The Story Is Not The Music

Who’s got the time?

Beyonce may have delivered a video album that’s got the media and the punters bloviating, but very little of the discussion is about the music, because it’s become secondary to the game.

That’s what music is today. I’m surprised Parker Brothers doesn’t have a label.

Actually, there are multiple games involved.

The game of the executive is to get paid. So when you scratch your head and question short-term thinking, know that you literally have not walked a mile in their shoes. It’s about the contract, not the music. Since most of these companies are owned by the public, not individuals. Come on, who in their right mind would start a record label? Only a delusional young fart, wet behind the ears and too stupid to go to business school. Starting a record label today is akin to going into competition with automakers, in Europe, where sales have tanked.

So the game of the indie label is to bitch.

That’s the story of the year. Not Ylvis’s Fox video or Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, but how Spotify has become the whipping boy. They’re screeching from their smart phones, beginning Kickstarter campaigns, utilizing all the new technology to complain that the old business model wherein you sold ten tracks for more than ten bucks has been eviscerated. I’m actually chuckling as I write this. Yes, you want to go back to the old days when it was expensive to record and concert tickets were five bucks. Good luck with that.

And then there’s the audience. Which is looking for cool. And is overloaded and has no time to waste listening to anything that’s not superior.

Anybody trumpeting the sales of Beyonce’s album has missed the point. The rules have changed. Forever. Now it’s whether someone has LISTENED to your album!

Come on, how many CDs did you buy before Napster that went unplayed except for the hit.

I’ll give you two. I own them. That Alicia Keys debut, with the irresistible “Fallin'”. The rest of that album was garbage, I know, I played it. Ditto on Britney Spears’s debut. Other than “…Baby One More Time” I can’t even name another track. But since those albums sold millions, we were told music was burgeoning, that all was right in the world, even though most of what was sold went unheard.

This isn’t about piracy, this is about a correction.

The bundle’s been broken. People only want what they want. Make ten incredible tracks and they want all of ’em, but if you’ve only got one, that’s all they need.

That’s the game the audience is playing.

And the media is all about the horse race, just like in politics. It doesn’t matter what the music sounds like, just whether the act won, i.e. sold a ton. Actually, the two fields are not that different. You’ve got to be good-looking, with a ton of money and spinmeisters. Yup, the same way you’ve ignored politics is the same way people are ignoring music, because it’s not about music anymore.

Come on. Art is about inspiration. How much inspiration is there in records made by committee? It’s all formula, all the time.

And there are those trumpeting the diversity of hip-hop, and the cred of indie rockers, but they don’t realize that most of us are not paying attention. Because these genres have become caricatures of what they once were.

But you can’t speak this truth in the music business, oh no, because that’s undercutting the game!

Wherein we all make a lot of money, party all night and slap each other on the back. And if you don’t agree, you’re part of the problem.

And the problem, once again, is not piracy, but indifference.

There, I said it. We’ve got a whole system that most people just don’t pay attention to. Music is like curling at the Winter Olympics. People drive by once a year to watch the Grammys, they buy a track or two, but really they’ve got better things to do with their time.

So how do we solve this problem?

1. Admit that everybody can’t be rich and famous. Just because you made it, that doesn’t mean we’re interested.

2. Acknowledge that the audience only cares about great. Microsoft can’t sell Windows phones and we’re telling people Selena Gomez is worth paying attention to. We’re wasting bandwidth, and people only have so much.

3. Forget the trappings. The fashion, the money, the lifestyle, they’re obscuring the essence. The Beatles put out an album with a blank cover, the music spoke for itself, today it’s all about imaging and promotion and the music comes last.

4. Forget about radio. It’s calcified. It’s beholden to advertisers. It doesn’t serve the public. Only Top Forty gets any real traction, and any music in new genres is ignored. Music discovery must move online. The so-called “curation.” Labels don’t want this. They like radio, because they control it, it’s a closed shop. But if you want to gain power in today’s musical world, be the person who tells people what to listen to. And don’t give them tons of choice, because people don’t have tons of time, they just get overwhelmed. Just a few tracks please.

5. Stop bitching about streaming. If you’re fighting piracy and streaming you’re embracing the CD and decrying smartphones. Streaming is the best thing that ever happened to the music business. Because it delivers what the audience wants, everything at its fingertips. If that means some people make less, I want you to bring back record stores, expensive CDs, vinyl… Yup, the old game is through, even if you’re playing your LPs, you’re no different from a Civil War reenactor. Please get your head out of your butt and look forward.

6. Know that trumpeting sales figures and marketing success takes away from the music. Yup, you there at home, please name one track from the new Beyonce album that’s all over the news. But you can name “Royals.”

It’s as if the music business has turned into Procter & Gamble, a marketing machine purveying unexciting wares, only in the case of music, none of it’s necessary.

Yes, that’s the truth. We don’t need music. We need food and water. We like music.

But only the best music.

So the rich will get richer and the poor will bitch.

At least at this point the public is eating the popcorn and rendering an opinion. But if we keep focusing on rote tunes sold by orchestrated campaigns we risk people tuning out.

Yup, the game is better that the music.

You think everybody cares.

But they don’t.



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