Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Wed 12 Mar 03 21:20
This is a perfect question to sign off on, as it's approaching the witching hour here--and maybe for the music industry as well. The first thing I'd do is completely revamp the record company/radio relationship. Maybe singles have to go, and with it the huge "promotion" budgets. Just let radio stations play whatever cuts they want. Forget about formats; ideally we can get back to the days of one format that included everything. Give artists/bands smaller advances, so there's less to recoup, but sign a whole lot more of them. Eliminate videos, too expensive and creatively utterly beside the point. Let MTV and Vh-1 come up with alternate means of programming or PROGRAM MORE LIVE MUSIC. Put the money saved into sending bands out on the road, thereby creating the need for more smaller and mid-size clubs where they can play for a fair price. I'm all for things like a music-talk radio station, an unsigned band network, programs where musicians and/or critics and/or fans get together to talk shop and swap songs--anything to move music back into the forefront of the artistic debate, the way it used to be until movies and now even television suddenly became more important. Also, there's got to be a way to make a Napster type Internet situation work for all concerned. But if I knew how to do that, then I really would be an industry czar by now. Good night...
Gary Lambert (almanac) Wed 12 Mar 03 21:34
Good answers! You've got my vote! And good night from me as well. But while we slumber, all of you working musicians here on The Well, just now stumbling home bleary-eyed from another night of work and debauchery and huddling before the digital hearth for warmth, should feel free to share your own observations and war stories of life on the assembly line of inspiration...
a monor quibble (chrys) Wed 12 Mar 03 22:05
Bruce - great suggestions! (I haven't given too much thought to the label-radion relationship.) Can you say anything about the label- artist relationship? It seems to me this is a pretty flawed pice of the puzzle.
Jim Brennan: Pseud Monkey (jimbrennan) Wed 12 Mar 03 23:08
I have to say that I don't the single will ever go away. It is the both the bane and the bread of the industry.
Berliner (captward) Thu 13 Mar 03 03:19
Tried to buy one recently?
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Thu 13 Mar 03 06:14
Just for its historical place and the memories associated with them, the single should probably survive. But there has to be a way to de-emphasize their effect on an artist's career. In other words, no hit single, no career. Maybe all singles should be available free for downloading. If videos are essentially $50-100,000 promotional expenses, never to be recouped, I'm sure singles are a lot less costly. If the singles were free, you could make up charts out of how many times they were downloaded, rather than using sales and airplay. Then you wouldn't have the issue of people buying songs only because they heard them constantly on the radio, and then radio playing the same songs constantly because their tests show people want to hear them. As far as Artist Development. In general I think it's probably got a bad rap. No artist wants to take suggestions from a corporate accountant. But good writers have always had editors (until recently that is, now that editors don't edit--but that's another story). I think if you're putting more money into tour support and less into promoting singles to radio, artists will be able to develop, with the help of experts at the label, in a more natural way.
Jim Brennan: Pseud Monkey (jimbrennan) Thu 13 Mar 03 07:15
<Tried to buy one recently?> nope. I was referring to singles as released on the radio to promote an artist/cd; not the revenue from the sales of singles. I have strayed so far from the pop world, that I have no idea how well those sell.
JOHN MULKERIN writes... (tnf) Thu 13 Mar 03 09:30
This is from John Mulkerin: Thanks for the excellent discussion! I think we need a "media trust buster" at a high level of government (like say the white house). Someone to forcibly break apart the media consolidation that happened after the Clinton era telecom act. Obviously, getting someone elected on that platform would be next to impossible given the power of media to swing elections. It might have to be a stealth candidate who has that agenda in his/her back pocket, or someone who sees the light after being elected. The reality of the music business reflects the nation at large: A moneyed elite and a whole lot of invisible wage slaves, whose needs get ig- nored by the media. John Mulkerin
David Gans (tnf) Thu 13 Mar 03 09:32
> As far as Artist Development. In general I think it's probably got a bad > rap. No artist wants to take suggestions from a corporate accountant. But > good writers have always had editors (until recently that is, now that > editors don't edit--but that's another story). When your label head is Mo Ostin or Ahmet Ertegun, you know you're being "edited" by a music person. Nowadays, it's some focus-group-lovin' suit...
a monor quibble (chrys) Thu 13 Mar 03 10:20
<Obviously, getting someone elected on that platform would be next to impossible given the power of media to swing elections.> So how do we take back the culture? Or, at least reclaim those pieces that are ours? Reading Bruce's book only confirms this sense that artists have an uphill battle.
