rock'n'roll, country, punk & metal.
bands that combine all four successfully.
design, graphic & interior.
the intersection of philosophy & sociology.
emergent gameplay, of the videogaming variety.
deep fried everything.
making lists, including this one of my life's ambitions, and these of things on my mind at the time.
i took a trip! read about it here.
evidence of my lame yuppie side on my (gasp!) house blog here.
I’ve had a version of this post rattling around in my drafts since my return from yet another industry conference back in April, where the thought above crept into my mind while listening to the panelists speak. At that conference, social media was, once again, touted as the magic potion, the salve for the aches and pains of all levels and facets of the music industry. If you ever needed a reason for why this business deserves to die, all you need to do is watch it try to grasp at every last possible shred of numerical data (Facebook likes, Twitter followers, Soundcloud plays, etc.) in the quest to quantify the unquantifiable.
All this came flooding back to mind yesterday when I read Taylor Swift’s laughable Wall Street Journal article on the future of music. Her opinions are much like asking the prize winning pig at the state fair for its opinions on the meatpacking industry; from where it’s standing, covered in ribbons, it has absolutely no way of knowing. But it will gain intimate, subjective knowledge… one day.
While the entire piece is mostly off base, the section on “Fan Power” echoes my thought above most clearly. The anecdote she gives about the actress who got a role because she had more Twitter followers should strike an icy cold dart of fear into anyone with who appreciates music (or film, or visual art, or literature, or ANYTHING) for its cultural and creative value. Swift packages this reality as a positive, pseudo-democratic process, when what it really boils down to is a pathetic attempt by big business to divine future sales numbers through the shiny crystal globe of social media.
The main problem for them, of course, is that sales have become mostly meaningless. Even I, a long time champion of alternatives like the distribution model, where you pay a flat fee (to, ideally, in my world, an ISP, but in reality to services like Spotify or Google Play Music) in exchange for “all you can eat” music, have been disillusioned by the abysmal revenue sharing models of those services. (A good example is here.) Getting your music in the ears of listeners, even if they procure it in a legitimate way, is no longer a guarantee of wealth and prosperity.
From behind her blue ribbons, however, Swift declares:
"… my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art."
I’m not sure how this will somehow be different than the last 30+ years, but Swift seems to have missed the memo that it’s not really up to the industry to set the price anymore. The people have spoken, and for the most part, they want the price point to be “free”. But that shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that creative and cultural output is being devalued or undervalued. After all, there are more people making things - good, even great things - all over the world, and people are consuming them faster and in greater numbers and ways than ever before. What IS happening, however, is that creative and cultural output is being separated from the economic bottom line, and that will not change anytime soon, no matter how many multimillionaires declare it otherwise. In other words, the BUSINESS part of the music business is dying (good riddance!), but the music part is doing just fine, I think.
"But who’ll make music if they can’t get paid?" Hopefully fewer people, quite frankly, and it’s the people who would ask that question that we need to get rid of. The world is full of those that think they’re gonna get rich in this business because they have talent, including many without. But just as the article by Taylor Swift conflates “the future of music” with “the future of the music industry”, talent and wealth do not automatically go hand in hand.
My prediction? Creative people will continue to do what they do because it’s not a choice for them. I believe everyone can be creative, but there are people who can’t NOT be creative. They have to paint, or sing, or write, or stand in front of or behind a camera or microphone. They have to make something that didn’t exist the day before, often at great personal expense (fiscal, emotional or simply of time). Some of those people will accidentally end up making money from that creativity. Others will learn about business, and put as much creative effort into making money as they do into their art. Others still will create beautiful, wondrous things that will go mostly ignored, forever. This will be the future, just as it was the past, only now that the profit margin has shrunk, one can only hope there will be fewer bottom feeders and bottom liners trying to scoop dimes off their backs.
Dave Brockie, through Oderus Urungus, always brought a smile to my face. This is very sad news. I’m going to go and watch Gwar cover Kansas and hope it makes me feel better. Under all the prosthetics, goo and silliness, this dude had a big, gravelly voice and the personality to match. He will be missed.
ETA: This Blabbermouth article has many lovely tributes, including a particularly nice one from Randy of Lamb of God.