When Commerce Eliminated Art…
The music industry, in its entirety, was always a thriving industry. History, down the years, has revealed it to be a place for artists and musicians to express themselves, with freedom, whether lyrically or musically; a place for innovation and creativity to intertwine and grow; a place for people with such beliefs and interests to flourish in. So why, come 2010, has the industry fallen?
How could the years be increasing, yet the industry decreasing? Advancing technology, no doubt, has played its part in ‘the-downfall’, amongst many others (and there are many), but, and lets be frank, what it ultimately comes down to, as one would expect, in our times of heightened conflicting capitalism, avoiding all forms of cynicism (as much as possible) is ‘commerce’. Or, rather, the ‘greed’ for it; the hunger (and no, we’re not talking Shreddies here). And greed is never a good thing. Despite what Gordon Gekko may have exclaimed in Oliver Stone’s infamous Wall Street.
Growing up, when younger, much like most teenagers, music was a big part of my life. I ‘found’ music, as opposed to it finding me. The melodies; the lyrics; the charismatic; as well as the eccentricity – there was just something about it. Something rebellious. Something free and expressive. Something artistic and humane. It captured the spirit - gave a sense of time and place (ever hear a song you haven’t heard in years then suddenly get whisked away to feelings and experiences you once had at a particular moment in time?). But never was any of it forced upon me. It was something I learned to love. On my own. Something I grew into, and become part of. Something I just ‘felt’. A connection; an alignment. And there was a diverse variety – with my era, the likes of The Stone Roses (indie – real indie), Nirvana (grunge-rock), Run-DMC (hip-hop), Public Enemy (political rap), Radiohead (arthouse-rock), Massive Attack (trip-hop), The Prodigy (dance), Blur (alternative pop), Oasis (rock‘n’roll), the list is endless.
And that’s not to mention the many one-hit-wonders which graced the top-40 charts (remember that? When the top-40s used to properly exist and people used to listen to it every Sunday, often in front of their tape-decks, their fingers on ‘play’ and ‘record’?) Music, summed, was about individuality. Creativity left to roam – the sheer undeniable capacity for it. And for this very reason, it was successful. Highly successful. Great creativity equalled great profit. But, unfortunately, this is where things began to go wrong. And boy, did it go wrong! Since, for the generation of now, quite ironically, it has produced a negative effect…
…as it gave those with their business-degrees, their textbook ‘business-model’ frames-of-mind (generalisation, in this case, is apt), fresh out of university, looking for an easy cow to milk, a quick buck (yes, ‘buck’), an opportunity to put their “ideals” to work, resulting in them flooding, in their droves, to the industry (think a lump of cow-pat dumped on a fresh field of green; the redistribution of sewage).
And it is those, with their formulaic static processing, their numbing constricting impostures, who have turned (flattened) the industry into what it now is – a carcass stripped to the bone. Udders that no longer squirt milk (if you pardon the expression). All creativity and freedom – gone. Cut off; blocked. The putting up of a brick-wall. And, naturally, this has largely been due to the financial frameworks these “people” have imposed, and work from. As everything, now, solely, is about money. 100%. All other factors secondary. Discarded. (And no, this is not a case of naivety.)
Beforehand, it’s fair to say, there was definitely more of a 50/50 split between art and commerce, within the industry. A thin line that worked. But these ‘business jockeys’ let’s call them, who more-often-than-not aren’t even into music, came along, forced themselves with their ‘boxed’ models, altered what was natural and free, and have cut the water-supply. Taken away the spring season (and with it, summer). Leaving the dead animal (so to speak). Constant winter.
By looking at the market (‘their’ market), and working on stereotypes (and let’s face it, most people are), they have aimed at the lowest common denominator, the easy target; ‘the inferior’ (to-the-point). And, sadly, this has worked. Equalled increased dollars. Their manipulative tactics, no effort gone into it, a success (be it socially immoral). And via this free-destroying method, the opposite of going and actually finding gifted musicians, they have developed a method of manufacturing their own. Creating a ‘product’ as opposed to discovering an ‘artist’. Cheap supermarket-brands to the real thing. Something that could be easily mass-marketed with no effort, and sold as if from a sweet-shop. No rawness or artistry. No flavour. And people, conforming to what you’d expect, have bought it! Aim at the simple, or those whose minds have yet to develop (so mainly kids, amongst others) and reap the rewards. And, as a result, actual artists, ‘real’ people with ‘real’ emotion and talent, have been left on the scrapheap. Unheard. No outlet, avenue, or exposure. The reason why, as of this decade about to expire, we no longer have any musicians or artists that bring along anything innovative; or original; or noteworthy. Just trash, mass-marketed, and lots of it.
