A film producer was waxing nostalgic earlier today about how good the music of the 70s was and wondering why the music of today is so horrendous. I have already shared here in past posts that while I wholeheartedly agree with this notion I also recognize that there is some incredible music and musical innovation happening at the moment. It’s an exciting time creatively for music. But with a few caveats:
— It’s just not mainstream.
— It’s no longer about music in the traditional sense as in playing an instrument; the computer has turned into a musical instrument.
— It’s no longer about songs and songwriting as much as about SOUND i.e. What does it “sound like” forget the song or lack thereof underneath.
— It’s no longer limited to a field of a few savants but rather it’s become a very wide open playing field where every and anyone can throw in with their momentary contribution.
— Having “talent”, i.e. being able to sing or play an instrument or perform live is no longer a necessary requirement.
I was ruminating about the same exact thing yesterday. Here’s the thing: the 90s was so filled with kack (garbage) that it DID jade us to what followed, even though some of it was still very good.
Bare in mind the PEAK of the $$$ revenue generation in the history of the music biz was ’98, when the formula was “release ten diff copies/replicas of whatever happens to be hot at the moment” and avoid originality because it’s “dangerous” (may lose money) — (this started in the 80s w the “first wave of consolidation” (of the labels); the revenue has fallen precipitously since, to where we now have an industry that can no longer sustain itself due to no customer demand for the product (more than just one factor, for sure, but yes one can easily blame part of it on the industry’s “churn and burn” practice of releasing crap over artistry jading and turning off the consumer).
Certainly the trend to entice the audience with manufactured pseudo-music ala “DJs” churning out generic computer generated tones over hypnotic dance beats in lieu of real musicians because it was much more profitable also contributed to the wretched state we are in as well. We addressed this menacing trend in Ed Hale and the Transcendence on our NOTHING IS COHESIVE album with the song “Somebody kill the DJ” — whose lyrics if one listens carefully are literally both a lamenting of the loss of traditional music making AND a rallying cry to kill DJs if one has the chance just to save music. Perhaps it was tongue in cheek hyperbole to a certain degree. Perhaps it wasn’t. But regardless it’s way past that now.
BUT, though it was easy to miss, the 2000s DID actually produce some of the best artists albums and songs of all time still (think Rufus Wainwright, Aimee Mann, Phoenix, Strokes, Coldplay, Muse, Jet, Travis, Aqualung, Radiohead, Sigur Ross, etc etc there are hundreds more…). Problem is: “career artistry” is no longer a practice we can afford, i.e. paying for an artist to have a career both with hits and/or no hits. Combine that — the inability to afford career artists financially — w the “anyone can claim to be an artist due to technological advances” trend and we land right where we are today.
Now we are in unchartered waters… all of us, fans and artists alike, adrift in a wicked system where there are no gatekeepers, tastemakers, mentors or arbiters; the trend is “anyone and everyone gets a shot, about 10% of all who try will get 1 hit, 1% may get 2, and 1/10th of 1% may be able to eek a living from it”. But just how one does that is completely different than in times past because all of the traditional revenue streams have dried up. The business still chugs along but broken bankrupt and rudderless because the old rules no longer apply and new rules are constantly forming and re-morphing as Silicon Valley and Wall Street continue to take more and more control over the business side of things. Geniuses they may be — but with no heart and having been bred on coding hacking and the quick creation and abandonment of disposal commodities for profit and fame (websites, apps, software, devices, hardware, etc.) they have reduced music to a perceptually valueless commodity. Now an entire generation — several in fact — have been indoctrinated to fall for that preposterous notion, e.g. music has no value, just like last week’s “app of the week”.
What used to be intangible and transcendent, art heart passion balls love the mind God survival AND entertainment–with $$$ as a side benefit– is now a barely breathing industry that breeds one hit wonders galore through this “replicate what is happening NOW and for Gods sake do NOT innovate for fear of striking out on your ONE chance at bat”, but no “career artists”. Career artists is a term coined in the early 70s that referred to “artists who might not make us very much money NOW but are still very important artistically and therefore might make us money LATER, once the people catch up with them”. We used the money generated from one hit wonders to pay for the careers of career artists. Hence we’d allow Dylan to do a country album or Hendrix to do a 20 minute instrumental jam song or Pink Floyd to record a whole album as one 60 minute song about pigs and dogs or Lennon to release an album of him screaming at the top of his lungs for an hour or Joni to explore jazz fusion etc etc etc. We allowed it because we could afford it AND because it “might” hold artistic merit. Neil Young Lou Reed David Byrne Warren Zevon Led Zeppelin even Van Halen and a million others were born from this ideal…let’s support them a while and see if the public eventually catches up.
The industry can no longer afford this in today’s age because there is no money to be had. And there are a million reasons for this — not just one or two. But making music still costs money as it always has. So WHO is making music now? In this environment? The best and brightest? The really talented? Or “anyone who can afford to”? Sadly the latter. The hardest aspect of the new music business to fathom is that the best and brightest may BE making music somewhere, MAYBE, IF they can even afford to…(big if), but we may never hear it or even hear about it because there’s no money being generated from it, not even enough to launch it out of the artists small local zone.
Very suckass, both for us as artists and for us as music lovers.
Will this change? Can it? Yes. The companies behind the artists simply need to 1, look for the cream NOT the hits, and 2, support those artists through their career in every manner, financially emotionally physically, with mental support and mentoring and lessons etc just as they used to. At least for a few years to see if anything will come out of it. The 70s was the PEAK of that methodology in our industry. Many people consider the 70s to be the BEST decade for music of all time. For a brief period, artists were allowed to record an album that yielded NO hit IF it had artistic merit or the potential to — JUST because it was “art” and that’s what art does. If it yielded a “hit” and made money, even better.
At some point in our future we the people, all of us, will become tired of the current trend of music as a commodity and nothing more and speak up demanding art from our music once again. And through that desire we will create a way to pay for it so that the best and brightest are able to be heard AND make a decent living. It’s only a matter of time.
We are already observing artists and their respective labels devise ingenious ways to generate money through music outside of the traditional means (consumers buying it or paying for it) whether it be U2 giving their album away for free via Apple (Apple paid for it) or Jay Z selling advertising and product placement embedded in his lyrics AND giving it away for free via AT&T or Coldplay having Target pay them or Taylor Swift having Diet Coke pay her etc etc. Of course we can’t all afford giant corporate sponsors and wouldn’t want to if we could. (Personally I could never get away with endorsing something as overtly poisonous as a diet soda — my fans wouldn’t permit me to). But the trend is definitely shifting towards “getting large companies to pay for our music making so the fans don’t have to, or better put don’t want to.” The future possibilities are seemingly endless.
In the meantime we all must realize that even today there really is some incredible music being made out there right this very minute by artists who are busy living and Dying Van Gogh. We just need to look harder for it. And more importantly PAY for it when we do on occasion find it. C
– Posted by The Ambassador using BlogPress on an iPhone 8s Custom