We all know the bad news. The music business is in a shambles, record labels are folding, no one is getting signed anymore, those who are getting signed are getting shelved. Music is dying.
Or is it?
These past 2 weeks we’ve seen a phenomenon in the dubious success of Rebecca Black. And while no one is saying that this is soul-baring, life-changing, awe-inspiring art, what we can say is it has been, by a certain definition: Successful.
Without a label. Without management or A&R. For $2,000, her parents got a song and a video and a world of abuse for their little girl, but reports tell us they’re also raking in the cash to the tune of $27,000 a week in downloads and YouTube views.
Which they’d better be banking for the therapy that child’s going to need in the wake of so much public hatred. But despite all that, it begs the question- Is THIS what our society wants from its musicians? Does it no longer want to empathize, conspire and be challenged by its art, or is it instead satisfied- even delighted to - merely mock?
Are we a world of people who would rather pay to see someone else’s humiliation, what we perceive as another’s failure, than evocative art? Are we more comfortable sneering at those we see as “worse” than us, than finding, in thought-provoking music, our common humanity? If so, the joke’s on us, as we shell out .99 a download to bankroll our outwardly erstwhile, inwardly smug, clowns, and grow increasingly brain-numb as a consequence. Many of these singers admit that they have marginal ‘talent’ anyway; they simply traded on their willingness to look a little foolish, and in that sense, they’ve bested both their patrons and their peers, who’ve been grinding along making music on shoestrings for years, to never see in a lifetime the kind of revenue these novelty acts bring in monthly.
So where does that leave the lyrical poet, the plaintiff musician, the angry rock anarchist? Well, here’s the kicker- probably in a better place than we’d imagine. Because not every music fan is heading to the circus.
What thinking audiophiles are discovering is that although, in the advent of mp3’s, ProTools, MySpace and the like, it became easier than ever for independent artists to get their work ‘out’ … some of it should have stayed in.
Merely being ‘indie’ is not a stamp of nobility, and just because someone’s bought Logic doesn’t mean they should fire up their Shure microphone and start crooning. If the 2000’s were the decade of Do-it-Yourself, the 2010’s are the era of Do-it-With-People-Who-Will-Tell-You-If-It-Sucks.
Nearly anyone can make a hit-of-the-moment. It takes an artist to make an enduring classic. And it isn’t always rewarded in the present. Ask Van Gogh or Poe.
The overwhelming wave of music being unleashed made it nearly impossible to be heard above the noise. Music enthusiasts barely knew where to start to find quality music that they’d enjoy. But as the hobbyist and dilettante realizes that the music business ISN’T a get-rich quick proposition, and more importantly, as the “anyone can do it” mentality dies down, the true artists will again rise to the surface and get the ears they deserve. And now, they’ve become more savvy, smarter, leaner, faster- they are educated, and they’ve hung on through tremendous pressures and adversities, and they’re ready to rock and work harder than any we’ve seen previously.
And I think we are starting to see that.
Music isn’t dying- it’s had to struggle to survive an upheaval of its industry of nearly Biblical proportions. Like all things that pass through the fire- they come out stronger. Burn off the impurities, and you’re left with pure gold. Remarkably, if we are willing to look and listen, we will see and hear music and artists get BETTER. It will take time…but the public and the industry will notice, and then…anything is possible!
Maybe I’m an optimist, but soon, we may just be able to make our living from our music after all.
Will we ever see the major label, here’s a million bucks, “I’m gonna make you a star, baby” days again? Probably not.
Will “bad” music still get funding? If it has mass appeal, you betcha.
Will it always be about “the bottom line?” In some camps, yes. Take your tent elsewhere.
Will tabloids continually try to sell us on an ‘overnight sensation story’? If you’re buyin’.
Will there always be Rebecca Blacks?
Does every week have a Friday, Friday, Friday…….?