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It’s Not About the Music Anymore

5 Comments

Last week I got together with a band I produced over the Summer (name withheld to prevent stirring up any shit). It was a ‘high-five’ feel good dinner to celebrate finishing the songs and just to catch up. I like these guys. The bond was strong. And what’s more, I admire their talent and their grind…. they never stop working on new music, doing promotion, playing shows, and showing up well on the socials.

So, I’m feeling all great about the mixes and the mastering, so I ask them how their trusted sources and mega fans are liking the work, and there is just a micro-pause in the easy flow of conversation–one member looks me straight in the eye and says, “well, it’s not really about the music anymore”.

Let that sink in.

I felt vaguely sick when I heard it flop out of his mouth, but at the same time, I felt, somehow-I dunno-free. Yeah. I felt free. Because he’s right: It’s not about the music anymore. Like at all. And this has been a long time coming. And now here we are.

So, before you punch out of this article, or wonder just where the hell this is going, let me add that I love music, it has remained my main identity over the past 52 years, and I will never quit producing, writing, arranging, mixing and performing. Never. But I happen to agree with this kid. Walk with me for a second.

Historical Context:

Before we had movies, people had to see and hear live performances.  Once we had silent films, one actor could be seen all over the world without ever leaving home. That’s how Charlie Chaplin became–for a while–the most famous man in the world. People figured out how to make bank on that kind of superpower, and for a time, the movie industry exploded, and actors became gods who walked the earth. Then the movie industry matured, production got super expensive and clunky, and we all calmed down a bit and turned our attention to music.

Before TV, there was radio. The same arc of events happened with this medium of transmission, and musicians became the ubiquitous gods that roamed the earth. Like with the movies, we found a way to store performances and send them across the world. Radio and the record business boomed. The Beatles showed us what could be done in the studio, and we sifted into two large overlapping camps, laboring in studios and on stage, trying to keep people’s attention. The industry matured, and the small number of gargantuan musical gods who once walked the earth has aged out to a crowded pantheon of little gods who desperately beg for our worship.

Appointment TV had its day, and now we are in the Golden Age of Episodic Television. Son of a bitch if Netflix isn’t doing a great job of giving HBO a run for its money! But sooner or later holographic, full-body AI-driven political porn (cue local newscast on robot brothels opening in Houston) will take over, and we may all find ourselves on an IV drip–locked away in personal silos of self, caught in a self-congratulating feedback loop with the other 500 people on the planet that happen to like the same thing.

What’s Up:

So, is music socially relevant? Is it a ‘business’ where someone can ‘succeed’? Does it matter? Are we just making music for each other? Is it just one aspect of a larger reality show that we are producing–burnishing our images with lifestyle posts that infer that we are on the right side of every joke and that we are worth everyone’s attention? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding ‘yes!’….but whimpered, not yelled with a fist pump. Music is being busted down to the local level.

Yeah, sure. There is Drake and the sci-fi Kpop stars that don’t exist in real life (remember the Archies?). But your chance at being Drake, Bey, or MIQUELA, is for shit, and in your heart of hearts, you know it. So it’s all folk music now. We are making it for one another. And I, for one, am relieved. And maybe inspired. Maybe REALLY inspired.

NOW, we can innovate. NOW we can finally do the crazy shit that will map out new ways to make sounds that inform a new emergent culture–a culture that NEEDS our help to make sense of the chaos and noise. NOW we are FREE OF THE BULLSHIT MUSIC BUSINESS THAT HAS IRONED THE VERY LIFE OUT OF THE SACRED SONG THAT WE ALL KEEP CHASING! Now we can relax and not worry about being famous. Are you with me? Can I get an Amen? So, in an all or nothing world, nothing rules. I’m going to quit grabbing at the brass ring.

The next mix I do, I’m going to intentionally NOT listen to references. When I’m working on the next lame ass snare sound, I’m going to melodyne a sample of an 8 bit Casio snare drum underneath that bitch instead of automatically reaching for the same over-used sample library. And I’m not going to tell you. And you may not be brave enough to like it when you hear it. But that’s ok because it’s all getting ready to be new again. Burn the rule books. Get honest. Realize that my young colleague is right, and then join me to do something about it. Let’s attract an audience that is compelled by our excellence. Let’s create a new sonic story to share.

