Take The Money
Reflections On The Current State
Of The Music Business
by Evan Chase
before I ever became serious about being a professional music
a wiser, older, musician friend told me this hard, plain
which at the time, I took only somewhat to heart.
What he said
point-blank was, “The music business is full of shysters, dreamers and
Stunned as I was to hear that seldom if ever spoken truth
said outright, and by a musician to boot, after the initial shock of
recognition at its partial or total truth based upon what little I’d
already seen in the indie rock world of the mid-1990’s, mostly in and
around Cambridge, MA and Washington, DC, I think somewhere along the line
I made a concerted effort to pretend I hadn’t heard it at all.
I think the kids call it. It’s not a river in Egypt, as through my own
in the rock biz in the last seven to eight years
I’ve come to find out.
It should be pretty
obvious to anyone who’s even remotely paying attention that the music
was set up a certain way to benefit most only a small, insular
percentage of the many, many people
who work so damn hard to both
propel it and to insure its survival.
I came to the music biz party, so
to speak, through the seemingly most natural of ways:
I’ve loved music,
and particularly new wave and indie music since
I was just a teenager,
the time when music probably has the most profound
impact on us, during
our so-called Formative Years.
Then, after years and years of being a
die-hard, unrepentant fan and occasional
took the leap of faith into the journalism side of things.
I decided to
take a tip from the masters and write about what you know. What I know,
most of all, out of all possible subject matter under the big black
sun, strangely enough,
is new wave and alternative rock n’ roll.
out. So I wrote.
And wrote and wrote and wrote.
And surprise, surprise
(to borrow from that classic X song
from "See How We Are"),
the occasional online indie magazine
wanted to publish my work.
At all. For years.
Or, rarely, I’d get published
and not get paid,
which is even worse.
Then came my Big
when an old friend of mine who works
in the music biz helped me
to set up an interview
with Red Hot Chili Peppers’
and the rest,
as they say, is
I’ve interviewed six semi-famous musicians
since then, 2004,
as it was to have met most of them,
it’s largely been a case
of diminishing returns financially
and even far as getting these
interviews into print.
Which leads me to ask,
have we finally lost
interest in our rock stars/heroes
of college/alternative rock of
Or, out of sight, out of mind, perhaps?
Most of the artists
who came of age
in the MTV-laden 1980's
are still playing,
making, great music
in moderately small venues
in cities all over the
United States and in Europe.
So what’s up?
I simply have to ask the
the publishers and everyone else who claims
to have a vested
interest in the music business industry.
What can we, as journalists
of music magazines and websites, do to fix this?
to be an answer here
if we’re all willing to work together
in dialogue regarding positive,
for the music
business in the 21st century.
Have all the bands,
or modern rock in toto,
jumped the shark, so to speak?
ever-presence on college and rock radio
and constant use in
to Hollywood movie soundtracks
(John Hughes been the
guiltiest of all in aiding and abetting
this phenomena) oversaturated
to the tipping point where we can’t be bothered
about the actual people responsible
for the making of the music, the
whose talent, blood, sweat and tears (ha ha),
went into the
making of this now,
for want of a better term, classic modern rock
Is it just because they’re getting old that we’re turning
eye and ear in the magazine industry
toward the modern rock stars of
Does it represent a failure on the part
of our shared
goodwill or imagination,
or is rock just and simply, as
Steve Kilbey of
The Church assured me,
a young man’s business?
And when you’re no
you’re out of luck,
and it’s time to go away.
I, for one, have become
a believer in the idea
that older is better,
many of these hard-
hard living musicians are
living proof of the ability to
and stay vital
in their creativity over the years.
all heard it said how Hollywood/the move-making business and the music
business are pretty much or only about the money, and there’s
considerable proof of that.
Maybe I’m just too personally invested
in the idea of art over commerce. For years, friends and I have argued
over a similar issue relating to the business side of things. “It’s not
art if you can’t sell it/make money off it” is the concept an old
friend has consistently tried to sell me. Now that I’ve seen a little
of what goes on in the music industry, I can more easily see his point
of view, though I doubt I’ll ever wholly concede this too-easy notion,
because in order to do so, part of what I love most about music would
have to die. And yet somehow I’ve still had to reconcile with these
less-than-easily-answered questions, and try and move forward as a
music journalist and, in a sense, my role as a professional fan.
Big Bad Wolf: Point The Finger At The Labels
The current state of the music business,
through the lens through which I’m lately seeing it, sucks, for a few
obvious and fairly compelling reasons. The way things have
traditionally been run, say since the 1950’s I imagine, is that the
record label and band management take the lion’s share of the profits,
leaving too many artists in a difficult position. For further proof
that things haven’t changed much, read Steve Albini’s brilliant “The
Problem With Music”, first published in The Baffler ‘zine in 1992.
Well, we do control the means of
production, after all, is probably their bottom-line thought, if there
be any genuine thought at all among label-industry bigwigs. Make as
much as you can as fast as you can probably says it all as well. Take
the money and run, as the old Steve Miller song goes.
safe to say that somebody’s still getting rich off music, right? So
who, besides Steve Jobs and Itunes, Emusic and other pay music sites is
it? As mentioned before, most of it must be divided among the key
players, those being the bands themselves, the bands’ management, and
the twin unholy machines of record labels and giant chain retail music
stores like Best Buy, Target, etc. And don’t forget all the money that
changes hands at the arenas and smaller venues many of the bands
consistently play. Without the ability to see the actual numbers, and
it’s safe to say this information is kept from the, ha ha, general
public, in order to keep the shady business ‘safe’ for the
labels/industry fatcats, it’s therefore impossible for any journalist
or curious layperson to see just how rich we’re actually making each of
the above-mentioned players in the game. It’s safe to say it’s a
lucrative endeavor all the way around, otherwise why would anyone
continue to do it? If the artists weren’t making enough scratch from cd
and dvd sales, concert tickets, and heavy merchandising then they’d be
the first to jump ship, fold up their circus tents and call it a
career. With no artists to represent, band management and record labels
would soon be out of business too. The industry of rock & roll
we’ve heretofore known it, largely based out of the USA, would die out
like the top-heavy Paleolithic dinosaur it’s now proving itself to be.
And no one can wholly convince me, based upon what I’ve personally seen
as an ‘industry insider’ (how sick that phrase makes me), that that end
would be a horrible thing. Maybe we’d get on with the business of being
a little more attentive to the music of our hearts, (cliché though it
be), the spheres, and maybe even one another.
I have another friend who says we all
get dirty here in one way or another, and I’m tempted to agree. We all
shill for somebody, or as Dylan so aptly sang, You gotta serve
somebody/It may be the Devil, and it may be the Lord/ But you’re gonna
have to serve somebody. The music business may be dirty, but
occasionally it can be lucrative, and
even, at times, damn fun. There’s drugs and chicks, to be sure, for
those who want them, and sober musicians aplenty happily playing music
they love to people who appreciate the hell out of them.
Not a bad gig,
in the end, I imagine, for those lucky few who can make a living at it.
It still remains to be seen if I’ll be one of them.
I’ll close with a few wise words to
a music written by Indie Agent Provocateur, Steve Albini. “Out here in
the world, we have to pay for our records, and we get taken advantage
of by the music industry, using stooges like you to manipulate us. We
harbor a notion of music as a thing of value, and methodology as an
equal, if not supreme component of an artist's aesthetic. You don't
"get" it because you're supported
by an industry that gains nothing
when artists exist happily outside it,
or when people buy records they
like rather than the ones they're told to.” –Steve Albini