The Three Voices of the Music Industry
© David M Taylor II. April 2011. All Rights Reserved.
During the course of your career in music, no matter which job(s) in particular you do, you will hear statements like “It’s all about da dollars” or “[Insert name here] is a real musical artist!” or “should kids be listening to that?” You will also find people that are adamant about their perspective on all of it, and thus quite often unwilling to see the huge machine that is the Music Industry and its multifaceted and multifarious parts from any other angle.
I submit that there are three general voices that every one of us has to deal with in our careers, and they are simultaneously independent and interdependent, no matter how impossible or unlikely that may seem.
Voice Number 1:
The Voice of Artistry
Ah, the one we love. This voice is the one that whispers to us while we’re sleeping, the one that’s always pushing us to come up with stuff that no one has ever done or heard of before. People that are attuned to this voice say things like ‘Use weird time signatures!” and “who cares if no one understands it but you?” There are many manifestations of this perspective, but it tends to have to do with making your mark in your field, having signature sounds, riffs, lyrical content, shows and stage presentations or a particular style, and to use a worn out cliché, ‘thinking outside of the box.’ Using titillation and torture, this voice wants us to fly in the face of conventional wisdom at every possible turn, blazing our own trail, and the more misunderstood the better. That seems to be common phraseology when referring to ‘true art.’
There are some caveats to keep in mind when listening to this incredible voice, however. It’s entirely possible to attempt to justify lyrical content of any kind, regardless of its societal impact, under the guise of it being ‘art.’ It’s also possible to try and pass off poor craftsmanship as well. Art is often completely subjective, and while it may be gratifying to create musical media that no one likes but us and our moms, that certainly isn’t enough to build a lasting career on, which brings us to:
Voice Number 2:
The Voice of Industry
“If your music doesn’t sell, we don’t want to talk to you.” That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? If your art can’t be turned into a viable commercial product, then this voice has nothing to say to you. This is the ego bruising bottom line of the music industry, or as people are wont to say, “this is a business!” Indeed it is, and like any other business, numbers and dollars reign supreme. Not uniqueness, motivations or intentions. Much ado is often made about how money seems to be the only concern of the industry nowadays, but when has that ever been any different? Handel was deeply in debt and bummed out about his career when he began to write Messiah in the summer of 1741, and it was intended for secular theater during Lent, not religious worship during Christmas. He wrote about the past and future prophecies of Christ because he needed a hit to revive his career and make some cash. Period.
Another point that deserves to be made is that quality is rarely ever cheap. It takes a considerable amount of resources to craft a record, a song, a stage show, a tour, and no one can afford to work and give their best work for cheap, or for free. So to assert that seeking a return on the upfront investment that must be made to produce any type of commercial music is somehow unethical seems rather unfair. Often the debate then swings to “how much is enough” and the big one, “Who gets the lion’s share of the profits?” And the answer to that question is…every situation is different.
Making it in the music industry isn’t that different from hitting the lottery; lots of people play, but only a handful every year make it big and make any real money. In spite of that reality, the lure of the fortune(and fame) that is possible in this industry is real, hypnotic, and never loses its power, no matter how old you are, or what musical heroes inspired your generation. That brings us to the third voice:
Voice Number 3:
The Voice of Ministry
The word ‘minister’ in its Greek form ‘diakoneó’ can be translated ‘to serve.’ The focus here is, how exactly does music serve the whole of humanity or the specific people that generate it? This voice takes a look at the impact of music upon society, in both the short and the long term, and examines the psychological, physical, cultural, and sometimes even spiritual impact of a musical work or movement. Everyone knows that Chopin wrote his etudes as technical exercises, but he did so with so much mastery that they eventually became a part of the accepted concert repertoire. He wrote music that was intended to teach pianists to play better, and that music is still serving that same purpose to this very day, over 170 years later. After the federal copyright protection afforded to it expires, and musical works enter the vast expanse that we call ‘public domain,’ what is its function then? This is indeed a valid question, as music always outlives its creators.
The caveats in this approach, however, are just as intertwined with the other two as the rest. We feel it every time we hear a sub par performance of a work, with the conductor or leaders saying that ‘it’s for the kids’ or ‘God doesn’t care how you sound’ or ‘music is just supposed to be fun.’ There might be some truth to all of that, but using music to serve humanity doesn’t mean that it’s okay to create substandard music in the name of God, King or country(but therein again lies the conundrum of what constitutes ‘real art.’)
Another point of interest when dealing with this voice comes from the idea of historical progression; moving from whatever style or instrumentation or conventional practices have been the norm, into new areas of performing and thinking. This always tends to be met with an outcry, from either musical purists or those that have made a comfortable living off of the old ways; but the march of time and the tide of history bows to no one, and in every generation there are fresh faces, fresh innovation, and ways of thinking that may not have occurred to those that have occupied the planet for a longer time. Without this truth, there would be no electric guitar, and think about how different our lives would be sonically without it.
I believe that these voices always have, and always will continue to exist, pulling and calling on each of us depending on where we are in the music stream. The Music Industry cannot exist without them, as innovation, technology, inspiration, ceremonies, pomp and circumstance, all need structure, balance, focus, profitability, and validation over time to both survive and thrive.
ABOUT DAVID TAYLOR II
DAVID TAYLOR II(Producer, Songwriter) is a graduate of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana with a degree in Business Administration, of Trinity International University in Deerfield with a degree in Music(theory emphasis), and of the Music Industry Workshop of Chicago with certificates in both Record Production and Music Business.
His love for creating music started in his childhood years, and he has never looked back. His recent activities include scoring the horror film Mo Ye PremYe, producing the hit single, I Like it When You Do it Like That for U.K. artist Clyve Waite, being a co-composer for the smash hit Chicago based theater production, Eye of the Storm:The Bayard Rustin Musical, nominated for 3 Black Theater Alliance awards, producing the music for the McDonald’s Happy Meal promo commercial for the Disney movie Brother Bear, as well as arranging and producing the CD Return for new artist Richard Kincaid. He also currently teaches the 28 week Music Business course at Music Industry Workshop of Chicago.