Last Wednesday in my recording technology class we nixed any note taking plans on the syllabus and headed straight towards a discussion to find the answer to a question that is continuously circulating throughout the realm of the music business today: why is the music business falling apart, and what can we do to fix it?
People have come up with a number of plausible answers to this question – at least the first part. We can blame iTunes, record labels, and uneducated consumers all we want – and they are at fault to an extent. However, in the end, it seems like it may all boil down to what the business revolves around – the music.
Is there too much music out there? Technology has done wonders for the business, and nowadays, any old average Joe or Jane can put his or her tunes up on the web for all to hear. Ahhh, but there’s the problem – any old average Joe or Jane can get his or her music out to consumers. Even when the music is, let’s say, average. Back in the day, our grandparents didn’t scour the internet looking for obscure talented artists. Now, it’s trendy to do just that, and because there’s so much music out there, we don’t necessarily feel the need to pay for all of it (guilty as charged). How many of us can say we honestly listen to everything that is on our iPod?
New technology and tools musicians are using to record – whether it’s in a dorm room or a studio – are making it harder to find the good stuff as well. You can fix any shortcomings with the click of a button. A mediocre artist has the opportunity to sound stellar (case in point: Taylor Swift). It’s a bit like a false ad. You hear something, and thus expect that quality when you hear the artist live, only to find out that they don’t have “it.”
Music has become like a thrift store: we have to sort through all the crap to find the good stuff. Record Labels complain about consumers only buying singles. Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem if the artist could create an entire album that is just as good as that one song.
On that note, I saw a lot of artists that proved themselves this past weekend. First off, I went to an in-store show at Grimey’s featuring “The Civil Wars” – a duo with killer harmonies. Afterwards, I headed to Hotel Indigo to see Jane, Emily, and Ben perform. They were amazing. Jane closed the show with a new song, Thinking Clear, that Ben sang harmony on. I’ll let the performance speak for itself:
Jane also had a stellar performance of her song “Suddenly.” Unfortunately, a good number people were casually late and missed it. You can see it here:
I have a few videos of Emily as well that will be up in about week (my quota on my vimeo is full at the moment and it won’t let me upload anymore).
On Saturday, Molly Selby and I drove to Knoxville to catch a couple of shows that were part of the Big Ears Festival. We saw a group known as The 802 Tour (802 referencing the area code of Vermont where they’re from) first. They were… interesting. Some things I appreciated (Sam Amidon and his folksy voice), other things I did not (attributing noise to be music).
What we really drove to Knoxville for was Sufjan – yes, I saw him in the flesh. We agreed that it wouldn’t even matter if he sang, as long as we could look at his face for an hour. Fortunately, he sang. And played piano. And played banjo. He was performing as a special guest with the band Clogs. Every musician in this band was what you would call a true musician (I mean, they got Sufjan to perform with them, which says something). Sufjan only played one of his songs – Barn Owl, Night Killer – but the trip was well worth the three-hour drive there and back. Now I can’t wait to see him perform an entire sets’ worth of his songs.
Last night was truly a treasure. Joanna Newsom performed at the Mercy Lounge, but more importantly, Robin Pecknold opened for her. Robin Pecknold may not be a household name, but Fleet Foxes is, and Robin is the lead singer of Fleet Foxes. He played a variety of covers, Fleet Foxes songs, and brand new originals that he had never performed live before. If you hear the lyric “Oh man what I used to be, oh man, oh my, oh me” on the next Fleet Foxes album, I’ll be privileged to say, like those trendy hipster kids, that I was one of the first to hear that one live. Joanna was great as well (very different), but my true love was for Robin.
Considering I went to five different shows this weekend, it’s obvious that there’s plenty of good music out there for all ears to hear. I don’t mind excessive amounts of the good stuff, but maybe the people without the talent should make way for those who have it.
I hope everyone has a great Easter this coming Sunday – we truly are blessed to be living like we do in this day in age.