Are we better off? Is the industry thriving? Are we discovering more trail blazing industry altering career artists? I don’t want this to turn into an essay on why the music biz sucks, nothing would make me happier than to see it all turn around, move forward and enter a new glory period. This business has provided me with unimaginable opportunities and allowed me to live a really extraordinary life. Unlike the majority of pundits I have lived and breathed in this industry since I was a whelp. I’ve had the opportunity to work under the old guard as well as the dopey, accidental, overconfident clothes-less emperors at the helm of the good ship song-tanic currently.
Unlike most traditional businesses the music business is a guessing game based on unmeasurable emotional attachments to random notes strewn together, most of the time by cultural outliers. You can assemble all the accountants and techno dorks in the world and they can provide you with thousands of power point presentations and charts but the reality is….they have no idea what they are talking about and the more emphatic they are about how their method of calculating obese housewives phone responses versus teen mobile streaming patterns the more dangerous they become and the more they destroy what was once a beautiful albeit unstable and magical business.
Let’s look at what happened to terrestrial radio with the arrival of the almighty research folks. Armed with their brainwave readers and mood rings….they knew just how to fix everything and turn this into a real business, something Dad would be proud of. No more hookers and blow, it was all PPM and diaries now.
They simply ignored that radio WAS Rock & Roll and at its greatest was just as subversive and dangerous as any of the artists and in some cases more so. Radio used to be run by lunatics, now it is run by corporations, consultants and scared little men. They keep releasing studies to show how relevant and important they are and they ignore the fundamental reality…kids are not really listening, don’t care and aren’t coming back. Sure this is a general statement and there are a few exceptions but that is like me pointing to Adele as proof that the music business is thriving again…she is the exception…not the rule.
I don’t really see radio and record labels as that different both are generally being run the same way and the more they collapse under their own operational ineptitude the more they hold sacred the methods and brain trusts that put them in this state of collapse.
New music is cool because it is dangerous and unpredictable, it breaks the mold and pushes things forward. Without major companies taking any real chances we accept things like EDM as bold and new even though it is really repackaged disco. Will we look back at EDM with the same nostalgia and awe as the Beatles, Nirvana, Metallica, Zeppelin, U2, or the Police? Who knows but my gut tells me no.
When in history did the business establishment ever lead the way for youth culture…they always chased it, tried to bottle it and sell it. They were born and bred to be followers, unfortunately they now believe they are cultural leaders and tastemakers. These are the same people you would never let pick the tunes for a party when you were a kid and now they are running the show. This is not to say there are not great visionary people working in our business and creating really interesting disruptions, there are a few for sure…just way to few for my taste.
Maybe it is over, maybe the halcyon days have come and gone. Maybe this once shining city on a hill has run out of magic. Or….and this is a long shot…we, being the creative community can have an old fashion ass kicking mutiny. We simply storm the castle, change things up and chase these plebes back to the toothpaste and household products companies they were meant to run. Sure we still might go over the edge and down with the proverbial ship…but at least we will be at the helm and the tunes and parties will be infinitely better.