Just because you’re a rock star, that doesn’t make you right.
In case you missed it, Roger Waters railed against techies in the London “Times” behind a paywall, but read a snippet here:
and now we’ve got to see his inane opinions trumpeted across all media because he was once a star and you know stars, we’ve got to listen to them. And I don’t want to even touch his anti-semitic ravings. Sure, I’m Jewish, but to think the Israelis are the sole oppressors and no band should play there is denying thousands of years of anti-semitism and the obvious point that Israel can only lose once. It’s a complicated story, and I am far from approving of everything the country does, but read Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” if you want to know what’s going on, Kerry did, it’s his bible, but you’d rather have a knee-jerk reaction than research complicated issues, just like in tech.
The damn tech companies did not steal your business, did not steal your opportunity, did not make you broke.
The customer did.
Which way do you want it, do you love your fans or hate them? Love those who wanted everything you ever did, even the goose farts in the studio you never thought would be released, or hate those who now have access to everything and don’t want to listen to you.
Let’s state some rules.
1. It’s the best time to be an artist in the history of the world…especially if you make popular music, if you are willing to do it yourself. There are no barriers to entry, but you’d rather sign a deal with a major label, which is kind of like a slave signing up with a plantation owner or those Scientologists who wanted to stay in the hole. I can’t help it if you’re too afraid to embrace the new paradigm, that’s your fault. Meanwhile, you’re bitching that the labels don’t pay like they used to. You want more Spotify money, put your music out yourself.
2. Major labels push what sells. They’re businesses, not museums. You can excoriate the Top Forty all you want, but if klezmer music was the new rage, the majors would pick up that. To bitch that the labels won’t put out obscure music is like complaining to Detroit they don’t make vent windows anymore. It’s not cost-efficient.
3. When everything is available, there’s a race to the top. “The Long Tail” and other tomes perpetrated the fiction that we’d all get rich in the internet economy. Didn’t work during the dot com era and doesn’t now. As a matter of fact, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, in not only business, but art. The public is confused. They’re gravitating to the anointed and the popular. Tech helped grease the skids, by providing access, but it’s the public that chooses what to listen to. You can get your music on Spotify easily, YouTube even easier than that, but that doesn’t mean anybody wants to listen to it.
4. Change happens. Live went to wax cylinders went to shellac to 45s to 33s to cassettes and CDs and then files and now streams. The album was a result of the 33, didn’t exist before that. But now you want to keep it. Keep the buggy whips while you’re at it. You’re supposed to be an artist, using new tools to create something different and exciting. You’re like a painter bitching when Picasso and Braque came up with cubism. Embrace the new, it’s the only way out.
5. Piracy is a problem for recorded music revenue, not artistry. It’s actually good for artistry, you can reach your public for nothing, as you now can on YouTube. Get rid of music on YouTube and watch the ARTISTS go nuclear. They want to reach people for free. Because it’s hard to make a fan.
6. Radio is not forever. Bitch all you want about a closed system. But suddenly TV is unbundling, and despite all the radio hogwash there are so many better ways to experience music that one day music radio is gonna crash, the same way AM and Viacom have. Did you see Viacom’s ratings? Double digit declines, because their young target demo doesn’t watch TV anymore, they utilize other platforms and want it instantly, on demand.
So Roger Waters blows hard and all the has-beens and never-wills throw their fists in the air and scream that he’s right.
But it doesn’t make a bit of difference. Railing against change is like bitching that you can now call across the country for free. Used to be expensive, with long distance tolls. But I don’t see you taking up the cause of the telcos, who all saw the light and moved on to wireless, and when talk declined moved on to data. How come businesses can change and you can’t?
And techies glommed on to music because it was desirable, they wanted to hear it, they wanted others to. They’re the future, not you. People want to create an app, not a song, and that’s sad.
And the truth is that despite you going on that today’s music is as great as it was in the past, the so-called “classic rock era,” it’s not. Of course there are talented people working, of course there’s money to be made, but once upon a time there was more experimentation and music was front and center in the culture, moving it. Now music is all about promotion and money. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth for fear you’ll look old, only in America do we denigrate our elders, experience counts.
And Waters’s experience is of what happened in the seventies. If he wants to tell us how he did it, we’re all ears. But if just wants to bitch that someone moved his cheese, tune him out and give him no press. The truth is Roger can’t sing and no one wants his new music. He’s not on good terms with David Gilmour and separately they’re not desirable. Hell, Brooks & Dunn got back together but we’re supposed to give every solo act a break? Going solo after the group breaks up and succeeding is the exception, not the rule.
We live in a wild, woolly time of cacophony, where the greats are at our fingertips for the same price as the dreck. And to be able to hear everything ever recorded is a boon to the listener, albeit overwhelming. As a result, there’s a shifting revenue picture. It used to be those who jumped through the hoops made money and those who didn’t didn’t. But now that everybody can play, the revenue is tilting towards the winners.
And everybody can’t be a winner.
But tech is inert. Software and devices are tools. They need juice to run on. Art can harness the tools and succeed in ways previously unknown. Could PSY’s “Gangnam Style” have made it in the old era? OF COURSE NOT! Could you watch concerts 24/7 online for free? OF COURSE NOT! Could you have a world class studio in your home? OF COURSE NOT!
We’ve got all the time in the world for great art.
And creating greatness takes a long time, to get to that level and reach people. But the audience is always ready, the techies have provided the pipe, there’s plenty of money and that’s a GOOD THING!
Never forget it.