The Grammy Telecast

It’s a mainstream show in a niche world, no wonder everybody is unhappy.

It’s no longer 1985, MTV does not rule and we do not live in a monoculture where everybody knows the same hits. The internet blew that paradigm apart, but the old media lions did not get the message. Recorded music lost half its value yet TV and film believe they’re immune. Thinking people respect their wares and execs are smart and the truth is we lived through the greatest disruption of our lifetimes and those in the arts still have not gotten the message.

The proletariat owns the arts. And when you try to falsely purvey to them they puke.

The truth is no one likes all the music sung on the Grammys.

And the show is playing to a theoretical audience that doesn’t exist. One in which we love everybody and everybody’s deserving of a trophy.

Whereas the truth is our nation has never been more divided in our lifetimes. And what music has done is to put its head in the sand. Selling the same sound over and over again. We’ve got the same damn spirit we had in 1969. The classic rockers are still traipsing the boards, country music is a pale imitation of what once was and rap has been ruling for so long, decades at this point, that one forgets that in the MTV era one sound replaced another every couple of years. Hair bands were replaced by grunge which was pushed aside by pop and hip-hop. Where’s the new sound today?

No wonder nobody cares.

But you’ve got a cheerleading media beholden to the labels so you’re told that music is healthy. Forget the business, music is on life support. Because the best and the brightest have abandoned it and everyone left in the building is solely about cash. Art is about speaking truth to power, where was the truth tonight?

Over on HBO, John Oliver was analyzing why Trump could get away with uttering falsehoods, why people believed them, what we could do about it.

And on CBS we had uneducated nitwits fawning over each other in duets as if we cared.

We don’t.

Trump is the biggest rock star extant today. Because he got everybody’s attention, and we live in an attention economy. Whereas most people avoid the Spotify Top 50 and you need a guidebook to listen to the music, you’ve got to be a history buff, it’s so self-referential.

Trump understands shock and awe. Something Andrew Loog Oldham and the Stones specialized in, remember when Mick and the boys were dangerous, and Alice Cooper perfected. The world was against Vince Furnier, except for his audience. And one of Vince’s big songs, after “Dead Babies” and “Under My Wheels,” never mind the angst of “I’m Eighteen,” was “Elected.” He made a joke of the ’72 election, which truly was. Who’s poking fun at the political shenanigans today?

Vince/Alice freaks out the public with a record shrouded in panties and today the goal is to sell your own panties or hoodies or perfume, anything the lemmings who listen will consume. What happened to art? Art is all about conception. Housing your album in a school desk, brilliant. Hooking up with Samsung, lowest common denominator.

Music is ripe for disruption. And said disruption will be something inimitable that appeals to everybody. A new sound that’s less niche and more mass. Kinda like Trump, a dividing line that got us all paying attention. The Donald, love ’em or hate ’em, but you can’t stop paying attention to him. And the truth is however much it might bug you, he won.

And CBS and the artists were afraid of the blowback. Imagine if someone did take a political stand, a swipe at the President on the show, it’d be front page news, it would spread like wildfire over the internet. Instead, Adele won another couple of awards. For an album that’s mediocre that wasn’t on streaming services. There you have the music industry in a nutshell. Mercenary, hocking second-rate products. Read the press and you’d think Adele was the next Beatles, listen to “25” and you were bored silly, you wanted to take it off. But we had to hear how great she was again and again again. The same way these same wankers told us Hillary was gonna win.

But no one can say no to being on the show. They think by reaching everybody they’ve won. When the truth is it just demonstrates they’re pawns in the game, tools of the system. Have a little self-respect. If duets were that popular they’d dominate the airwaves, and they don’t. And all the trappings, the dancers on stage, in what world does that really happen?

And the truth is TV is bad for you, your image, your career. This is not the grainy clips of yore, rather you’re broadcast in HD on the big screen and the end result is it makes you look small. Music is something you feel, and you feel it at the gig, not on TV. And first and foremost it’s something you listen to, but that paradigm left the building eons ago.

Who cares who wins these awards? Other than those on the undercard who are trolling for bio material, the truth is everybody forgets who won and the awards have no impact, kinda like awards shows themselves. Remember when we all live-tweeted, well, the music has stayed the same but we’ve moved on, we realize no one is listening, does anybody on stage realize most people watching really don’t care about them?

