With my short history on 50thirdand3rd erased in our recent move, I’m going to begin with an introduction to what I’m most concerned with in regard to music. My life has been intertwined with, enhanced and sustained by a love of music; it’s something I sincerely delight in as a fan, promoter and performer. The technological landscape surrounding art and music is continuing to shift rapidly, and if we don’t start paying attention to the instability we could lose, or seriously stifle, these vital channels of progress, joy and enlightenment in our civilization.
Like music, the internet is a subversive force, with ramifications we still don’t fully understand. It has brought a leveling, or equalizing force to inter-human communication, while exacerbating problems of corporate control and influence. Music and other art forms, once seen as viable, yet risky career paths, are fundamentally free for the taking now, essentially killing expression as a livelihood. This apparent move toward reducing any true artistic critique of society to hobby status is an obvious danger.
Strangely, while the entire history of music is available to any monkey with a search engine, the Top 100 is still dominated by watery, corporate banality. Apparently, people have been trained to believe the best music is whatever they’re hearing subconsciously through tv commercials, hosted competition tv shows, programmed radio and a whole host of other big business ballyhoo. There seems to be an unwillingness, even a disinterest, in challenging the boundaries laid out by media giants. Real music, music with genuine passion, something to explore and say, rarely reaches a mainstream audience anymore and when it does, it’s probably not current and won’t be paid for.
As often as I hear it, the assertion that today’s artists aren’t making quality music, like those in the past, is absurd. An internet browser and 15 minutes on Bandcamp, or a host of other music sites, will open your eyes to a broad new universe of mind-blowing sounds in any genre you could imagine. Never before has there been so much great new music available to so many so readily. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive. To be among the people who still witness performances by many of the greatest musical artists who have ever lived, communicating directly with artists on the rise, or simply hearing dozens of live versions of your favorite song…this is truly a wondrous moment in history.
It’s obvious to me that our problem is not that there aren’t great artists producing awesome music. As I see it, we are not supporting them in ways which allow them to grow and concentrate their efforts on their craft. The fact is, we’re undermining them with a seriously distorted view of what deserves monetary compensation. There are differences between super stardom and being paid for your craft.
Why the revulsion toward rewarding people who can haven’t succumbed to the notion that this situation (reality, life, existence) we find ourselves in is normal, those who can expose the wrongs we unknowingly commit or stir the flames of numerous passions within us? Why have I, an artist myself, defended this insane, unfair prejudice against making a living through this calling? In truth, I believe we are conditioned to think this way. These are the reactionary values of an insane society, accepted as truth by almost everyone. It’s exactly the type of thing artists should be exploring, exposing, yet pointing out the absurdities of corporatism excludes most artists from a spot at the table.
The old label system and the new ‘web-giant-middleman-taking-his-cut-or-giving-it-away’ system are of like mind when it comes to artists…screw ’em. There are others raking in piles of cash, even off of no name bands. They make their money in the form of hardware sales (computers, phones, music players), access (ISP, pay-per-play and streaming service providers, mark-up resellers), cloud storage, and through ad revenues brought to their sites by presenting artists materials. The fans, aficionados and enthusiasts have joined in merrily, opting to share and download complete catalogs of artist data instead of paying. A life’s work for the price of a computer and an internet connection, zero dollars going to the creator of the music.
The radical format fluctuations, from LP’s to CD’s to MP3’s, since the 1960’s have all worked toward simplifying the process of distribution and making outright theft a way of life. To be fair, there is evidence suggesting those who illegally download, and share frequently, actually purchase more music than others. These are incredibly mixed waters, with promotion, education, and theft riding the same wave. In truth, my intention isn’t so much to point blame, but an attempt to awaken all of us to the possible positive impact we could have on the future, of music, by voting with our money.
A rare few actually search out the fresh, new artists of the local and international underground. Even people whose lives revolve around music fall into line with the whims of more established indie labels. My hope is that everyone who reads this, and my coming posts, will remember what it’s like to discover a new artist for yourself. Remember, then guarantee others will have the same chance by encouraging the bands you love. Go to their shows, buy their merchandise directly from them, pay for their ‘name your price’ downloads (get a credit card on file so it’s easy) and tell other people about them. It’s really all about going to local shows, helping bands, venues, bloggers, photographers, etc., succeed in building a local scene, supporting music that excites you, and creating the fertile ground needed to ensure inspiration for future artists. Your ears and your entire community are depending on you!