A question to ask yourself: ten years from now, will anyone remember any of the acts currently around, being promoted as ‘the-next-big-thing’? Will they be thought of in the same light as people regard pioneering bands from previous decades, when art and creativity were allowed to flourish? La Roux? Please. The Kooks? I’m laughing. Razorlight(sh*te?)? I’m laughing hard.
What it comes down to, which ties in with the whole modern commerce notion, is marketing-and-sales. Or, to put a name to it, ‘advertising’. Marketing-and-sales, quite simply, has annihilated everything. Like a whirlwind. Forget about udders, there isn’t even a cow. They, single-handedly, now dictate and govern everything (a complete role-reversal from how it should be); control what is and what isn’t allowed for distribution. The ones pulling the strings (when they, in fact, should be a separate entity from it).
If, as was done in the past (almost a distant memory), people were actually exposed to great music, of all varieties, they would no doubt (and I’m being optimistic here) react in a positive manner, being able to ‘choose for themselves’. Make them think and ‘feel’ – as great music has always done. The evoking of emotion and thought.
However, this would, of course, take away the power from the marketing people, their business-degrees rendered useless, and that, sadly, is not something they’d openly let happen. Even for a fair 50/50 split (as was done in the past – and no, I’m of course not talking about artists’ payment). And this is where the problem lies – marketing. Or what ‘marketing’ has become. Beforehand, stuff wasn’t forced-fed to the extent it now is. Music was ‘distributed’, not ‘mass-marketed’ - there’s a difference. A big difference. But the business jockeys, with their “methods”, have their targets to hit, with their business-models to abide by, not having the ability to ‘see’ outside the box, and this has narrowed and eradicated what the music industry was all about – being free and expressive. ‘Taking risks’; trying something new. Creativity; lots and lots of creativity. But business and marketing, of course, are the opposite. Which is why we now have a music environment where everything is 100% solely profit-based, and in the wrong manner. Art, for the want of a better word, has been sacrificed – the very thing that brought money into the industry in the first place, and saw it become so popular. What was once rebellious and free, venomous and edgy, has become controlled and processed, like from a factory. Nothing other than a marketing-tool. Something simplified in order to be used to sell products. Orchestrated. Advertising’s little prostitute. Diluted. The industry, a complete transformation, restructured and reduced into nothing more than something stale, drained, lacking innovation, and where marketing has overpowered creativity.
Oh, it gets worse. With the collapse of the CD-market and the file sharing/illegal download problem, and the fact the industry is no longer making money, the suggested proposal, or ‘way out’, which has already begun, is that bands of the future will be expected to sign to corporate ‘brands’, as opposed record-labels, since the money quite literally isn’t there anymore. Can you imagine that? Seriously. How could edgy, progressive music ever be produced this way? How could art or free creativity ever breathe?
Could you see a band like The Smiths being signed by a corporate brand? Being endorsed? A contradiction in terms. Something like N.W.A or Nirvana? Would not this “movement” make things even more watered down and shifted into advertising than it already is? A complete alteration of what music is about? (Was about?)
A quote from George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind – ‘if you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.’
There is an incline of hope, though. And I say ‘hope’. In situations where an institution is on the verge of collapse, what normally occurs is the barriers are released and taking risks becomes a priority. As there’s nothing left to lose. So who knows, maybe the music industry, in its plight, may finally wake up and start being daring and provocative again. Like it once was. Stop mass-marketing people into consuming rubbish, which gets disposed of quick, with more rubbish in the pipeline awaiting. And maybe the avenue for ‘real’ artists will re-open. Rage Against the Machine’s Christmas no.1 victory, if anything to go by, be it a little childish (and ironic), was an indicator; a step in the right direction. And as Sting has recently been quoted as saying, ‘The real shop-floor for musical-talent is pubs and clubs – that is where the original work is’. So here’s hoping. Waiting for someone to reopen that door. But until then, expect the flies to continue buzzing and those udders to forever hang dry. Come to think of it, does anyone even remember what fresh milk tasted like?