Thursday, June 17, 2010

Music Business: What do I do now?

"These times are so uncertain
There's a yearning undefined
and people filled with rage."
-Don Henley
It's been a tough few years for (some) folks in the music business. As it becomes increasingly clear the paydays of yesteryear were unrelated to reality in any clear way, (what did we expect from an industry predicated on predatory bookkeeping?) a lot of us are having to rescale our expectations, albeit some more dramatic than others.

There's a lot going on out there. The world has serious problems to address (I know, when *hasn't* this been the case!?), and it's more challenging than ever to get someone's attention, much less make them care. There's so much apathy right now - a kind of generalized fatigue - the result of too many bait'n'switch scams that are now the established bedrock of American life, from elections and public services to housing and retail (that thing you just paid a buck for at Dollar Tree? It cost them $0.10 ). It feels like everyone's trying to get one over on us, and unfortunately, there's ample evidence to suggest this actually the case.

So many institutions in which we'd invested so much faith have failed us in dramatic ways. The Catholic Church, once perhaps the world's most present and active faiths, is now synonymous with sexual abuse. The great barge of capital and it's associated trades (banking, home ownership, business investment, insurance, etc) seems to have stalled in the mud of corruption and general untrustworthiness. Our political system seems to be populated with the same incoherent simian swindlers that have plagued its history for as long as we care to remember, and the slow realization that our mythic Three Branches of government have morphed into one massive political protozoan Hell-bent on self preservation have us, to say the least, stressed the fuck out.

And to jokingly attempt to cap this all off, a new reminder in the form of a giant gusher of toxic ooze in the Gulf of Mexico has us confronting daily questions as to what's really important right now, and what's going to be important in the future.

This all boils down to a crisis of faith. Without faith, you can't believe in an artist because you can't inherently trust they're A) genuine, and B) won't short change you down the line. This is what we're up against.

Young artists, in some ways, probably have the best shot at longevity, providing they can earn the faithful. They're coming into the business with their goals and expectations calibrated to current realities, and I think overall, they're less anxious. Middle aged and older artists, however, have really been given the shaft. This is really unfortunate, because I believe these artists have a *lot* to contribute culturally, but couldn't find a way to make it work.

There's another irony, too: the internet empowered younger generations in a way that early-adopters missed out on: scale.

For middle-aged musicians (raises hand) who may have been early adopters of the internet (raises hand), a good portion of our peers are not. People over 40 still use email(!!!) as their primary means of communication, will listen to entire songs, still prefer shiny plastic discs over digital downloads (but most shiny discs are ones their kids burn for them), and will more often than not prefer to leave a show early "to beat the traffic."

The kids, however, do none of these things. They'll stay for the whole show, don't care for CD's, have email accounts for the sole purpose of signing up with social networks and other communication platforms, listen to the best 2 minutes of a song before switching to the next. This is why so many young people listen to repetitive background music like house or ambient: it doesn't demand your engagement the way a vocalist does. Vocals are for the live show, silly rabbit.

These behaviors reflect this crisis of faith. Why should anyone get invested in what you and I are doing? Why should anyone care?

I don't know that I have the answers. I'm not even sure I'm asking the right questions, yet. I write pretty good songs. But if you're someone who's mind is occupied with the status of your mortgage, the food in your pantry, you're not going to care whether or not I wrote a pretty good song this month. You're going to need something more.

You're going to need friends. Family. Associates. A village. A community.

And that's really the trick, isn't it? Building a community of faithful that will flock together in support of each other? Artists make the mistake of thinking that community is about *them*. It's not: it's about the people who need each other. They just happen to be gathering at your show.

These are just some of the realities musicians face right now. But the question stands: What do I do now?

My best answer today: Get out there. No, I don't mean MySpace or Facebook or those toxic time sinks. Get in people's faces. Write music that heals souls, that you care enough about to ask other people to care about, too. Hand out free CD's at a coffee shop. Get OUT THERE. Play at a friend's backyard BBQ. Get OUT THERE! Enter a songwriting competition. GET OUT THERE!