But we want something to care about, desperately. Give us some truth, sold with songs we can sing along to. We are your audience, not corporations. And no amount of hype will convince me any of the nominees were groundbreaking, one listen songs that will be repeated and listened to in the future. It’s all grist for the mill. Everybody’s shooting so low.

So you hated the show. Don’t feel so unique. EVERYBODY hated it. You stayed tuned in to see your favorite, but they were compromised and you winced. And what you want to do most is crank up your favorite tune and forget the whole thing.

The future will not be ruled by CBS, never mind the Grammys. Music has historically been the hottest of media, the fastest to react with the truth, via songs embodying the character of those singing them. Come on, is that new Katy Perry track disposable or what? Overworked, as they all are, with multiple writers and producers and beats, how about a bolt of inspiration transferred to wax that we can all relate to? Like Keith Richards dreaming of “Satisfaction,” singing it into a tape recorder by his bed and laying down the indelible riff that was inescapable way back when and still works today.

Art, especially music, is not about overlaboring, but pure inspiration, channeling the zeitgeist.

But there was no zeitgeist on television tonight, it was just a look in the rearview mirror.

And what scares me is today’s youth have never been alive when music pushed the needle, when it was ubiquitous, written by the artists channeling their truth.

We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

And nowhere do I see a new Joni Mitchell, the woman who wrote that song.

I’ve been wowed by technology, astounded by politics and all the while…

Music has become a second-class citizen.

You ain’t gotta know how to sing, you ain’t gotta know how to play, you need to know how to capture lightning in a bottle and lay it down on tape. Some of the greatest records are poorly recorded. Many of the legendary players can’t read music. But they know art is about latching on to mood, laying down in sound that which you feel, so that others can resonate.

If you resonated with tonight’s show you must be Neil Portnow or Ken Ehrlich.

As for the rest of us, we were sitting there dumbfounded, if we were watching at all.

Tom Petty At Musicares

It’s a clusterfuck. Where the nobodies take the dress code seriously and show up in monkey suits and the somebodies might wear sneakers like George Drakoulias and if you’re an insider it resembles nothing so much as a summer camp reunion, where you see everyone you know and catch up and the only problem is the cocktail party is too short.

And then the show begins.

There’s a painful auction. Inane introductions. And endless covers of the honoree’s songs. And on paper it all looks good, but in reality it usually falls flat. Because although the backup band is stellar, the performers are oftentimes underrehearsed and reading from an obvious teleprompter at the back of the room and for an evening that is selling magic, there’s very little of it.

If I had to pick the highlight of the program, I’d go with George Strait singing “You Wreck Me.” This should not have worked whatsoever, but George hit a line drive over the fence and if you knew who he was you were grinning from ear to ear. But, as one of his promoters, John Meglen, remarked, nobody there had any idea they were in the presence of superstardom. That’d have to be the CMAs, and Musicares is a positively west coast enterprise. George is standing there in his cowboy hat, the man with the voice who does not write, and you’d have sworn those were his words and that he’d gone to the Whisky to see Tom way back when.

Which I did. Back in ’77. When KROQ was still a free-format station and “Breakdown” was starting to get some traction and the press wasn’t sure whether Tom Petty was a punk.

And I’ve seen TP many times since and wondered if I ever needed to see him again and…

Neil Portnow gave a long, drawn-out intro to Tom for the award, they should have gotten a musician, and then Tom strode up to the mic.

And seemed genuinely chuffed. And let’s be clear, this is just about raising money, for a good cause, but that’s why they honor someone.

And Tom’s rambling as a good Southerner should. And you know he waxes and wanes between friendliness and edginess and you’re not quite sure where he’s going but then he points out Mo in the crowd and talks about playing “Free Fallin'” with George and Jeff at his house, just as the Wilburys were coming together, and Lenny Waronker exclaims it’s a hit, which it certainly became, but Tom said his label refused to put it out.

Which was true.

But then Tom started talking about Leon Russell, one of the majordomos of his initial label, Shelter. Tom goes over to his house and when he emerges into the night with a group of household names Tom puts on his shades. And Leon chides him, tells him he’s got to EARN that right. That Lou Adler didn’t don them until AFTER the Mamas & the Papas and when Jack Nicholson was making genre pictures he didn’t wear them and Tom said at this point he thought he’d earned them, and after telling that story he pulled his dark glasses out of his pocket and put them on and the crowd roared!

