love: New Visions, writer Bell Hooks' feminist and political exploration of notions of love. "I mean, they're very extreme songs. I was on an NPR interview show, and she's like, 'God, that song's despondent. What is that about?' And of course, when she gets off the phone with me, she's going to interview this woman whose husband's body was found in the rubble of the [World Trade Center] tower. He decided he wanted to go down and take photos of it and got buried. And they found his photos after he was dead, and they published them in Newsweek. So she's interviewing this woman, and she's asking me why my songs are despondent." She laughs, thinking about the ridiculousness of the situation.

"All I could say was, 'You recognize that emotion, right? You've felt that, right?' What I'm doing is distilling that feeling into music," Toomey continues. "I think it's important for women to be able to say those kinds of things, too. 'Patsy Cline,' I think, is a really good song, because it really unmasks the privacy of a private relationship, but I think, in a sort of neutral way. I think it's a critique of the roles, the roles that you play in desire. 'Breezewood' starts with a whole critique of media culture, the whole idea of someone paging through a fashion magazine and reading advice to young girls on how to get a man, and the way that you get 'im is by not telling him that you want him. It's not hitting-you-on-the-head feminism, but I'm getting a lot of response from smart women who see it in there."

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