(Ok, so here’s a big, proper blog post. It’s certainly meandering, and I wrote it with a cat on me.)
There is something that has been on my mind lately. I’ve been thinking and thinking about the music industry, for about the last couple days, and three years.
But I think I should put the “industry” part in quotes, like this: music “industry”. Because in reality, as a supposed member of this supposed “industry”, after five years of touring, recording, writing, and working my ass off in literally a hundred unique ways and locations I haven’t seen a single vestige of an active industry.
There must certainly still be a music “industry” in existence. Artists like U2, Coldplay, and John Mayer are presumably making bank. But for artists that didn’t make it to the top before 2002 or so, it seems almost impossible to make an enormous name for yourself. The waves are rolling higher than ever, but the surfers that just arrived at the beach can’t make it over the wake. I can’t think of many post-2003 bands that have achieved legend-status, or even huge-status, or even my-parents-recognize-the-band-name status (OK, I can think of one or two *crap* pop acts that have arguably achieved that last one, but hold that thought).
This is because the mass media of the past is no more.
Here’s an example. I’ve been played on FM radio. My songs! On the radio! Every time it happened, I had a “That Thing You Do” moment. And every time, I didn’t hear a word from anyone about it, ever again. I’ve been written up in magazines! Real magazines! Glowing concert and album reviews! My picture in The Washington Post! How exciting! But, again, very little came of these seemingly big write-ups. My website hits on the day of the last example went up about ten more than average, as I recall.
There aren’t radio stations that everyone listens to at the same time (and the stations that DO exist play silly, bleeding-from-the-ears lameness, and must be some sort of elaborate joke). There aren’t T.V. shows that everyone watches every week at the same time (Oh wait, American Idol. OK, hold that thought). As the majority of the media in the information age becomes more spread over location and time, so with it goes the staggeringly large mass venues of the 20th century (which was, historically, the real anomaly).
But here’s the real problem with all this, at least in music. As some of the exceptions (American Idol, Sarah Bareilles, etc.) prove, there are still some gigantic mass-media outlets left. But I would argue that objectively GOOD music is no longer experiencing many big breaks. The elitist record companies of the 60s through 90s, as vile and bad-business-minded as they could be, at least allowed for the rare artist to pass through that had real VALUE. A&R people would seek out (which now seems like a crazy fantasy) talented, quality bands. There were scenes. There was taste and elitism that was allowed to reach a tipping point and experience explosions in popularity.
Now, in music, there is close to true and total democracy, especially among indie bands. But if there’s one thing that’s for sure, great art doesn’t have strength in numbers. Great art needs a certain amount of elitism to flourish in popular society! This becomes apparent, to varying degrees, when I get a band-recommendation link from someone. A YouTube video with a gajillion hits, and a cutesy, pseudo-emotional, indie band playing songs dis-genuinely.
BUT, I am convinced that something more beautiful will grow from the graves of the music “industry”. I predict a new musical renaissance, similar to the 60s, or the 90s. I predict music scenes and great art and even new, amazing things that have never happened before in the history of man! But, I might just be being overly positive. In any case, I will be happily making music and selling music for the rest of my life, so I’ll keep you updated.
Man, writing stuff takes freakin‘ FOREVER! I have to go to bed. I have a lot of things to say about this, though, so I’m going to talk your ears off about them eventually. The following music-industry-related subjects will be touched on:
- why I will always be a professional musician
- how technology through the history of civilization has created, and very recently destroyed, industries around information
- why objectively good art eventually shines
- why easily-available technology hasn’t affected and won’t significantly affect the ratio of great artists
- my humorous accounts of talking with music industry “bigwigs” (who are now powerless)
- my intelligent conversations with a music industry legend
- the future for artists and genuine art
- the tipping point and why people fall into distinct different categories of thought