Why Do Anything: Touring as an Independent Musician

Summer Krinsky
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readDec 30, 2023

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photo by Toko Shiiki

Hidden along the stretch of endless cornfields between Des Moines and Denver there is a truck stop with an adjoining Indian restaurant called Jay Bros. While outward appearances might spark fears of imminent food poisoning, a culinary treasure resides inside. Pilot gas stations often allow weary travelers to park and sleep overnight. The severity of a natural disaster can be gauged by the availability of menu items at a Waffle House, an index coined by FEMA due to the fast food chain’s record for disaster preparedness. I’ve collected these tips and many more like souvenirs of eponymous keychains. As a musician, touring to play shows is a constant risk with no guarantee of monetary reward, clout, or validation. Despite these obstacles, the road is a whirlwind of experiences that serve as a pathway toward getting more deeply in touch with my own intuition. I am a census worker, an anthropologist of oddity, taking the temperature of each city and checking its vital signs. While traveling, I have been cornered by an alien enthusiast showing his abduction sores, woken up to gunshots in the desert, driven through a whiteout blizzard in the mountains, and slept at an undeniably haunted mansion. Gathering stories like bizarro-world girl scout badges, but instead of cookies I peddle t-shirts and vinyl records. Merchandise is a tank of gas, a coffee in the morning, a vote cast for continuing down this strange uncertain path. Every ounce of rationality will say quit, but rationality is relative. Most of the world measures in grams, but this is America– we measure in pounds.

The music business is an industry gutted by greed. Unchecked monopolies are at the root of a phenomenon which is playing out on a much wider scale in this country; the middle class is being destroyed. As any Ticketmaster user knows, fans shoulder the ultimate cost. In terms of artistry, these undesirable outcomes of corporate consolidation come at an incalculable price. It doesn’t take a PHD in music theory to notice that everything has started to sound the same. An analysis of the Billboard Hot 100 during the late 1980’s shows that the top ten writers of the era composed 18% of the top songs.1 This statistic has steadily increased over the decades. In 2017, the top ten composers wrote 40% of all top songs. Simply put, a shrinking number of writers are generating a significantly higher proportion of the total body of songs anointed as “hits.” Technological advances have democratized access to recording gear so that there is more music recorded now than ever before. However, the hyper consolidation of “success” means increased wins for a select few and less opportunity for others. This results in the creation of a tiny, privileged group of extremely prosperous music writers alongside an ever-declining middle class. The style guide which emerges from this elite minority is a fractal, reflected throughout the algorithmic tastebuds of the iHeartRadio megacorp and into the ears of the masses. Following this trend to its inevitable conclusion, humankind loses the distribution of risk-taking music.

Chugging across state lines in a big tall van is the crucible in which I conjure an alternative path, while quite literally singing to a different tune. A unique culture emerges in this house on wheels. The backseat is a bedroom, green room, and once, when stuck in heavy traffic on a bridge, a bathroom. I’ve met groups who even invented a tour-based economy. A barter system in which “bandcoin” is earned by doing an undesirable task like unloading the van or driving a longhaul. This imaginary token can be exchanged for getting the preferred sleep spot or an extra drink ticket at a show. My bandmate concocted a touring religion based on a parable he titled, “the muck and the goo.” This tao teaches that the “muck” is a natural force within the universe with a magnetism that pulls toward staying at home. The muck can emerge in myriad forms: turmoil in a romantic relationship, a day job not approving a time-off request, or sometimes, just genuinely getting the van trapped in mud. Whatever form it takes, in whichever emotional or physical way it manifests, the muck will come to test every artist time and time again. The only way to get escape velocity from the muck is to remember that persisting through adversity is a precursor to the emergence of “goo.” When the goo comes, everyone, including the audience, will know it. The goo is a flow state, a bending of time, an onslaught of inspiration and excitement. It encapsulates a feeling of being exactly in the right place, at the right moment, doing the right thing. The goo once struck at a house show in Omaha, a night that concluded with attendees piling into an above ground pool until the morning sun peeked over the horizon. Six years later, a fan reminisced to me about how meaningful that gig was, showing off a proudly worn handmade shirt from my band’s first sloppy screen print. The goo also appeared when I played to a crowd of 500 kids at an unaware parent’s mansion that overlooked the ocean in San Diego. A mosh-pit dust storm formed, which broke the sprinkler system and turned the backyard into a chaotic scene out of the movie “Project X.” The goo is an aggregate, a surreal stream of adventures: a performance on Adult Swim, a shared bill with a musical hero, a trip to Croatia to write an EP with an online friend.

Touring causes a time dilation effect that truly feels like a bubble is warping over the fabric of existence. When covering thousands of miles of disparate terrain in a very short period, the observer’s relationship to time begins to break down. My personal vocabulary can only describe this feeling as, “pretty wiggly.” From the rocky mountains to the salt flats, the world is packed with characters. Each day is a random sampling from a Lynchian cast. Morning begins with walking into an empty gas station, observing a seemingly possessed ice machine. It actively spits cubes all over the ground while a lone employee buffs the floor, ignoring the infinite avalanche. Pulling over at a rest stop near an old nuclear testing site, a swarm of deformed cricket-like-but-not-quite creatures appear in the bathroom. After the show, a gargantuan gentleman named Garyl approaches the van, he moves like a squiggly line and talks about his love of meth. Garyl will be right back with some to share in a few minutes. Despite his generosity, it seems like a better idea to flee the moment his back is turned. That night ends by discovering a serene campsite at a Federal Reserve fishing pond. On the next day, a man in a Santa outfit steals a cellphone at a show in Tucson. The inexplicable becomes everyday, a bewildering imprint stamped straight to the psyche.

The most important feature of the goo is being in touch with my own gut. That rare innate knowing, an internal slippery trickster who leaves a clue of where to investigate further. Going on tour is by no means the only way to induce this state of being. Intuition is heightened in tandem with experiencing novelty, which could mean learning of any kind. This form of insight can be enhanced by simply overcoming the societal friction that keeps full-grown adults from trying something new. Intuition is involved in every great piece of art, innovative technology and important scientific theory. One excellent way to experience this exalted state is exposure to unusual music. Ground-breaking compositions like Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” have historically been a means to stir the masses, even inciting riots with dissonant sounds. This is the turbulence of an object leaving its place of rest, the loss of comfort, monotony’s resistance to change. Ever felt stuck in a loop? Detached from frantic fingertips, as they tap dance routines marked by skin oils on a phone screen?

I will be touring through most of America this next year with my band, Summer Like The Season. In the words of the Talking Heads, “you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” My songs are atypical. Bandcamp’s New & Notable described the album as art pop bursting with sound, “as colorful and surreal as a Dali painting.” The reaction each individual will have is a Schrödinger’s cat stored in their gut. My guarantee is this: through the stochastic nature of experiencing something unfamiliar, the greatest risk and reward is knowing oneself a little bit deeper.

Notes

  1. Andrew Thompson & Matt Daniels, “The Musical Diversity Of Pop Songs,” The Pudding, last modified May, 2018, https://pudding.cool/2018/05/similarity/.

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Summer Krinsky
Human Parts

Detroit-based composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, audio engineer, creative coder & multimedia installation artist: https://linktr.ee/summerliketheseason