Monday, January 12, 2009

My Music Industry Rant

It feels weird to rant about something and not type the words “Romo” or “Wade” or “football failures” anywhere in the post. But here goes.

I promised a rant about the music industry and a rant you shall receive. Let me give this disclaimer: I was a total nerd in junior high and high school. I didn’t go to parties. I didn’t drink. I didn’t sit in parked cars with boys. I didn’t go to prom. What I did do was obsessively collect old vinyl records and read any and every rock biography I could get my chubby little teenaged fingers onto. And I have never regretted it. Whereas some kids may have read Choose Your Own Adventure books or escaped into a world of comics, I reveled in this fantasy land called “Rock and Roll 1953-1983” where teenagers rioted and screamed over pelvis thrusts and increasingly risqué rhythms and lyrics. I giggled at the idea of being witness to Zepplin at the Riot House on Sunset living out some 1970’s Satyricon scene. I sighed at how great it must have been to be on the Stones charter jet and to take part in their party in the sky like I saw in Cocksucker Blues. I got teary when reading about musicians buying their poor parents houses and luxury cars with their royalty checks and record sales money as atonement for not growing up to be doctors or lawyers.

My friend Chad and I had a discussion a week ago about how sad it was to us that we are the last generation to know the feeling of doing things like going to a midnight record release party or the sacrifice of spending obscene amounts of money on import singles just to get those two extra songs. It’s weird to think that kids aren’t driving out to RPM Records in Mesquite to rent grainy PAL to VHS compilations of Top of the Pops performances or Slade in Flames or Born to Boogie. It’s ultimately way less of a pain in the ass to be able to type the words “Ladies and Gentlemen….the Fabulous Stains torrent” into Google than hunt it down just to see the only footage of The Professionals. I get very old timer about it and try to act like the kids just don’t appreciate it as much and don’t get as much satisfaction from finally getting to hear that record if all they have to do is wait for BitTorrent to let them know their download is ready. But it’s just an act. I know that any old videos or back catalogs of most of what I would possibly want to see or hear is available to me 24/7 and I can’t pretend that I don’t love it. While the memories of trips across the metroplex to hunt down a single are priceless, 18 year old Amanda sure could have used all that money back then. I probably would not have the intricate knowledge I have of how long you have between when the constable shows up to put a note on your door and when you are actually evicted but that’s not knowledge I have much use for any longer.

So let’s take the nostalgia and all the touchy-feely out of the discussion. It’s hard to party like it’s 1999 when all your record label friends are holding onto their jobs by their brittle, broken fingernails. I will freely admit to suckling from the engorged teat of the bloated music industry as a music journalist. But there was a nagging feeling that the jig was gonna be up soon amongst almost everyone other than the old timers who knew that they were close enough to retirement to not have to worry about where the industry was headed. My last job in the music industry, from which I resigned two months ago, was a crash course in the reality of what the music industry had become. People used to ask me what I did and I would take a deep breath and then kind of mutter that I was the Marketing Coordinator for a company that hosted and cross-promoted major label content through in-store and viral marketing. Then I stood there as they looked at me like a dog trying to watch Jeopardy on TV. What I told them was the corporate speak way to say that I tried to squeeze the last few drops of money out of the drained corpse of the major record labels. Anyone who holds music on a pedestal as an art which should never be tainted by the filthy hands of the corporate world would have wept if they saw what my usual day at work entailed. Mind you, I am not one of those people and came to realize that music shouldn’t be taken so seriously and that sometimes a band will write a song that is catchy enough to use to sell some sneakers to some kids. But the world of 360 music deals (if you aren’t familiar with this concept, google “Madonna Live Nation” or “U2 Live Nation” or “Jay-Z Live Nation” or really just “Live Nation”) is a realm that very very few musicians will ever into. I wonder if aspiring musicians realize this. Record sales and download sales don’t really pay for your mom’s customized Rolls any longer. The good news is that unless you were selling 5 million copies of your album, bands were never really earning much if anything from sales. It’s always been about touring for smaller bands. There’s some anecdotal evidence, courtesy of Chromeo of this tidal change being a good thing for smaller, independent bands.

But I just feel like someone should set all those kids down who might be like I was when I was a teenager and have some real talk with them about the state of the industry. I cringe when I hear young musicians talk about getting “signed” which now (and probably did back then too) means that they will just be giving away more control and money to a company who has only a marginally better ability to distribute their album and boost their music’s sales. Someone’s gotta tell them that even their heroes are parking the tour buses because of lack of money. While the allure of being in a band and the camaraderie and debauchery and ability to wear a lacy shirt or cravat under the protective umbrella of being an “artist” will never die, I just think a more honest vision of “making it” needs to be put forth. The internet is full of things I want to hear these days and can be mine free of charge and within a few minutes (I have a slow connection). And the world is full of people like me.


Anonymous said...

As a musician (yes that's right ladies- I AM a musician) I always thought the entire concept of "making it" was rather ridiculous to start with...I mean it seems pretty clear that about
.2% of people that make music do well enough to live off of it...everyone else either needs to learn to love the process of making music for themselves or just quit (personally I would prefer it if most bands would just quit).

marty bulch said...

What about my penis?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the real money now is in finding good marketing and avenues to release music electronically, and a good tour manager.


Anonymous said...

Everything is free now,
That's what they say.
Everything I ever loved,
I'm going to give it away.
Someone hit the big score.
They figured it out,
That we're gonna do it anyway,
Even if doesn't pay.
I can get a tip jar,
Gas up the car,
And try to make a little change
Down at the bar.
Or I can get a straight job,
I've done it before.
I never minded working hard,
It's who I'm working for.
Every day I wake up,
Come in a song.
But I don't need to run around,
I just stay home.
And sing a little love song,
My love, to myself.
If there's something that you want to hear,
You can sing it yourself.
'Cause everything is free now,
That what I say.
No one's got to listen to
The words in my head.
Someone hit the big score,
And I figured it out,
That we're gonna do it anyway,
Even if doesn't pay.

Gillian Welch

Because all the really cool things our generation wants for itself also want and deserve to be free themselves, just like on our internets. It's only fair.

Z said...


I loved this post. Thank you.

Have you read:

Steve Albini's rant on the music industry. Thought you might be interested. From what I know it's required reading for anyone who is interested in getting involved in the biz.

diahh said...

Great post Amanda, brought back a lot of good memories of me and my friends scrounging around this place for hours at a time when we were kids. Things are more convenient these days, but i still prefer the way it was, it just seemed more fun back then.

j.d.w... said...


I need to begin by pointing out that Anonymous #1 is a liar: Either he/she is not a musician, or, he/she DID - at some point - dream of "making it". It was impossible not to, fueled by FM, MTV and Rolling Stone... impossible...

Fortunately for you and all music lovers, the "industry" may be dying/dead, but the music will keep coming. Those making it won't see the do re mi, but probably never did, anyway.

With that, I encourage you to search out (like the old days, no?) "Sleep No Rest" by Beaver Nelson.

Don in Austin said...

Nicely done. SXSW is just around the corner and you've probably got connections to free tickets. Go enjoy some music, its awesome therapy, and Austin is a good music town as you probably know. I would think that being a music journalist would be a bit more steady than musician. Even a small band needs publicity. Good luck!

Don in Austin said...

I should have read further...didn't see your post on SXSW. Nevermind.