First of all, I’d just like to say how ecstatic to have my very own patch of expressive vegetation in the Jungle! It is an immense honor to be part of a community that produces such honest media in a time where the word “honest” is seldom found in the same sentence as the word “media.” Infinite thanks to Jeremy, David, and the rest of the crew for giving me the chance to contribute!
Soundtrack to this post: “Dollars & Cents” by Radiohead, from Amnesiac. (I’ll be doing this for every post I make. It will always be a song that relates directly to what the content of the post, and you can listen to it while reading, after reading, or not at all! Just a suggestion, and honestly, another excuse to share music!)
Radiohead performs “Dollars & Cents” on BBC Sessions.
“Money, so they say, is the root of all evil today. But if you ask for a rise, it’s no surprise that they’re giving none away.” Too right you were, Roger Waters.
Making true art in our mile-a-minute capitalist society has always been a tricky process. So much so, that one would instantly assume and anticipate a struggle after making the decision to pursue music as a career. That is, unless you have the unhindered backing of a big-time record label like in your dreams. However, all too often the concept of profit is held in higher regard than the concept of true musicianship. Pressure to sell and mold your sound accordingly definitely wasn’t in your dream, but it is without a doubt in the reality of major labels. As a result, there is an intense increase in the number of bands who have dropped from the big-label scene to lesser indie supporters, allowing them to do what they want. After the monumental success of their 2008 self titled debut, Seattle’s Fleet Foxes were met by five offers from the big dogs, and they turned every single one down. Their lead songwriter, Robin Pecknold was quoted as saying that major labels were “anti-music.” Quite a bold statement, but a justified one. When profit enters into the artistic process, it begins to feel like attempting to fit a circle into a square. This odd couple of the rigid, money-based world and the fluid universe of music is the foundation for the “music industry,” and I think we can all agree it’s a shaky one.
To utilize a metaphor that will solidify my nerd-dom, profit seems to be to music as The Force is to Jedi knights. The right amount of money used in the right way can be the light from heaven for a band or musician. It can provide new equipment for experimentation of tones and sounds. It can increase the overall well being and comfort of the musicians, allowing them to forget about monetary stresses and focus on true expression. For example, imagine if a musician like Andrew Bird, whose multi-instrumentalist and arranger characteristics impress the buh-Jesus out of every listener, never had the money to buy a loop-pedal?
Andrew Bird performs the mind-blowing “Anonanimal”
However, money can be a true poison to good music. Success, if large enough, can induce a kind of artistic apathy in later work. We’ve all heard the term “sell-out” that is all-too-often thrown around by angsty punkers and hipsters showcasing their disgust for anything the general public enjoys. However, the term does hold some kind of meaning at it’s core. Enough profit can promote changes in music to steer it more toward the direction of mass popularity. It can also promote a static nature to a band that has achieved recognition for their single, and chooses then to simply replicate that formula to keep the bankroll bulky. Take Nickelback for example: A band that gets debris thrown at their foreheads at their own concerts for their general artistic dishonesty.
Nickelback’s Narrow Escape
The bottom line is, music is an everchanging, plasmatic entity. It’s already extremely risky to box it and tranform it into a product. The purity of this audible artform can be nearly destroyed by attempting to squeeze it into a monetary system. However, everybody’s gotta eat, right? And musicians definitely aren’t nobody. What determines the distinction between profit being a blessing or a curse to music is the honesty and strength of the artists themselves. Fortunately for us, there are enough genuine artistic geniuses in today’s world to provide us with one of the most unique and groundbreaking musical climates the world has ever seen.