Friday, February 26, 2010

The Future of Music

I read with interest the piece entitled "The Vanishing Gatekeeper" in the LA Weekly (Feb. 12-18, 2010 - Vol. 32/No. 12) by Paul Rogers describing changes in the marketing of music today. The article was both a lament for the music industry that is passing, the breakdown of music distribution and artist representation, and an acknowledgement of the part the Internet has played in creating this new world of music. The revolution that opened a whole new way to obtain music. That it happened just at the turn of the 21st century is, historically, amazingly coincidental, significant and will make it easy for future historians to pinpoint.

Now, the corporate middle men, who oversaw the relationship between artists and a label; signing up talent, plotting their career arc, supervising their recordings, and keeping them in line, have been squeezed out of the equation along with the labels themselves by the crashing sales of recorded music. Oh sure, there is still a huge corporate run mainstream music machine but the article states that there are only four labels left. That's due to America's weird and damaging embrace of consolidation-mania over the last 30 years. Look where that's led us.

Mr. Rogers stops short of acknowledging the creative tidal wave it has unleashed, but does talk about how anyone with access to the Internet can promote their band, release their music, do merchandising, build a fan base, etc. while others can actively track and follow bands, discuss them online and help draw attention to an act. That's where I come in. There never was an instant in my life when I ever dared dream of pursuing my passion for music. Now, with the Internet, it not only has become possible, it has become necessary. And it has been life-altering.

Nowadays ordinary people go on the Internet to look for music, not to look for some band they think will sell big, but to find music they like. And they share it with friends. It's a new dynamic for the promotion of new music. And not controlled by any giant corporate entity. Sure, in the past, people had the power to buy records, then CDs, but what was available had already been pre-selected by the powers-that-be.

The very nature of success as a musician is changing. Without corporate sponsorship, bands are left to invent new ways of being heard, and much of the movement is fueled by the art of the live performance. Time after time I've heard bands say it's the live show that they live for and the connection to the audience that keeps them going. That was a primary factor in my embrace of the local music scene. The electricity I experienced in the air every time I went to Spaceland or The Echo or Pehrspace was so appealing I dove in and have barely come up for air in three years. (photo above is from a Henry Clay People shindig at Spaceland last year) I saw a lot of live performance as a kid with my family and as I grew older I realized the live shows I had seen were my most vivid memories, that never dimmed with time. So I became insatiably hungry for live performance. And I'm not nearly full yet.

So people and journalists can moan about the metamorphosis of the music industry, but for me, for the first time in history, it represents the complete and total freedom for an artist to express oneself any way one wants to, free from any restrictions except those of one's own imagination. Just listen to the music it has produced.

Making a living from it has become challenging, and the promise of stardom seems distant, but one never knows how the market will alter again. But the musicians I know would make music no matter what they had to do, because they make music because they have to.

When I first got back into rock and roll, five years ago this August, I had to start a list of the bands that intrigued me, also so I would remember to research them, as I videotaped their music videos on "Refused TV" or "Subterranean" on MTV2. A song would lead to an album, would lead to another album and another band and on and on and on until the list was 375 bands strong. I stopped keeping the list about 2 years ago so it's probably 500 bands by now. And these few years later I'm able to say I count many, many of these bands as friends. I feel incredibly lucky.

When Brand X came out this week, Feb. 24, 2010 (Vol. 1, No. 46) with Shadow Shadow Shade (formerly: Afternoons, photo below by Sterling Andrews) on the cover and heavily featured in an article entitled "Music - Beyond Labels" by Geoff Boucher, I decided to write this column and record my observations as an outsider who's been swept into local music. It was great to read a specific band's take on these new dynamics and they're remarkably sanguine about it.

Realizing they're forging new frontiers, there is no game plan or already set path to follow, so they will make it up as they go along and that's part of what makes it so exciting. And as Steven Scott, of the band says, it isn't just the music, but the fusion of "art, fashion and live performance are the things that help us connect now" and people connecting in person in this isolationist digital age makes the whole scene vibrate.

The future of music appears up for grabs, and watching over the next few years will prove a most interesting and stimulating study.



ee said...

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Icky's said...

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