Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Reaction to Mr. Mellencamp

Get ready for Ghost Notes in Audio Book!!! It's coming your way June 15th!!!

I don't know who out there reads the Huffington Post, but John Mellencamp recently posted a blog there on the state of the music business. I recommend reading it. It's a very thoughtful and earnest plea for "fairness" and "compassion" in this time of music business unrest. Mr. Mellencamp has fond recollections of elements of a bygone era of the music business, and he explores where and why things got screwed up. There's a wistfulness to his writing, a sense of something precious lost, of a golden era sadly past.

I also happen to disagree with Mr. Mellencamp.

His fallacy, as I see it, is this: it's not tragic that the music business is retracting. It's AMAZING it ever did that well in the first place.

Mr. Mellencamp existed during an unbelievable boom in the music and entertainment industry. This boom was fueled by the selling of LPs in the forms of albums, cassette, CDs;

the widespread use of amplification equipment, which fueled the great boom in record production, instrument tone innovation and live concert attendance;

and the widespread use of television, radio, movies and magazines to market recording artists.

I know little about the music business before these developments, but I'm fairly certain Bon Jovi wouldn't have stood a chance without them.

So, a perfect storm, right? These mysterious things called albums which somehow yielded music; these amps and speakers making loud, cool sounds; television, radio and magazines bringing Elvis right into our living rooms.


Now, as all of these elements become passe, we're experiencing something that might resemble the way things used to be in the music business. For the most part, pop musicians in 2009 aren't these magical beings brought to us by these amazing new technologies. They're by and large people who travel around the country--or hoof it to the local bar--and make music for you. They stay in contact with fans through MySpace, Facebook and email, but don't necessarily make new fans that way. They often give away their LPs and mp3s for free, hoping to get you hooked enough to come to a show, or buy their new LP or mp3 at a later date. These people aren't entitled millionaires. They survive on (Internet) marketing screwdness and probably barely scrape by, or supplement their music income with another job.

The Internet is, of course, a relatively new technology, but it's a double-edged sword to the pop music artist; not only is it unprecedented as a marketing tool--making it possible to reach just about anyone across the globe--it's also the means to get music for free through pirating, emailing, etc.

And that other new technology, computers, with its CD burners, makes duplication a snap!

In other words, unlike the era of LPs, amps and television, the Internet era doesn't seem to be helping musicians become millionaires.

Through all of this upheavel, I think we've learned something about being a pop musician. With all of those folks out there in Mr. Mellencamp's and my era loving rock music, buying guitars and other instruments, learning to play them, learning to write and sing, and helpful technology cheap and at their disposal, the art and craft of creating pop music has actually become a fairly common skill. There are degrees of skill, of course, but there are a few people in just about any demographic who sing, write songs, and play an instrument well enough to entertain you for a spell.

Don't believe me? I challenge you to go to any decent open mic in your town on any night of the week. You don't even have to sit there all night. Sit there for an hour and listen to each participant. Sure, there are some people who haven't put in the time for rehearsal, or who don't play or sing well, or who are just starting out. Then, you'll hear a song by someone who's really good, or even blows you away. This has happened to me on many occasions.

I bet you'll hear a song you like better than the last John Mellencamp song you heard.

Still, there's competent, and there's great. I think that, if a performer, band or songwriter has something vital--not competent, but vital--to give his audience, and he works hard for it, eventually he will be able to somehow carve out a semblance of a living in music, maybe something equivalent to a working-class salary (minus benefits, of course).

And isn't that kind of the way things ought to be? Does writing a good song, recorded and produced well, merit a million listeners and as many dollars? Of course not. It's a gift to get to play original music for people. You're lucky to get paid at all.

So, unlike Mr. Mellencamp, I don't pine for the good old days of the music business, when entitled megalomaniacs could so easily drown out equivalent or better talent with the use of fat marketing budgets and technological bells and whistles. In 2009, if you rise, you will rise on talent, or Internet shrewdness, or some combination thereof. Perfect? No. But no one can argue that the technology is beyond our grasp, and there is some beauty in that.

Yours in laying down the law,


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