And after talking about how Johnny Cash told him he was a good man to go down the river with, Tom strapped on his guitar, strode to the middle of the stage, looked at the Heartbreakers and started to play.

You’ve got to understand. We grew up in a different era. Where the radio was our Facebook and the musicians were our Steve Jobs’s. Today’s players, and they rarely do, are just vessels for stardom, there’s rarely any there there. And Tom Petty is positively second generation, he didn’t hit until the seventies. But so many baby boomers weren’t born until the fifties, and the band fires up and…

You’re taken right back to what once was. You’re in the pocket. You remember when it wasn’t about texting on your cellphone at the show, but pushing up to the stage, needing to get closer.

And Tom implored everybody to do this. And all the overdressed people surged up from the back and surrounded the stage and after playing a relative obscurity, “Waiting For Tonight,” he went into his eighties hit, “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

It was all over MTV. When a hit was ubiquitous. And with backup vocals from the Bangles it was like hearing our national anthem, it was like Washington, D.C. and the shenanigans didn’t exist. The band locked into a groove and we were magnetized to it. You just stared at the stage in wonderment and recalled why you were there. Because we were all in thrall to the music, we were in service to the music, and it felt so good and it felt so good last night.

And when Stevie Nicks emerged to sing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” I was jetted right back to 1981, when you had to buy the album. Stevie was famous for Fleetwood Mac, you had no choice but to go to the store and buy the LP without hearing it first. And sure, “Edge Of Seventeen” was all over the radio, but then came…

Baby you’ll come knocking on my front door
Same old line you used before

No one even knocks on your front door anymore! You ping them on your device, there’s not the same anticipation of magic or loss and…

The guitars are singing, we’re on the aural adventure, and then…

So you’ve had a little trouble in town
Now you’re keeping some demons down
Stop draggin’ my
Stop draggin’ my
STOP DRAGGIN’ MY HEART AROUND!

I’m thrusting my arm in the air, singing at the top of my lungs, because that’s what I did and still do when I’m moved by the music, you can’t hear me over the band, over the record player, but I need to involuntarily join in, because this is my religion.

And then Jeff Lynne implored us not to back down and when that was done there was that indelible riff…

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin’

Again, again and again. We got our license and took off down the highway with the tunes cranked. There were no selfies, but if there were you’d have seen our long hair blown back and shiteating grins on our face.

Trees flew by, me and Del were singin’ little ‘Runaway’
I was flyin’

Kinda like Harry Chapin in his taxi. Our feet were not touching the earth, and last night they weren’t either. How could Tom and his band be so much better than everybody else? It’s the same instruments, they wrote all the songs, but when the Heartbreakers were firing on all cylinders they levitated the whole building and we were all on the same page, eagerly nodding our heads in service to the songs.

We’ve got a sense of history. We heard Del Shannon on the radio, all the progenitors. And then we picked up guitars and some never put them down and came to Los Angeles and played the game and now we all know their names.

But rather than whore himself out to the Fortune 500, TP remains on his own journey, all in service to the music, money is a byproduct.

I felt so good like anything was possible
Hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes

We’ve been on cruise control for far too long. Boomers are all about lifestyle, they gave up moving forward years ago, but then they go to the show and they return to who they once were. Matrons are singing every word, men with lumpy bodies are dancing, that’s the power of music to inspire and change your life, you’re runnin’ down a dream one more time.

We believed anything was possible. As long as the music was playing. And it was, on the radio, on the stereo, it was not portable but it was everywhere.

And it felt so good.

And it still does.

Last night Tom Petty and his band of merrymakers proved they belong in the pantheon, where very few other bands reside. Because instead of worrying about hits played by the last deejay they’re all about getting in a room and making that sound.

And last night we were in the room with them and…

I tingle just thinking about it.

We were workin’ on a mystery, and it led us to a life of incredible fulfillment, and when we hear these songs played live we don’t even think of backing down, we recover from our breakdowns, we’ve got to come around there…

Again and again and again.

Music, when done right, makes magic moments.

AND LAST NIGHT WAS ONE OF THEM!

UTA Cancels Its Oscar Party

Peter Benedek was beaming at dinner Wednesday night and I had no idea what he was so happy and proud about.

