Thursday, July 26, 2012

7.26.12 THINGS THAT PUT MUSICIANS OUT OF WORK THAT AREN"T THE INTERNET

This article first appeared in the 7.26.12 issue of Metroland.


Picking up more or less where we left off last time, talking about why David Lowery is so FoS in his damning of the internet, of tech companies, and of the generation of music lovers who don’t pay for recorded music:

            Blaming the internet is stupid.  So is arguing that “music has been de-valued.”  Nothing has been devalued, it’s just that the algorithm has changed.

            Let’s look at the argument that there are less full-time professional musicians than there used to be.  Without a survey, I can tell you that’s true.  Is it the internet’s fault?  No.  In fact it has nothing to do with the internet.  Here’s some big reasons, in no particular order:

The drinking age:  Yup, I’m gonna keep pounding on this one.  Years ago, in 1984 (!!!) the Feds tied millions in highway funds to having the states raising the drinking age to 21.  In most states at the time it was 18.  With the MADDS and SADDS and their disingenuous arguments that raising the drinking age “saves lives” (so does not venturing outside, or wearing a Kevlar suit), the states all caved and in one fell swoop musicians by the thousands were out of work.  For the vast majority of working musicians, gigs were at places that served alcohol, and the high margins on alcohol sales subsidized the musician’s pay.   The most reliable patrons of these places were the 18-21 year old kids, driven by their surging natural mating instincts, that basic human need for bad communal behavior, and equipped with the uncanny ability to function passably on one or two hours’ sleep after hours of heavy drinking.  A musician or a band would typically see a modest young following turn into a catalyst for a scene, where throngs of kids would show up and drink and be together.  Maybe the crowd would be focused on the music, maybe not.  It didn’t matter; musicians got paid well.

            When the drinking age went up, clubs closed, clubs that didn’t cut back on live music, had music start earlier and end much earlier, charged more at the door, and paid musicians less. A huge chunk of the audience had disappeared, or, in the case of all ages shows, the demographic that bought the most drinks was now drinking in the parking lot instead of in the club.  It was a death spiral that continues to this day.  Many clubowners I know lose money on music, and offer it out of some vestigial and romantic notion that nightclubs should exist, in part, to present live music.

Live music has been replaced I: Some years ago, the idea took hold that a person should gain near-celebrity status for having the job of picking out popular pre-recorded musical selections and playing them in sequence for a room full of people.  DJ’s are invariably cheaper than musicians, cleaner, less trouble (no drummers, for example), more reliable, more flexible (“Sinatra?  You bet!  Die Antwoord?  Coming right up!”), and a good DJ gives the people what they want, not that this takes any great measure of skill.  So it’s not surprising that clubs, weddings, parties, etc etc etc will forgo hiring mercurial artists who have spent years honing their craft and thousands of dollars acquiring and fine-tuning their instruments and instead book some clown with a couple of speakers and a music library, and this clown gets marketed like he (or she, but really, it’s almost always a he, isn’t it?) is some kind of star, some kind of talent.  Please.

Live music has been replaced II:  The world has changed.  Bands, guitarists, singers, aren’t the thing any more.  Electronic dance music (EDM) in all its various incarnations (dubstep, house, drums & bass, etc) is the thing.  Nobody over the age of 20 seems to be getting this yet, except for a few outliers like the brilliant music blogger Bob Lefsetz, an old coot like me who’s been ringing this bell for a while.  But look at the numbers, look where the excitement is at festivals like Coachella and Bonnaro.  Ask the Avid guys who’ve been jamming the Albany Armory with kids coming to see their shows that sometimes sell out before they’re announced, while we’ve been sitting in half-empty clubs and concert halls trying to decide if it’s time to go home yet.  Yes, there are plenty of kids learning guitar and drums and going to some rock band camp under the proud tutelage of Mom and Dad, but even they know that the cats who are gonna make it, gonna get the girls (and/or boys), gonna get the glory---those cats are holed up in their bedrooms with a computer and headphones, creating music alone, or on places like Soundcloud, trading beats and sounds and ideas with similar kids from every corner of the earth.  They all know what time it is.

Paul Rapp is an art and entertainment lawyer who just noticed that there is a porcupine carcass outside his front door, and who has a recording studio in his computer that he doesn’t know how to use.  You can

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