Jun 27, 2012
A dear pal of mine is a musician of some regional notoriety in the Appalachian mid-south, one of many from that neck of the woods I've run across over the years when dabbling in that hobby-biz of mine. I don't know what's in the air or water down there in Tennessee that produces such fine and talented human beings (tobacco?), but I can testify that there are fields full of them. As an added bonus, all of the female members of this tribe are most beautiful; both inside and out.
Anyway, this particular gal rang me up out of the blue the other day after too-long an absence from my radar screen. After getting updated on the big changes in her life (a new hubby = the luckiest guy in the world), the talk naturally turned to her songbird persona. To my dismay, I learned that she was pretty much OUT of the business, having basically tossed in the towel. No more touring, no more recordings, agent, manager, publicist, label, band or road van. Nothing but the occasional solo show (the so called 'chick on a stool') in the local area, rarely venturing more than an hour from her front door to a small gig here or there. It's no longer a profession; it's back to being a sideshow -- just like it was during her college days twenty years ago.
In this case, we are talking about an artist who at one time was signed to one of the major record labels (back when that meant something), which then went about funding at $50K each her music videos and slotted her as the opening tour act for one of the major stars of our era -- all as a means of boosting her into the stratosphere. But it's a tough business, with luck and timing and other intangibles having precedent over raw talent as the key qualifiers for success. Unfortunately, fate was not kind to our dear friend. The first album didn't sell, the label quibbled over what genre tag she belonged in and things got shaky when talks began on whether they would exercise their option on Album #2. That decision finally got made when industry consolodation reared its ugly head and the label was merged with an even-larger major, and economies of scale kicked in. You can guess where this story went: offices were closed and rosters chopped. Our girl was a casualty of both, and suddenly she became a One & Done (album) statistic. For the next ten years, it was the indie route: lower production budgets, small rooms, self-management and dealing with idiots like myself out there as opposed to the bandits (i.e., the Live Nations and Clear Channels of the world) holding the keys to the mint.
There are no guarantees in the music business, just like there are no guarantees in that larger sphere called life. But in most professions, the cream of the crop rises to the top, at least to some degree. There is little doubt that a Major League baseball player is a more talented athlete than a pine-rider down in the AA bushes. Your better sales people make better money than the plugs; the more efficent office clerk is first in line to be office manager, the creator of superior graphic design masterpieces will tend to get the association awards at the end of the year, and on and on. In general, there is usually some sort of connection between merit and reward.
But in music, all of that tidy logic is tossed out the door like a cat coughing up fur balls. Ace songwriters and crack musicians often play for the proverbial "$100 a man" while the Demi Lovatos, Justin Beibers and Sugarlands out there pocket millions a year. Locally, a shockingly popular cover band earns $3000 per night to play Mustang Sally and other lowest common denominator hits made famous by others. Original creativity goes unrewarded while hype and mass market brainwashing is. But we shouldn't be surprised: these same people consume their basic goods from WalMart and the mall, absorb network television and their destination for fine dining is the pavement outside a chain restaurant on Gasoline Alley. Sheep are more easily herded from Point A to Point B than are foxes seems to be a fitting allegory.
As I put in more and more years into the aforementioned music-biz dabbling, the type of conversation as shared above becomes more and more common for me. The system is broken -- for a whole number of causes -- and the money doesn't flow to those most deserving. But if the masses don't care and the deck remains stacked against the Unchosen, it will never change.
Now who wants to hit downtown to shake our booties to some Golden Oldies at a $3 cover? Order me an ice cold Bud and I'll be right there.