The Problem with Music

...is money, of course. We live in an age when everything is commodified from its inception, which is killing our culture and our souls. This process really picked up steam in in the music industry in the 80s, but has now reached total metastasis. But first, some deep background...

17 years or so ago indie rock producer Steve Albini wrote a widely distributed screed in which he detailed how badly screwed 99% of musicians who signed to major record labels got. The funny thing is that this was written in the post-Nirvana gold rush years when million-dollar advances were seen as the new normal. Who knows what normal is today, but I guarantee you that whatever terms Albini was trying to scare musicians away from major labels with in 1993 were probably downright liberal to what bands are looking at today. All the more so given that companies like Live Nation now take cuts of sales, tour receipts and licensing.
The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month. The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never "recouped," the band will have no leverage, and will oblige. The next tour will be about the same, except the merchandising advance will have already been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won't have earned any royalties from their T-shirts yet. Maybe the T-shirt guys have figured out how to count money like record company guys.
Read the whole thing here.

I feel really sorry for younger people who've grown up in a sick and denatured pop environment, where artists are filtered out and sleazy, narcissistic no-talents are hyped to the gills. It's fostered a very twisted relationship of people to what should be their culture, a process accelerated by the radical dumbing-down of our society as a whole.

All of the stupidity we see out there with all of the occult symbolism is a direct byproduct of this disconnect. Real occultists like Jimmy Page don't play the industry's games- Led Zeppelin surrounded themselves with bonebreaking gangsters in order to scare the piss out of all the ripoff artists in the business and it worked marvelously for them. Tough act to follow, however.


Anonymous said...

Thing is.... if we had any sense of culture, or innate awareness of what qualifies as art or real human expression, these hacks wouldn't sell enough records to justify the industry. It should be obvious, or at least somewhere in our collective unconscious that when something so unoriginal, uninteresting, or uninspired gets thrown into our faces we should see it for the steaming pile that it really is. Especially given the fact that we have a huge back catalog of what qualifies as real music to compare things to. We all talk about society being dumbed down to the point where we readily accept these things, but I get the feeling we were always this way. It seems like the corporations have slowly caught on to the fact that you don't necessarily need talent or a quality product/performer to garner sales. Marketing can achieve the same desired affect. So I guess my point is that the reason we have the Lady Gagas, Justin Biebers, and JayZees is because there are enough people who want that, or at least accept it as valid. It's almost as if for a few decades we got lucky. A lot of the mainstream entertainment of the latter half of the 20th century happened to make it's way onto our TVs and radios because the artists actually earned their way there. What we get now is inauthentic, processed, soul-devouring junk food. And judging by the success of our modern 'artists' it doesn't seem to really matter. It's like soylent green by comparison, but enough people don't seem to mind as long as it fills their bellies.

I don't know... maybe this is a good thing. Those of us who crave quality will migrate more and more to the indie, user/artist-driven scene while the rest of humanity laps up the standardized world of corporate 'entertainment'. Maybe if we're really lucky, the industry will completely disintegrate under it's own weight and negligence.


Raj said...

Killing Joke is playing at the London Hammersmith Apollo(!)tonight, and my girlfriend and I are going to watch them!

Almost finished your book, by the way, and it has been a delight to read. Recommending it to all the music lovers I know.


Anonymous said...

I'll take John Bonham pooping in my shoes to Lady Gaga's soul-sucking "respectfulness" any day of the week.

And I've read plenty of interviews with groupies who have said Jimmy Page was a perfect gentleman. FYI- Page didn't take part in the shark incident-- it was Bonham (admittedly an Orc) and one of the roadies. But you know what-- if you act like a groupie, there's a good chance people will treat you like a groupie.