Turned out UTA had canceled its Oscar party and was donating the 250k to the ACLU and was holding a rally, all in support of its client Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of “The Salesman.”

I saw it. At the Royal in West L.A. A four o’clock screening on a weekday that was nearly sold out. I was the youngest person in the theatre, it’s the oldsters and the youngsters who are keeping the cinemas alive, but I couldn’t miss it, because of “A Separation.”

One of the best films of the twenty first century, I highly recommend it. What did Depeche Mode say, people are people? Doesn’t matter if they live in Iran, they’ve got families and aged relatives who need care and “A Separation” won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2012, deservedly so, and “The Salesman” is nominated in that category this year, but Asghar Farhadi couldn’t come, because of the Trump travel ban.

That’s when Jeremy Zimmer decided to take action.

What kind of bizarre world do we live in where the execs take more risk than the talent? I’m still waiting for the musicians to stand up. To get down in the dirt and try to hold back the momentum of the D.C. juggernaut. Because, after all, musicians represent everything they hate. Their free-flowing lifestyles with the drugs and the alcohol and the sex before marriage. You’d think they’d want to protect their interests, but they’re afraid. They don’t want to potentially alienate some customer who doesn’t care anyway.

And I’m gonna let you in on a little secret, that anybody on the front lines is familiar with, and that’s that the right wing works the refs. Say anything against them, anything in support of left wing positions, and they come out of the woodwork saying “There you go again,” along with a bunch of false facts. The left wing doesn’t do this, because the left wing is lazy and disorganized. But what ends up happening is the refs cave, the media and the newsmakers, and we’re led to believe that the right wing position prevails. It doesn’t, certainly not on abortion and immigration and so much more. So when are you gonna stand up for your rights?

Now I’m online all day. Checking the news apps and sites. How did I miss this UTA announcement?

So while Peter is talking at dinner I decide to Google. And it turns out the only mainstream publications who went with the story that day were the New York “Daily News” and the UK “Daily Mail.” It was all over the trades, Deadline, “Variety” and the “Hollywood Reporter,” but in the straight press, nada.

This is the world we live in. When you don’t realize you’re in a bubble. You think everybody knows what you’re doing and they don’t. Getting the word out is a long, sustained process. And it’s less about spreading the word on one story than continuing to create stories.

So self-sacrifice is in. Turns out so many of us are willing to pay more taxes, willing to live without for the greater good. We are all in this together, right? Our only hope is for left and right to unite for economic security for all. That’s what this is all about, jobs. No one really cares about foreigners, they just want food on the table and the foreigners are scapegoats belittled by an entitled class that has left the disadvantaged behind. I mean how the hell am I supposed to pull myself up by my bootstraps if I’ve got none and know nobody in power?

I believe in globalization, I believe manufacturing can’t come back to America, or if it does, most of the work will be done by robots, but I do believe in the right of every person to have a roof over their head, food on the table and economic opportunity. Those are the problems we must solve, which does not involve giving the rich more money and supporting faded industries like coal which has been eclipsed by natural gas and fracking.

The world changes, the cheese gets moved. Ever since digitization we’ve had groups lamenting this, wanting to jet back to the past. But coal miners are like workers in CD plants, their heyday is in the rearview mirror.

Now after UTA announced their cancellation, WME said it was gonna start a PAC. And that’s how it works, it’s a domino effect, one person stands up and then the rest do. Imagine if Gaga said she would not perform at the Grammys, and if the show had to ultimately go dark or feature C-level talent. The word would get across. That’s the power of a musician. Not that I think the Grammys need to go, not for this reason, but the point is you leverage your advantages and stand up for something.

And UTA just did this.

What are you gonna do?

The Power Pyramid

1. The Promoter

The most powerful entity in the music business. Because they write the checks. And on the road is where you make the most money. Unheralded and unknown, especially by the press, the labels get all the glory, but it’s the promoters that keep the business healthy. Anybody can get their music on streaming services, not anybody can get a gig and get paid for it. Sure, there are open buildings, but have you got the money to guarantee rent, the ability to advertise and get people to come to the show? The promoter does all this for little upside. The promoter takes all the risk and you reap the glory. Of course the more unknown you are the worse deal you get. But if you can deliver, your splits improve.

