By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
But what these corporations have increasingly done is supplant the art they once served. I can guess why. Personalities crafted in the lab are simply easier to deal with, less capricious or explosive than real people, easier to throw away if they get out of hand. Think of the list of faux artists we've seen in the last 15 years, either birthed from invented scenes or brought to us as examples of sui generis corporate art. Consider the hair-metal of the late '80s; the marketing of Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer as the embodiments of hip-hop; Milli Vanilli; the morphing of indie music into "alternative" rock; the Lolita-diva phenomenon of 19982000. These are well-crafted concepts; all have been quickly marked for obsolescence, to be tossed as soon as profit margins begin to decline.
It's an alienating experience, even for the "real" musicians who make it into the system and manage to break into mass consciousness the old-fashioned way -- by playing to people and having real fans.
Ahh, Metallica, the thrash-metal band that began its career playing to a small, dedicated audience of San Francisco burnouts. The group's drummer, Lars Ulrich, recently put authentic rock-star alienation on display in a widely quoted statement to the press:
"I think it's sad and pathetic that the only counterarguments people can come up with [for using file-sharing applications like Napster] is, 'Like, don't they have enough money?' Yeah, we actually do have enough money; I have more money than I know what to do with for the rest of my fucking life, thank you very much for asking. The pool is 88 degrees 24 hours a day, the kid's going to college . . . I'm fucking set! Now let's get to the fucking issues. It's so sad that the only counterargument is greed and money." Set that gem to the Sturm und Drang of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, and you have the definition of ennui: the alienated albeit well-compensated modern rocker.
Sometimes I envision things just getting more awful. I imagine the corporations that currently traffic in music like it was dish soap merely making the box more robust, turning "music" into something that can't be copied as easily as a stereo track. We'll listen to Britney or N'Sync in an immersive multimedia environment or be subject to interactive soft-porn pop, video games with more-developed soundtracks.
For the most part, though, I'm hopeful. I have faith that things will get better. In my optimistic future world, music corporations will take the initiative and focus their marketing and development savvy in ways that take advantage of the limitless distribution pipeline of the future. They'll distribute myriad varieties of music by a far wider range of musicians than those that benefit from the system today; they'll make it cheap or free; and they'll discover and develop a wider range of musicians than anyone ever thought possible. None of those musicians will be able to heat the pool into perpetuity with their earnings, but neither will they hand over their songs into perpetuity to major record labels. In this golden age, the major labels will create the music destinations of the future; they'll invent centralized gateways where consumers will find all the music they'd ever want.
But, naaaah, that'd never happen.
More likely we'll witness the death of the alienated pop star. Musicians will come to better understand the benefits of independent entrepreneurship. They will follow the brave examples of musicians who have already learned to tend their own labels and their own careers. Be it Ani DiFranco and her Righteous Babe label, Fugazi and Dischord, Bad Religion and Epitaph, or Master P and No Limit, there are already successful artists who have proved that fans will go right to the source. A fringe benefit of this is that the musicians can stick to their idiosyncratic sensibilities and keep most of the money for themselves.
In a world where free recordings become ubiquitous, musicians may have to focus their energy on playing to people, the glamorous and the ugly. Whether it's spinning records in a dance space or doing a residency at a scuzzy club, the social aspect of music will be reinvigorated. I would hope that musicians will forget the celebrity musician's standard-issue pose of contempt and figure out how to connect with their audience so that it's artists, not some major-label marketing department, who are reaching out to the awkward teens and nostalgic adults of the world.
The fact that weightless, wireless, intangible distribution will become increasingly prevalent should almost certainly destroy corporate control of recorded music's distribution. This will have some very interesting secondary effects. Media outlets such as this one that make the public aware of product (i.e., music) will not be so beholden to informing people about the records now available in chain stores. A time may come when writers will be able to write about anything that strikes their fancy; readers will be able to access any of the music they read about by typing a search name into a silly little box. Eventually, readers will be drawn to an ever wider range of recommenders. Publications like this one will have no more control over people's context than labels will over content, unless those publications can provide a context uninfluenced by the demands of advertisers. There will be many new checks and balances on money's power over art.
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