Jim Brennan: Pseud Monkey (jimbrennan) Thu 13 Mar 03 11:09
I really think a backdoor approach is necessary, and inevitable. There will always be those who want to be spoon fed their entertainment and told what to like. We may have a hard time understanding that, but not everyone cares as much about the quality of music they listen to. That being said, I believe that the prevalence of inexpensive technology is the key. Any 12 year old with ambition, talent, and half a brain can make a decent recording in his basement and upload it to a website. The next step, of course is getting it heard by the masses, (which is where the corporate aspect of the music biz is strongest) which will be easier to accomplish (IMHO) as the years go by. The corporate music machines will never go away, because there will always be a demand for the bland soul-less pap that they defecate through the airwaves and mega-stores. But we won't go away either. That's where my hope lies; the soul of the musician and music-lover.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 13 Mar 03 11:11
But assuming soomeone makes a brilliant and inspired recording at home, how the hell does he/she get it heard by the masses? And how do I, as a seeker of excellent music, figure out which of these zillions of DIY releases is worth hearing?
a monor quibble (chrys) Thu 13 Mar 03 11:15
Well, that should be the role of the 'music critic' - but even that requires redifinition. Maybe a 'music advocate'.
Jim Brennan: Pseud Monkey (jimbrennan) Thu 13 Mar 03 11:49
<162> I don't know. But I believe that it will happen. Even if you want to look at music in it's most cynical form, that of being a product, there is a market for good music. If you look back at history, you will see there have always been those that want to bring a product to the people. They find a way. If you want to be less cynical, I can speculate that a new form of distribution will emerge. It has alrady started with the internet. As broadband becomes more prevalent, more people will begin to use it for their entertainment needs. I also think that we are overlooking the obvious in terms of things like the Well. I have been exposed to a wide variety of music through this site. I haven't liked all of it, but i have been exposed to it, which is what counts. We tend to think of the past as the blueprint to the future, but I think that we are looking at a new paradigm. Perhaps the day will come when nearly all music will be downloaded, where mp3's will outnumber cds. And don't forget that it wasn't that long ago when the only music we had access to was the corner record store, and payola-driven AM radio. We already have more choices than we did 20 years ago, even with the mega music machines. The change has already begun. Maybe we are too close to notice it. Or maybe the taste has only whetted our appetite for more.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 13 Mar 03 12:20
I am already benefiting from the Internet: my concert recordings are traded among a small but growing number of fans, and that helps me to recruit new ones. But the music-trading culture tends not to be interested in paying for music, so the principal benefit to me is in driving ticket sales. Is there much point in my investing in a studio recording? That is the question.
Jim Brennan: Pseud Monkey (jimbrennan) Thu 13 Mar 03 12:53
Obviously I can't say whether or not you should do that, but if you don't make one, nobody can buy it. I wasn't referring to the music trading culture, or even the consumerism we currently know. I believe that in the not-too-distant future that instead of buying a cd online or at best buy, you'll just downoad it for a fee. It will drastically reduce production costs in the industry, thus leveling the playing field. I realize that this is already happening, but it will become the norm. It's where our kids and grandkids will get their music, and think nothing of it. I am merely making these points for the benefit of those lamenting the current and future state of music. The future can look bright or dim, and the fact is that it is both, depending on the road you take. Personally I feel that there has never been a more exciting time to be a musician. And I think it's going to get better.
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Thu 13 Mar 03 13:48
I have to say that this situation has remained historically true for as long as there have been artists. Some emerge, for whatever reason, to capture most of the fame and the money, and the rest do whatever they do for as long as they can, because they have to do it. Of the people who emerge, some are hailed as the greatest of all time, but most are distinctly mediocre (and yet gain fan clubs anyway). Of the people who are buried in the landslides of history, undoubtedly some were as good as the best--and are discovere or revived years later--and the others no more mediocre than most (except without the joy of a fanclub). It's a timeless strugge, so yes, this is the best of all possible times, because it's the only time we have.
a monor quibble (chrys) Thu 13 Mar 03 14:03
>I have to say that this situation has remained historically true >for as long as there have been artists. I don't agree with that assessment. I've not done reading/research focussed on this question, but my sense is that the arts (and music) were more regional prior to the advent of mass media. Certainly some individuals developed reputations that extended beyond regional boundaries. I think a healthy by-product of regional sources of the arts & culture is that one KNEW one's musicians, artists, artisans & story tellers, and knew them to be human-sized beings - not the superbeings beings (or super beauties) as the entertainment industry would have you think. Their gifts distinguished them certainly, but not beyond reach.
a monor quibble (chrys) Thu 13 Mar 03 14:05
To circle back to Bruce's book - that sense of musicans as human-scaled people is one of the things that comes across page after page.
