I’d like to address something that I think is really weird and bizarre.
This really weird, bizarre thing to which I’m referring is the deep, passionate and all-encompassing disinterest people in the music industry have for the concept of artist development.
Efforting a bit of logic for a moment, you would think that an industry which is generally, a) lost at sea, b) fiscally sinking like a stone, c) in dire need of a compass and, d) in desperate in need of anything remotely resembling an anchor, would literally fling itself en masse at any potential solution to these problems. Especially a solution that is time-honored; has already been vetted repeatedly over multiple decades; one that would, if history is any indicator, more than likely save their collective asses.
Two issues prevent this from happening. The first issue is the current music industry’s m.o. for doggedly and aggressively avoiding new (or old) revolutionary ideas much the same way a person who wants to remain amongst the living avoids things like the Ebola virus, urinating on the third rail of a metropolitan subway line or anything else that would cause them to become irreversibly dead.
The second issue is that true artist development is meant to engage and stimulate a spontaneous process of organic growth in artists. I’m sure this doesn’t make any more sense to you than it does to me that this could be perceived by the music industry as a potential threat to their status quo (instead of benefitting them tremendously), perhaps I can further enlighten you.
At some point in the distant, shadowy past, there was a general understanding about artist development. The most successful people in the industry knew that actively supporting the organic growth of an artist was a necessary stage in his lifecycle- one of vital importance. There was always risk involved, but it was calculated risk- something to be expected- and when it paid off, it sometimes paid off big.
Artist development wasn’t merely a strategy to stimulate artistic growth, but also a practical matter of maintaining an artist’s career. Which, in turn, kept the lights on at the record company and paid people’s salaries.
It also affected the way business people worked with artists. They were forced to rely on their intuition- to be more creative, more resourceful and take greater risks because as time went by, the stakes got bigger.
The days of genius artists- those genetic anomalies who appear to have come into existence fully formed, replete with staggering and limitless talent- guys who show up out of the blue and without warning at the doorstep of their local record company with jaw-droppingly brilliant completed master recordings in hand- are long gone.
At this point in time- artists need help and direction in order to achieve greatness. And if you desire- if you expect- greatness from anything, you must make a spectacularly great effort on behalf of that something that at very least, matches your expectation.
And sometimes, this means investing time and money in an artist who may never even get close to attaining their potential, let alone break even. This is the very definition of risk.
The music industry is nothing more than a very small group of players who bet on talent and do everything possible to hedge their bets by trying to influence a very large group of consumers to invest in the product of that talent. If you’re in the business of betting on anything- stocks, horse, commodities, music- an element of risk is absolutely unavoidable. And in every game, every player always reaches that point when he needs to ante up or, if he doesn’t have the stomach for it, gets the hell out of the game.
Once upon a time, the music industry had faith in the inherent greatness of artists and art as the cornerstone of their business and the guts to roll the dice on them.
Over the past few decades, the prevailing attitude toward artistic growth in the music industry has shifted seismically. It has been distorted and perverted into a closed systematic process of designing music (as opposed to creating it) that is not dissimilar to churning out widgets on an assembly line. Instead of the artist’s talent being nurtured and organically grown, he has been transmogrified into a mere cog in the workings of this assembly line.
Even though his name is emblazoned on his work, the artist is no longer the basic atomic building block of the music industry. He is instead, cannon-fodder in the music industry’s in(s)ane war of attrition against everything that it perceives as a threat. This is because the people who are waging this war have lost faith in artists or their work as things of great significance or value.
Odder still, in spite of its risk-aversion, the music industry still blows money out its doors and engages in risk every day. The difference is- it’s on their terms. In their twisted cosmology, signing artists to onerous demo deals and dragging them around to an endless parade of writer/producers in order to produce a “hit” song, is more practical and a better use of their resources than helping them develop organically.
The fact is, few artists get signed (let alone make “hit” records) this way and the process guarantees nothing more than a burned out pile of artists who’ve been tossed by the wayside.
Amidst all this absurdity, one of the absurdest things of all is that most people in the music industry don’t even know what artist development actually is. As absolutely ludicrous as this sounds, (and I’m not making it up) virtually all of the music industry people I’ve spoken to in the past ten years wouldn’t know what artist development was if it crawled up their collective asses and began ripping out their entrails.
I have a theory, that to a modern record company executive, the term “artist development” is an arcane term or phrase from a distant and ancient period in history. The term “artist development” has become redundant- similar to a word like “hippospadian”, which was once a polite way of referring to someone as a horse-fucker.
But maybe you’d like to hear about this from a slightly different perspective….
I wanted to hear some other opinions- dissenting or otherwise- so I asked a random sampling of artist managers- did they feel anyone in the music industry was interested in real, creative artist development?
As hoped, I got good, direct responses. One guy responded by saying- “Unless they are popstars. No, popstars are controlled by the industry, not the people or a movement”.
Another one said…”the reduction of the value of copyrights, reduces the incentive and plausibility of anything resembling the kind of risk-taking and investment that was the cast in the seventies, eighties and nineties”
And yet another guy said, “The labels can’t possibly do it because they don’t have the manpower and are too in need of immediate results so they’re not interested in artists, so much as singles they can move quickly”.
Still another said, “I understand what you’re talking about and I don’t disagree, but it will never fly. There’s no money in it and it goes against everything the record business is doing”.
And, finally one stated a bit more tersely but no less emphatically, “The labels are not (interested). Period”.
About 30% of these managers were also emphatic that artist development was essential to the creative process and building great artists. This is a step in the right direction, but begs the question- why only a minority?
This is reality. Record companies at every level, couldn’t give a damn about developing artists, nor do they know how. They don’t recognize its viability and they are too scared for their own pitiful hides to care, one way or the other. In this present-day music industry, the full potential of an artist can and will never be realized.
But I believe that the potential is still present- untapped, perhaps- but burning brightly inside artists. And, by artists, I am referring to that small handful of individuals who are truly brilliant and star-crossed.
The fact is, there are no fewer great talents in the world than ever before in history. The difference is the most recent generations are laden with individuals who’ve been expertly trained by my generation to chronically underachieve- especially in the field of popular art.
I am also convinced that now more than ever- there must be avenues to build talent- to unlock greatness and perhaps, to even create a fertile environment- a unified community- where artisans are able to work unmolested and support themselves through their art. Outside the mainstream, but far closer to the people who desperately need the distilled fruit of their labors…
Nothing else works. This is the only realistic way to hedge your bets when you bet on other people’s talent.
And if the people in the business of music plan on participating in the future of music, they must first acknowledge that their business is growing artists, not making widgets. If they want to be players, they are behooved to grow a set of balls, stop being so risk averse and become part of the solution. And if the music industry isn’t willing to do this, then someone else will.
The truth is, everyone gambles at something. If you don’t want to see this, you are avoiding reality. The game is in play- place your bets.