What is the music industry and why do so many people outside of this industry have such strong opinions about it?
The music industry is diverse, spread out, has multiple levels, genres, markets, niches, has segments backed by rich people, and segments ignored by most people, it has starving artists, successful global artist brands, trends, fads, a history and a lineage.
The music industry is complicated, and hard to define. The only thing I know for sure is the music industry is not what most people will have you believe it is. If you get your music industry news from big media you will think that the pinnacle of the music industry is Lady Gaga, Rhianna, Drake, Bieber, etc etc. What you won’t know is that, while these artists do generate massive revenue, they are a small fraction of the people participating in an industry built on music.
If you over hear people talking on the bus about the music industry they will probably be talking about Jay Z, Kanye, Beyonce, Chris Brown, etc etc. This could also lead you to the conclusion that the artists backed by big media are some how the only musicians that matter. They dominate the music conversation so its no surprise many people think the mega stars are where its at. Big media sets the agenda of most interactions people have in every day life.
The mega stars are so not where its at. Where its at is wherever you’re at. If you are standing 20 feet away from musicians in the middle of an act, and others are also in close proximity listening to the act, then you just may be a music industry participant. Jay Z is no where to been seen or heard but never-the-less the music industry is upon you.
As long as commerce is happening as a direct result of incorporating or featuring musicians and their products then its safe to call that the music industry. While the mega stars with the help of big media are the most ubiquitous music makers, they are not the only ones doing it, and they are not the best at it. Not by a long shot.
I don’t mean to dis anyone’s taste in music. But, the mega stars are vanilla flavored ice cream at best. Its not so bad though vanilla ice cream is still ice cream, its just that after years of eating ice cream, studying it, making it, supporting it, finding new an interesting uses for it…you start to grow tired of vanilla. You start searching for new textures; chucks of fudge, cookie dough, streaks of caramel, almonds, etc etc.
Fans of music also come in different flavours. The vast majority of music fans fall into the “casual fan” segment. These are the people most likely to have their image of the music industry painted by big media. Who cares though, these people aren’t that interested in music, they can be as wrong about an industry they don’t care that much about as most musicians are wrong about other industries they don’t care about.
Its not for people outside the industry to know what’s up with our industry. Its for you, who is in this industry, to know what’s up with it. You should seek to understand all sides of it. Where and how is commerce generated from music? Who are the artists outside the big media radar that are successful? What are those artists doing that makes them successful?
Noam Chomsky was quoted as saying something along the lines of the North American public has a high level of intelligence and understanding of matters related to sports entertainment. The average football fan can recite arcane statistics, and speak intelligently about complicated nuances and strategies about whatever “game” they are into. Average sports fans have an insane amount of knowledge about a series of on-going events, controlled and mediated by big business, who want your attention so they can advertise to you. Chomsky was pointing out what a vast waste of human resource that is. The mental energy expended on knowing the ins and outs of the games as well as trivia related to the participants could be focused on something that serves human interests instead of entertainment interests.
The mainstream music bushiness is like that. People know way too much about the personal lives of celebrities, famous musicians are at the top of that list. It is a statement on the global village connectedness of the world when an average person can name all of the members of the big media pop rock flavour of the week, but can’t name any professional musicians that live in their city.
American guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter (in the video embedded below) gives his opinion about the music industry that IMHO is bang on. Unlike sports entertainment, where the best quarter back the country has to offer gets the starting position on the top NFL team, in the big media entertainment industry, the talent level is not the priority. Charlie talks about the big media world’s music industry as one that celebrates mediocrity.
Mediocrity, middle ground, vanilla, generic, bland. The actual music industry (the one that exists outside of the fantasy construct of big media) is not something that I would describe in those terms. Sure there are lots of sucky underground indie artists making a mockery of things, but that’s cool, there’s a place for hacks too. The real music industry, the one I can literally reach out and touch, the one I participate in, the one that I have countless friends making waves in, the one I wake up every day and jump into face first, is a hundred million billion times more diverse and interesting than anything typical of the Grammy main stage.
I don’t know much about cars. I’m not interested in cars. As far as I’m concerned there is Ford and Honda and Toyota and Chevrolet. I don’t know anything about niche cars outside of those commodity vehicles in mainstream culture. Because my knowledge of cars is so limited I usually don’t go around talking about them. You won’t over hear me on the bus saying the new Toyota is the greatest car ever built. But you will hear people, lots and lots and lots of oblivious sweet little souls, who will go on and on about how One Direction is the greatest band ever formed. Laughable.
The real story is that the music industry is the most amazing, fascinating, vibrant, diverse, colorful human notion that most people think is something else.
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