Life In The New (Musical) Economy
I just landed in Seattle on what was an extraordinarily uneventful flight. Not that short plane flights need to be eventful, (after all, I don’t want the kind of excitement that could down a jumbo jet) but for some reason I always seem to board each flight with the insane delusion that I’ll meet someone interesting and I will develop a life long friendship, get married, blah blah. Of course it never happens. Yet, I always am eager to board that plane, eyeing my surroundings like a a curious pup. Now mind you, I’ve probably been on hundreds of plane flights. Of all lengths. The experience is always the same. I get on, I read something, listen to music, stare at the pretty flight attendant with the unnaturally white teeth and eventually fall asleep. Like a puppy, you’d think that i’d learn to not get so excited and expect anything more than jet lag and a crooked neck.
But I digress…
The first thing I did when I got to my hotel was go on Twitter to post something. Why? I have no idea. I figure that’s what the kids are doing nowadays, so I’d better snap to it. The truth is, I enjoy the idea of Twitter (from what I can understand) as well as most social networking platforms. The bummer about it is that everything seems to become so mediocre. It turns everyone into self-important movie stars. Okay, that’s going a bit far…but you get the point. I mean, who cares if “(insert Twitter name here): has a stomach ache and is so hungover from last night”. Does the world really listen that closely? I, for one, hope not.
I am just as guilty of publishing mediocrity as much as the next person. I tried to only publish information that may be useful to fans who are interested in the music that I make, but I realized that these days people want a lot more. They want intimacy. And in a strange round-about way, social networking platforms like Twitter allow a certain measure of that. It’s quite ironic. Your favorite band could be playing 1,000 miles away, but if you follow them on Twitter, you’re likely to get up to the second set-lists. It’s like you’re there! Umm..no, no it’s not.
I don’t mean to belittle. The benefits of these systems outweigh any criticism I have. I’m sure of it. Why else would it be so popular? I see a merging of the social network phenomenon and the music industry. Many people have seen this for years. Being that I am generally too wrapped up in playing my stupid guitar, I don’t catch on to things until a bit later. The future is in blogs. (both fortunately and unfortunately). There was a time when I scoffed at blogs. I considered even (what are now) the most highly respected music blogs to be rubbish. They all seemed like some nerdy record collectors evening hobby.
I stand here today to say that I was completely and utterly wrong. After all, it’s the big music blogs and online entertainment sites that are putting Rolling Stone out of business. Not to mention newspapers and other forms of traditional media. (who would have thought we’d have the term “Traditional Media”) Newspapers are closing in staggering numbers. Who reads newspapers anymore? I didn’t see one person on the plane with a newspaper. Isn’t it much easier (not to mention environmentally friendly) to download the Wall Street Journal on your iPhone or Blackberry?
The music industry I believe is suffering a similar fate. Distribution of product is completely becoming re-invented as we speak. That’s the problem. How to get people to pay for something they can just get for free online. It’s a towering problem with hundreds of unanswered questions. Do we fundamentally change the business? Does all recorded music become free and we jack up ticket prices for concerts? Do we refuse to make recordings until things settle down? Of course this is out of the question. Any real artist will make music regardless of weather it makes money or not. Even if no one hears it.
Personally, I don’t give a damn if people download my music and never pay for it. I guess it may hurt my feelings a little. But I don’t pretend that anyone gives a shit about my friggin’ feelings. No, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t earn a dime off of record sales anyways. Never really have. I suppose I would change my tune if my living was earned by record royalties. But as it stands, I am part of that new generation of artists that has to make a living on the road. The older, established artists are in a way beholden to the Giant Machine. (haha. GM) They need the radio, they need the big box stores, et cetera to make it all work out. Unfortunately for them, there’s just not that much pie left to go around. I appreciate it as much as the next small band when someone plays my record on air, but the reality of it is that it doesn’t necessarily mean record sales.
When all of this seems so dire, I take a breath and I realize that I’m not really in it for the money. These days, if you’re in the music business for the money, you’ll be sorely disappointed. I still live in a one-bedroom apartment. I am unmarried and nearing 29 years old. I have a wonderful collection of vinyl records and books of all sizes. I couldn’t be happier. There was a time when being a rock star was something special. A job that everyone knew paid extremely well and had lots of perks. These days, it’s about the same as being an office clerk. With no guarantee of a salary. Everyone is a star. Everyone can make their own CD, take half naked pictures, photoshop them and start a Myspace music page. I remember when you could only get music at a record store. You had to prioritize your purchases. It was exciting to open a record. These days, music is so de-valued precisely because it’s so cheap and easy to obtain. And there’s so much of it that you don’t bat an eye when you hear the name of a new band or artist. You can get it all for free anyways.
In the end, I believe that we may come full circle. The irony of Twitter applies here. So close, yet so far. The best songs and artists will rise to the top of the proverbial heap and the wannabe half-naked myspace divas will give up and go work at Hooters. The reason I believe this is that no matter what happens to the business of music, MUSIC itself is a powerful and provocative force. It is the tall tale that helps explain the truth. Humans have an ear for truth and an appetite for beauty. The bands and artists that are truly in it for the long haul will continue to play live and continue to make records, release singles, release art…. no matter what. The casual listener will download the album for free and listen to twenty seconds of the first song and forget about it. The true artist will not care about this. The fans that are truly interested in music as more than just sonic diversion will purchase the vinyl, put the free download on their ipod to show their friends and figure out how they can get out of work to go see the live show. And this is where the real magic will happen. Because after all, the most intimate form of a song is live and in person. It cannot be denied.
In this world, what we want is intimacy. Connection. The best place for that is amongst the haze of smoke and sweat at a live concert. Unless, of course you are satisfied with: “@jackie_greene” just played Gone Wanderin’” :)