Friday, June 27, 2008

The Structures

I took a few pages of notes at the PotLuck Audio Conference at the beginning of the month, but I didn't feel like I had the time or energy for a notebook dump at the time and now am not sure how far I feel like going through these pages. Here's a semi-random thought and a semi-meditation:

During the Urban Edge producers panel, I wondered if Dr. Dre killed hip-hop as we're used to thinking of it, and if he ushered in the era of hip-hop as pop.

In panel after panel, producers, engineers and artists talked about taking care of your own business, but the language was never sexy. One used a 'selling shoes' metaphor, and Larry Crane referred to the indie revolution as knocking down the mansion to reveal the subdivision behind it. Perhaps because there was nothing sexy in their imagery for the musical future, the audience seemed to miss the message. After the Urban Edge panel, one audience member got up to ask how he could get his demo in the hands of the people at the dais. Someone said, "Thee's nothing we can do for you that you can't do for yourself." The next day at Crane's Future of Music panel, the same thing happened - a guy complained about the lousy A&R he dealt with and wanted to know if they could help.

In the mid-1990s, T-P writer Doug MacCash and I made a documentary, Artists Make Big Money, about the financial realities of making contemporary art. In one of the interviews, Thomas Mann said that most people get into art to avoid the things they have to do in business, when they actually have to do those things and do them better than businesspeople because they have a more idiosyncratic product to sell. No one knows that they need your art. As the questions at PotLuck suggested, we can substitute "music" for "art" and the thought remains on point.

Clearly, people are going to have to adjust how they think about a career in music. Again, the questioners had an investment in a notion of success that involved a sexier life - a big house, a fast car, a hot girl (the conference was a dudefest) - and discussions that treated making music as a job, or one that ends up with a sensible house obviously became white noise for some. That sounds like the questioners want fame more than to make music, but a prolonged existence in music today is going some new metaphors that address the reality that there is a lot of good music being made, but the market and publicity mechanisms are so decentralized that they can't be counted on to work as they once did. What's the new metaphor? The new mechanism? Whoever answers those questions gets a mansion, not a house in the subdivision.

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