Exit:

It’s time we work on our narrative (and I do NOT mean posting your next gram). I want to be right there in the middle of it. Send me your thoughts. Push back. Tell me I’m full of shit and that my turn was up a long time ago. Whatever. Just get your passion dialed up to 11, then have the balls to match it with some talent and grind. And make some music that makes a difference IN YOUR OWN LIFE FIRST. Really: comment or email or smoke signal me what’s going on,… I can’t wait to hear what happens next.

 

 

Image Credits: Photo Courtesy of Pexels.

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5 Comments

  • October 8, 2018 at 11:46 am
    Joel Hoyle

    So, apart from fame chasers, it’s business as usual. Right on.

    Reply
  • October 8, 2018 at 1:18 pm
    Tom

    Very well said!

    Reply
  • October 8, 2018 at 4:19 pm
    George

    Sorry for the tome I’m about to write! But you asked for it in the last paragraph.

    I like the utopian nature of this, but there have been many attempts at this by the experimental and academic camps across all genres, nearly since the beginning of music making. The end result is almost always some sort of musical elitism that pushes a modernist “if it ain’t new it ain’t worth my time” agenda onto the seemingly honest musician. Musical output (at the extreme) often results in a something that sounds like it was crafted or produced in a bubble- something so obscure that the relevance, if there was any to begin with, is lost. The risk is the loss of honesty and sincerity in lieu of an obsession over searching for something new.

    Craft and taste still matters.

    A second take I might have is that what you are articulating is the decline of music as a viable commercial commodity for those of us without MAJOR connections and clout. For those of us already putting out music outside of pop and commercial genres (looking at us classical folk and the jazz and experimental bunch), let me extend a hearty and warm welcome to the club!

    Our gatekeepers have long ago decided that new, contemporary classical music is one that is best left out of most of the orchestra halls in the world, save maybe a few lucky composers who have “hit it big.” We’ve turned largely to chamber music, where we’ve been met with small, but rabidly enthusiastic audiences of folks who are largely willing to take a plunge into musical unknowns. Forget commercial success. Forget “accessibility.” Forget feeding your kids! We got music to make, dammit. And it doesn’t write itself. Unless you are an experimental electronic musician working with algorithms…in that case music sort of writes itself.

    Reply
  • October 8, 2018 at 4:28 pm
    George Heathco

    Sorry for the tome I’m about to write! But you asked for it in the last paragraph.

    I like the utopian nature of this, but there have been many attempts at this by the experimental and academic camps across all genres, nearly since the beginning of music making. The end result is almost always some sort of musical elitism that pushes a modernist “if it ain’t new it ain’t worth my time” agenda onto the seemingly honest musician. Musical output (at the extreme) often results in a something that sounds like it was crafted or produced in a bubble- something so obscure that the relevance, if there was any to begin with, is lost. The risk is the loss of honesty and sincerity in lieu of an obsession over searching for something new.

    Craft and taste still matters.

    A second take I might have is that what you are articulating is the decline of music as a viable commercial commodity for those of us without MAJOR connections and clout. For those of us already putting out music outside of pop and commercial genres (looking at us classical folk and the jazz and experimental bunch), let me extend a hearty and warm welcome to the club!

    Our gatekeepers have long ago decided that new, contemporary classical music is one that is best left out of most of the orchestra halls in the world, save maybe a few lucky composers who have “hit it big.” We’ve turned largely to chamber music, where we’ve been met with small, but rabidly enthusiastic audiences of folks who are largely willing to take a plunge into musical unknowns. Forget commercial success. Forget “accessibility.” Forget feeding your kids! We got music to make, dammit. And it doesn’t write itself. Unless you are an experimental electronic musician working with algorithms…in that case music sort of writes itself.

    Reply
  • October 8, 2018 at 9:38 pm
    Jon Conley

    Dude, you shoulda bought that Fibes snare I tried to sell you!

    Reply

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