05 Feb Today’s Music Industry Sucks – Does it Really?
It is a recurring thing those days to complain about the state of the music industry. They don’t make music like the old days; so many talented musicians will never be famous because the industry only sells auto-tuned crap, and that sort of thing. You know, I used to believe that too, but not anymore.
There is some truth to all this though, but the fact is that the music industry has always been awful. It’s all about the money – it is like this today and it was like that back then. Don’t get fooled.
Musicians very often were under the clutches of unscrupulous managers who would rip them off, take all the money and use their “connections” to make sure nobody dared to ask where all the money went. People like Dee Anthony, Don Arden and Stan Polley are notorious for having ties with such criminal organizations. And what’s worse, these were the guys who would take you to the big league. It was really the only way; they would secure million dollar deals with the big recording companies, have the artists sign contracts and dictate their every move.
Here are Dee Anthony’s three rules for success, as recorded by Fred Goodman:
“1) Get the money. 2) Remember to get the money; and, 3) Don’t forget to always remember to get the money.”
As for talent, you either had it or not. Period. But who would decide that? Obviously, the recording companies. But who knows how much influence a manager with good “connections” would have on those decisions?
Think – how many talented musicians back then didn’t have a chance because the recording companies didn’t think they were good enough?
And yes, there was so called “crap” music being heavily promoted back then too, so I can’t see how the argument stands.
What if you made it? Well, many of those guys would tour non-stop, sell thousands of records and yet they would not see a single dime from their effort. It’s not about the money, but everyone has to earn their keep. Fame alone doesn’t pay the bills. You can ask Badfinger about it.
Fact is, it was no bed of roses. Very far from it. There are countless stories of musicians who would go through all that and end up in misery and ruin. Want examples? Steve Marriot from Humble Pie and The Small Faces, Pete Ham and Tom Evans from Badfinger, all the members of the Jimi Hendrix experience, including Hendrix himself. The list goes on.
So, what about the guys who DID make it big and got rich? Well, either their manager had a bit of common sense to understand that the artist has to be motivated to continue producing more “money”, or the artists had a very clear vision of what they wanted and also had a better business sense in order to not get fooled by sweet promises.
In other words, if all you wanted to do is play music, you would be screwed.
Companies and managers would control your image too – do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that. It’s nothing new. Remember all that talk about how real music should be the expression of your true self? Then using an old big band from the 70s as an example?
Take AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. There are reports that it was really hard to record it because Mutt Lange, their poducer at the time, had a lot to say. Why? Because they wanted a more commercial sound to break through in the US.
The result is still impressive, though. It is an amazing record, but it doesn’t change the fact that the recording company probably insisted on trying a more polished sound.
Technology changed a lot of things. Back then there were only LPs, singles, radio and TV. Nowadays it is much easier to make records and promote yourself. We can reach a lot more people than before. We don’t really need the big recording companies to be heard anymore – and that’s why they are going bankrupt. They may try to blame illegal sharing and piracy all they want, but fact is that the old model of business doesn’t work anymore.
It is now possible to make fairly good recordings at a home studio or even your own bedroom and post them online for the entire world. That is great for us – music should be for everyone. Everyone should be able to make music and listen to it. If you want to really try and make it big, the recording companies are (still) out there, so it’s your choice.
You can also be an independent artist or sign to a smaller label (they are out there). Sure, you won’t have huge a promotion machine behind you, having radios all over the world being convinced to play your latest record, but is it really all that bad? Maybe you won’t be stinking rich, but neither were the guys back then. The only difference is that there’s no manager or company becoming millionaires behind your back. It may be risky, but it’s not very different from someone who is trying to start a company from scratch (actually, you could think of yourself as ‘Me’ Music Inc.).
What about the fame that comes with being a huge act with a big label? The worldwide appeal? Uniting millions of people around the world regardless of language? When will the next AC/DC or the next Beatles come along?
I ask – is it really all that important? Sometimes I (honestly) even question the significance of the huge fanbase AC/DC has. How many of them are real fans? How many really like the music? How many of them just like them because they think it is “cool”? Fame is a (really really) weird thing.
Think about all the classic bands we love. How many of their memorable songs were made when they were struggling to “make it”? And how many of the hits came when they were already on the top? What I’m trying to say is you don’t need fame to make good music.
The people who deserve to hear your music surely will – you can be sure of that. All you have to do is do your job properly.
Or do you think that if you become a professional musician you’ll not have to work? *laughs*
It is fine to just play music. It is fun and very rewarding.
But if you want to make a living of it nowadays, you are going to need many other skills. The world itself changed, people and their view on music changed. There are no shortcuts anymore (big recording deals, revenue from album sales, etc). It was surely an interesting time back then, with its good sides and bad sides. The music world today is the same, except that it depends more on “you” than “them”. Personally, I think we gained more than we lost.
Being a pro musician means a lot of work – practice, learn the business side of things, learn how to promote your work, practice more. The start will never be easy, but all this might pay off if you know what you are doing.
Don’t get fooled by the same sweet dreams that destroyed the lives of many musicians back then. “Making it” requires more than just skills with your instrument. That is the harsh truth. Just like any other job, it will have things you like and things you don’t like about it. All that being said, it is still possible. Professional musicians are out there to prove it.
That’s what I believe. Music from now on will be from real people to real people. Much more honest and true. I’m not talking about the next big radio hit, I’m talking about your neighborhood pub band who might have regular day jobs, or that indie band half-across the planet you heard on Youtube.
The music you like will always be out out there somewhere – you just have to look for it.
We can’t live in the past forever.
And if it is not out there, do it yourself.