2. The Agent

Of course you need a manager, but even more you need an agent, otherwise you’re just sitting on the couch fantasizing. There’s a lot of talk and little action with developing acts. How can you get an agent interested? Not so much by demonstrating that you’re good, but by showing that you can draw an audience. You can sit at home concocting songs but if you want to get ahead you’re better off honing your live show. Take every opportunity available, even for free at first. Not only do you want to expose people, you want to get better. No one gets good at a job until they actually do it. Not only do you have to perform the songs on stage, you have to engage the audience, which is harder than it looks. Now the funny thing about today’s music business is agents find you, as do record labels. Nothing’s hidden, everything’s available, and if you can garner a live audience, if you can sell tickets, an agent will probably show up. Not that you cannot pitch yourself, but dragging an agent to a gig is only part of the problem, then you’ve got to deliver on stage and demonstrate you can build an audience. Sure, agents are interested in socials, but they’re more interested in ticket sales. This is where the rubber meets the road, where it can’t be faked. Big agents will probably not be interested at first. Sign with a small one if necessary. But know that agency relationships, unlike record deals, are fluid. You can move on with little obligation. The law varies from state to state, but this is the essence. The irony is if you become a superstar in most cases you no longer need an agent, you can negotiate directly with the promoter, but agents don’t want to tell you this, they want to prove their necessity, as the agency they work for gets into other businesses and their importance wanes.

3. Record label

You don’t need one unless you plan to get on the radio. And I’m talking Top 50 or Urban radio. Otherwise, the label can’t do much for you and will take all the action in the process. The goal used to be to get a record deal, today you want to play live, where all the money is anyway. If you play music that can get in the Spotify Top 50, a major will be helpful. As for indies, you can tell  your mother you got a deal but there will be little cash and no radio and they probably won’t do much other than send out press kits and they’ll take all the money if there is any. You want to do it yourself until you get traction. It’s a funny business, everybody’s trumpeting their relationships, when the statistic insiders care about is money. How much money is involved, how much are you making. Labels can delay your career and hold you up when things are not going well and it’s more akin to the movie business than the music business of yore. The labels make big investments, they roll the dice on that which they believe will go nuclear. And, as you know, almost none does. Do you want to be tied up and play these odds?

So it comes down to you. Used to be it was about aligning yourself with the players because the barrier to entry was so high. Now the barrier to entry is nonexistent. You can make the music at home on your computer for bupkes, you can distribute it on streaming services for nearly nothing, but the hardest part is getting people to pay attention. And that’s your job. Don’t put the cart before the horse, don’t try to gain attention before you deserve it. Because that just makes it harder to get people to give a look when you deserve it down the line. Your only hope is to empower the public. Press reaches fewer people than ever before. The papers review albums that go straight to the dumper. You’re on your own, and that’s a good thing. Because you can experiment, you can pivot, you can be in the game all the time. Used to be when recording was expensive and labels paid for it they dribbled out albums that they micro-managed, because of the risk involved. Now you can write a new song and put it on streaming services immediately, put a cover on YouTube, build a following with a Snapchat Story… The only problem is now the competition is everybody. Used to be if you jumped the hurdle and got a deal, that eliminated most of the competition, you were a member of the club, chances are word could be spread about you and you might be able to trade on it for the rest of your life. No longer. This mimics the world at large. Where the rich get richer and the poor get flat screens and the underclass believes it can make it on hopes and dreams but ultimately becomes disillusioned. Music is the land of wannabe hype. Everybody’s spamming ad infinitum. How do you break through the clutter? With tunes and performance, and those are the hardest things. And even if you’re great, it takes longer to make it today. So look for a spark, look for an increase in metrics, and if you don’t get it, change what you’re doing or give up. And there’s no dishonor in giving up. It’s fun to play music but not everyone can do it for a living. And if you want to become famous, there are much better ways than playing music, especially in this internet era. And if you want to become rich, being a musician is kind of like…being a lawyer. A profession that once put you ahead of the pack with a guaranteed income but no longer does. Sure, there are some lawyers making bank, but many graduates can’t even get a legal job. Find your niche in life. If it’s gonna be music, focus on your skills and try to do something different and know it’s a long hard slog. Furthermore, you can be uber-talented and not make it. And sour grapes dooms you. Overnight success is rare, and rarely lasts. Think building blocks. And the best way to have a sustained career is to play live, garner an audience and move up the performance food chain.