I am a songwriter. I typically work from home using a small studio set up and have been fortunate enough to have written, co-written or produced many songs that have been commercially released.
The purpose of this article is to cut right through to the heart of why it’s so hard for musicians to benefit (in any meaningful way) from social networks. The social network provides new and exciting benefits for musicians, which is why most embrace new social networks as a way to expose their music to thousands of potential fans and music industry reps. The only trouble is overcrowding. What always struck me as strange is the myspace mentality. It appeared that musicians actually thought that having a million friends was a good thing on myspace, despite the fact those friends were all musicians who only ‘friended’ you so that they can get more ‘friends’ for themselves. Perhaps myspace’s tag line should have been, “Join myspace, an endless circle of incestuous pleasantries probably amounting to nothing”. I guess that wouldn’t have been snappy enough.
If there’s any doubt about the disarray and desperation afoot in the music business, just check out the Internet’s affect on the media business – music, print and broadcast – overall over the past decade. A recent article in the New York Times covers the waterfront on this issue quite well.
While the devastation of digital democracy vis-à-vis the Web made its first blitz through the belly of the music biz, the print media was next in line, and the battlefield there rivals Antietam.
Music biographies mesmerized me when I was a kid. Whether it was Glenn Miller or Elvis Presley, it was always the same fascinating formula: talent and tenacity leading to the precipice of success, with the artist always searching for that one elusive element to define his signature sound, to breakthrough. With Miller it was the addition of trombones. The proceedings always put me on the edge of my seat and the breakthroughs set me reeling. I guess it was in my blood.
It persists. The other night I watched two great documentary-style biopics on TV, one on Johnny Cash, another on Willie Nelson. Willie, as many of his fans may not realize, was actually a Nashville songwriter penning such classics as “Crazy,” which Patsy Cline etched into the music lexicon. Despite his preeminent status as a writer, Willie couldn’t get arrested as an artist in Music City. His quirky phrasing was way too off-beat for the 60s sound, which was infused with sweet strings and pop arrangements.
Babe Ruth mouthed that ungrammatical gem, and a slumping Nick Swisher of the New York Yankees just invoked it at a critical moment in his career.
Hang with me a moment, and you’ll see what this has to do with us music artists. Swisher made the last out in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series the other night. It was a frustrating moment, since a hit in that spot could’ve finished off the Angels and put the Bombers in the World Series.
My wife, Roxanne and I saw Jamey Johnson last weekend in an awful club in Clifton Park, N.Y. Johnson’s a country songwriter cum recording artist who’s anything but awful. He’s one of those rare artists who come along once in a generation in a genre, in this case country.
He’s so raw and real it hurts. He’s of the outlaw breed, and his songs — even some of his hits – hold a bare light bulb to reality.
He’s a Montgomery boy, an ex-marine, ex-family man, and ex-rebel rouser, and his voice is as perfectly imperfect as his life. I’m not writing this to pitch Johnson, but country fan or not, this plainspoken poet is worth a listen.
I’m reminded of Steve Earle, who blew me away with his 1986 debut album “Guitar Town.” One literate bad boy with a voice to match. The first time I heard him I wanted to burn my guitar and typewriter (remember those), but eventually returned to my auteur senses.
It’s no longer the flavor or the month or what used to be called 24/7 or wall-to-wall coverage. The new media cycle, at least for this nanosecond, is called “perpetual movement.”
In other words, spin or die. That’s the latest from Internet guru Michael Moritz, a Sequoia investor who backed Google, Yahoo and the Sugar Inc. blog-networks.
Quoted in a recent New York Times article, Moritz says:
“Perpetual movement is the essence of survival and prosperity online. If online media and entertainment companies don’t improve every day, they will just wind up as the newfangled version of Reader’s Digest — bankrupt.”
Baimurat Allaberiyev – a YouTube sensation – has a major record deal but still has few teeth, literally. And those teeth are planted on the cutting edge of the latest boom-and-bust trend in the music industry: viral-video microfame.
So, let’s get real about the sobering statistics of enduring Web 2.0 success among music artists. To that end, I will explore the verities of the viral-video trend.
But first, this exploration is not meant as a discouragement. It’s simply a reality check. Like a sound check, it gets us in tune, so we can perform at our best. And, as with the old industry, the new music model presents real, if limited, opportunities for enduring success. So, as in the past, the motivation for the serious artist is the very challenge of the overwhelming game itself.
As music artists seek notice from fans and the industry, it’s vital to observe a key factor concerning peoples’ ability to recognize talent, even greatness.
You may have already read about the social experiment the Washington Post conducted two years ago with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell. It was actually Bell’s idea to perform undercover as a street musician for a day at a Washington Metro station. What many don’t know is that the Gene Weingarten story earned a Pulitzer Prize that year for feature writing. What many do recall is the fact that a venerated violinist went virtually unnoticed, unappreciated and unrecognized.
What the public took away from the story — rightly so — is the fact that people pass up life’s jewels, even when they’re right before their, well, ears. But this tale holds a much greater meaning for artists of all stripes.