Saturday, April 4, 2009

Anywhere But Here

I can remember walking into Tower Records in Austin as a giddy 14 year old kid... 2402 Guadalupe street, the biggest baddest music store on the drag. I'll never forget that feeling, moving through the racks, there was no way I was walking out the door without something new in my hands. If only I had enough money to buy it all. I bought my first Pixies record at that Tower Records - Surfer Rosa. I wanted so badly to be one of the kids behind the counter, tragically hip with an unending knowledge of everything from prog rock to early New Orleans jazz. There was something mystical and intimidating about the store, a feeling that if I stayed long enough and learned enough I could be a part of some secret society where everyone from Bob Dylan to Stephen Malkmus were all buddies that sat around and traded ideas and songs while passing a joint and drinking some local beer. I was in love. Literally. I was in love, I'm not sure if it was the actual music, or the romantic idea in my head of what music was and could do. Some universal language that could span time and conquer language barriers, inspire.

Like many other circumstances in my life I arrived and started working in the music industry just as things were beginning to change in drastic ways. iTunes was starting to swallow large parts of the market, the major label I was working for was starting the first of it's 2 years of layoffs, physical sales were on a serious decline and record stores that everyone once thought were invincible cultural mainstays were closing doors. I would listen to stories my superiors told me of the "glory days" partly in awe, but most of what I felt was a mix of jealousy, anger and frustration. What happened?! How could things have gone from the Sex Drugs and Rock & Roll I was told about to bloggers, layoffs and Jonas Brothers so fast? How did this happen? What did you do!? How the hell did you manage to turn a thriving industry full of talent, zeal and youth into such a disaster so fast? honestly?! I could go on at length about who I think is to blame for the state of things - but honestly, placing blame isn’t going to fix anything. Sure, we might all feel a little bit better finding a handful of those people and publicly humiliating them for the sad state of things, but in all honesty it’s not going to do anything to change it. Tower Records is gone, Virgin Records is soon to follow, along with a slew of amazing mom and pop indie record stores. Labels are shutting down, distribution companies are dwindling down to a few scant warehouses and no one wants to pay for music anymore.

So what do we do? The young kid inheriting the family business after it’s gone belly up and everyone has taken their piece and left or been kicked to the curb. Does anyone even really care about music anymore? Is it really up to us to fix the mess that a group of misguided closed-minded execs created for us? When does loving music become a detriment to a career? Surely there’s a way to take the “art” that is music and make it profitable for everyone involved. Theater is still making a profit, film is still making a profit, visual art is still making a profit, what makes music so different from these other mediums? Is there hope for musicians, labels, retailers and anyone else directly related to music? Not in the old model there’s not. So a question presents itself…. What is this new model? A melding of music with other arts to try and raise it’s validity and worth? A not-for-profit model? A purely digital model? Maybe some incarnation of all of the above? Whatever it is, it’s not operating yet – or at least not on a large enough scale to be noticed.

I’ll never forget the advice my very first employer in the music business gave me years ago – “You don’t want to work in this industry. Trust me, do anything else, go be a lawyer, go work in publishing, anything but this. You don’t want to work in music, there’s no future here.” Obviously he knew what was coming. This wasn’t meant to be a doomsday piece, and by no means do I think music is over, or dying. But the model is going to have to change if it wants to remain relevant, and it’s up to us to implement that change. The days of just throwing a record out into the market and expecting it to perform while you sit back at your desk and do blow off your gold records is over. So, if you’re part of this industry or are thinking about becoming a part of it, ask yourself a question… Is it worth it? Do you care? If you don’t love music, and I mean really love music purely for music’s sake, leave now. Run. Get out. There’s no point in suffering for something you don’t really love. Enjoy it from a safe distance. But… if you’re a true lover, and don’t possess the sanity to watch from atop the hill, pony up and put on your belt. There’s some heavy lifting to be done.

1 comment:

Sitcom Serf said...

Well done, Shasta. I fitting first post to get your ground.