Sunday, March 29, 2009

S-S-S-Something from the Comments & The State of Music Biz!

The other day on Reason Magazine's "Hit & Run" Blog, a quick commentary blurb was run about an "article" by John Mellencamp (new addition to the Huffington Post's growing list of "reporters" apparently) on what he felt was the state of the music industry, and the rebuttal to it Bob Lefsetz.

I sometimes involve myself in discussions on the comments section at Reason, no surprise there, but this one - about the music industry was special since in a rare instance I am using the expertise I was actually formally trained to have in my discussions!

Mellencamp basically takes the position that the music industry is in decline and that the fault is to a large extent, the "corporatization" of music - but more than that, he inexplicably seems to blame various technological advancements on data collection such as employed by SoundScan. Mellencamp also blames Ronald Reagan... but... umm... ok.

Lebsetz calls this "hogwash" and commits an article to the silliness of Mellencamp's position on improved statistics (noting that the alternative was pay-to-play and the number of "spins" any record was recorded as getting was highly biased and unreliable and not actually indicative of popularity at all!) and sort of takes him to task for sounding much like a crotchety old man pining for the "old days" when he was in a business where the music audiences can listen to was dominated by monolithic major labels.

Most people who participated in the discussion over at seem to agree fully with Lebsetz that Mellencamp is just being a whiny crank who is upset because the internet has meant that his lavish rock'n'roll lifestyle is giving way to a more democratized music industry and that the stranglehold major labels have had on consumers in terms of content is crumbling. But the discussion really turned towards the role of technology and the present/future state of the music industry.

One guy (claimed to be a musician) was feeling overwhelmed by the changes wrought by the internet and technological revolutions... I won't go into all the things he said - he's mostly a good guy worried about the industry and what he perceives of as a decline in quality.

But I did want to share my response to him and get the reactions of all of my various musician friends on the topic at large:

My response:

"Dude... are you kidding?

(Quote from other poster)"The major labels may be hurting due to digital downloads, but at the same time they still have more or less a monopoly over radio and MTV and are still automatically granted access to almost every publication, either print or on the internet While the internet has wounded the major labels financially, I don't think it has actually diminished their monopoly power significantly. In many ways it has strengthened it. Ringtones and blanket internet promotions have just been new ways to market their shitty products. Now gentrified, crappy indie rock is in every commercial and played in every clothing store. Is this a good thing? For the bands commercially maybe, but for the state of underground art...?"


"Today, unless you sell out, you are largely seen as unworthy of the attention of either the mainstream or the indie tastemakers."

(me again...)

Man, I think it's possible you simply aren't using the internet properly. It's also possible that your consideration of the "music industry" is narrowly focused to only those looking to break into the national scene in the genre you define as "indie rock".

You're missing the forest for the blades of grass at the root of the trees my friend.

MySpace has been a wasteland for 5 years. I haven't updated my own myspace page in at least 3... And I've not suffered a whit for it. Who gives a shit about MySpace anymore? If you do, you're behind the times dude!

At any rate, I haven't encountered all that many people I've ever felt were "selling out". Perhaps this is because I have a graduate degree in music composition from a fancy ivy league school and half of my composer friends are in Film & Pop music and the other half are doing esoteric tributes to Karlheinz Stockhausen - very few, possibly none, of them seem to be doing what they're doing for any other reason than that it's what they want to do. If selling out is trying to create art with an audience's appreciation as a central concern - and wanting to make a living out of it (as opposed to working at McDonald's and toiling away with your free-jam reggae rock collective on weekends), then I'm the biggest sell-out there is.

But here's the mystery... I like what I do, and I thought the point of selling out was that you were doing things you *didn't* want to do for money? :P

Anyway - here's some suggestions on better internet usage:


Oh, and quit reading Rolling Stone, quit watching MTV, and immediately feel better about the state of music in the world."

I honestly see the current state of music around the world as one of the most robust and best times for art that has ever existed in history. The downside of course, is that with sooo many people creating art in their basements, there is way more out there than ever before, and most of it isn't very good. And of the music that is good, I (as always) don't like all that much of it.

But that's really no different than it's ever been! The only difference as I see it, is that whereas 20 years ago, you and I would have never encountered the worst of it because it would have never made it out of William Hung's basement, but today, it's plastered all over YouTube.

It's also meant, that sometimes it really does suck having to "compete" with the billions of people on myspace and craigslist and all the other places looking for professional work. This is a problem I face all the time, as I'm sure most of my friends do as well. It's a problem on both ends too - as a producer or recently when I've tried to start bands, you get inundated with horrible performers masquerading as musicians, and as a composer looking for paid work, you wind up being just one more website in a sea of crap sometimes.

But that doesn't change the fact that on the whole, more people are able to share their art with the entire world than ever before, and that more people can develop specific tastes and find exactly what they most enjoy. Nor does it change the fact that in the high levels of the music industry - nepotism and payola can still get you a record deal.

Perhaps the problem most people have in recognizing this is that they still believe the economic fallacy that technology is harmful to a society and that economics is a zero-sum game. When more choices become available, that doesn't take away from what was there before, but merely adds to the richness of culture.

But hey, enough about me - What do you all think? Comment away!!

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