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Thu 13 Mar 03 14:20
And, interestingly, once the fame subsides, the return to the human level. So, really, we're talking about two different things. The day to day experience of working in the arts (as a musician). And what happens when you climb aboard the Fame trip. That might be another book in itself. But I think Brenda Kahn's interview on the subject is extremely poignant and perceptive.
a monor quibble (chrys) Thu 13 Mar 03 15:01
The Paul Simon chapter has that funny story about fame. The one where the garage attendant has heard that Simon is famous - but he doesn't know what for. So it is up to Simon to produce some evidence as to his fame. How ironic! (And I know that story isn't unique. The author Ann Lamont tells a similar story with even less satisfying results, because she is unable to come up with ANY evidence her challenger is familar with.)
From RENEE WESTBROOK (tnf) Thu 13 Mar 03 18:58
Renee Westbrook writes: Bruce, I am a freelance writer for Guitargirls.com, Vernon (Living Colour) Reid's BRC BLURB and DirtyBlues.com. I have also recently interviewed Chrissie Hynde, Lisa Loeb and Janis Ian. Like you, I'm a writer who loves music and I write songs as well. My question to you is what advice would you give a neophyte rock journalist like me? I've discovered how difficult it is to get gigs with any music magazines. It seems to be about exactly who you know. Well, I don't know anybody so I don't have any magazine credits just yet, but I'll continue to write on the web and build my chops because that's what I should be doing. When I saw your page at Womanrock.com and noticed that you've written about some of my favorite female rockers (Cindy Bullens, Lita Ford), I thought I'd write you and ask how you did it. Best Regards, Renee Westbrook
Bruce Pollock (bruce-pollock) Thu 13 Mar 03 20:01
This is an interesting juxtaposition of questions, sort of representing the full circle. As famous as Paul Simon is, he started out just as unknown with no connection as Renee Westbrook, who is now at least known to some Well readers. Obviously, connections are important, but so is talent, and more than both, an incredible sustained effort no matter how long it takes. You also need good luck. But, as has been said many times, you need to have a hand in creating your own luck. I've been writing about music since 1972, but when I got my first job, I didn't specifically know anybody and I hadn't actually written any articles or reviews before. What I'd written was a 300 page novel, an excerpt of which I sent to an editor in answer to an ad in the newspaper. He wound up losing the excerpt, but hiring me as a staff writer. A couple of years later I had published articles in several national magazines, won a writing award, and gotten a book deal. I think just by virtue of the fact that you've interviewed some celebrities already and have writing credits on the web, you should be able to parlay that into some leads. You just have to have the drive and be creative.
Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 13 Mar 03 20:38
>To circle back to Bruce's book - that sense of musicans as >human-scaled people is one of the things that comes across page after >page. Yes! There are, obviously, some hugely famous voices among the witnesses in the book, but here they are about as fully stripped of any iconic baggage as you will ever find them. The equal weight given here to the reflections of rock demigods and struggling journeymen is part of what makes "Working Musicians" such a worthy spiritual heir to Terkel's "Working," which similarly showed us the common bonds between tycoons and typists.
alla bout image and not music (kurtr) Fri 14 Mar 03 01:07
Re the idea of Internet distribution taking over for recorded music - I think that may happen, but <tnf> raises the two big questions - How will the public hear about me over someone else, and how will I make any money back from recordings if there is heavy piracy? I think companies like mp3.com will be the new distribution arms - and just as the traditional distributors would rip off musicians, mp3.com has very mixed reviews. I've read a number of posts by artists who felt the deal required by mp3.com was a rotten one - I'm afraid I can't recall the details. I expect paid placement on portals and the like will also happen, so that if you are searching for a given style and artist that has paid the portal will get preferential listing in a search. Piracy may not make it worthwhile to invest more than a couple grand in a recording, since if you're playing small venues it can be very hard to make that investment back, even if you're working steadily. As for critics becoming more important to selling records - It might happen. I sure hope the caliber of criticism goes up, though. I had a review in a local paper a couple of years ago that ridiculed me for wearing a beret, which the critic felt was the ultimate tired jazz cliche. Based on that he proceeded to trash everything else about the show. Well, he sure had a right to dislike my music, but I don't even own a beret and haven't worn one in years. I thought about responding to the critic, who struck me as trying to build a name for himself by colorfully trashing people who didn't fit with his musical agenda (the guy was a big free-jazz buff), but realized any response I made would just enable him to ridicule me further, so I just tried to ignore it.
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