The system for delivering music to the masses in this country and around the world has essentially broken down. For decades, major labels acted as a clearing house for new music. They would sign their idea of what was the best new music available and spend money to turn these young musicians into superstars. Now, the labels are out of money. They are all owned by mercenary major corporations and their only concern is making their quarterly numbers. As a result they are signing pop and urban acts, because they are still what gets the most airplay on the radio. With some exceptions radio is still the quickest way to success. Though radio is not anywhere as powerful as it once was, without a viral video or a world renowned live act, radio is still the quickest way to reach the masses. The success of pop and urban acts is largely determined by their success on radio. Rock acts are finding it nearly impossible to get signed. It just takes too long to develop them. As a result, labels don’t have the interest, time or money to devote to them.
Instead, independent labels have become the home of much of the rock based music being recorded today. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, these labels have very little money to promote and market these artists. So it takes somewhat of a miracle to become very successful as a rock performer these days. A young performer gets signed to an indie label. They think they have “made it”. Unfortunately, they soon find out that the label can’t get the records in the stores. There is little or no money for radio promotion, tour support and marketing. The “great” video they made gets 2,000 Youtube views and essentially no one ever hears of them.
The other problem is that essentially anyone who wants to record an album CAN make an album. That doesn’t mean that they SHOULD make one. The internet is quite honestly, flooded with a lot of shit. Kids with rich relatives willing to “lend” them the money to make an album and tour. For the most part, none of these bands should ever leave the confines of their garage.
But the difficulty of the situation has not dampened their dream. If anything it has made it more accessible to more kids. Young musicians that in the past would have realized that they had no chance in the world of “making it” now see light at the end of the tunnel. They are foregoing work, college, normal relationships to chase the dream. The problem is, for the most part they are kidding themselves.
Instead of finishing college and heading along a career path, they are pouring hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars into a dream that they should have never embraced in the first place. They are spending weeks on end driving around the country in white Ford Econoline vans pulling a trailing that holds their gear,t-shirts and their dreams. They think they have a chance.
In the past their dreams would have been stymied before it got to this point. They would have realized that the dream of a record label signing them to a million dollar contract was out of their reach. They would have used their guitar to lure co-eds back to their dorm rooms and they would be satisfied. Now they can go into a studio, make an album, release it to the world and “hit the road”. What they don’t realize is that in order for people to show up at their shows, they actually have to get some notoriety. A thousand views for their Youtube video of their latest “single” won’t attract flies. They buy on tours to the tune of $500 or more a night and play to twenty people or less at 7pm…three hours before the headliner hits the stage. It takes an extraordinary amount of time and lots of money to develop any following this way.
The problem is that no one has told them they are not any good. They are surrounded by friends that are enamored by them and who show up at all the gigs in town. They see their picture on their self-released CDS, but mistake it for the cover of Rolling Stone. They also don’t want to know reality. I get approached by dozens of bands every month. Most of them are hideous. When there is one that actually has talent I agree to work with them if I think they have a chance. The problem is, even the worst believe they are superstars of the future.
I have been fortunate enough to find some incredibly talented new artists. But they need coaching as well as managing. They need to be nurtured, guided and given opportunities in which they can thrive. Even for the best of these amazingly talented people, the road to success is a long one. Years, not months and certainly not days. It takes time and money. At this time very few new acts can support themselves on the road. They try to do it by living on $10 a day in meal money and sleeping in the van. They hawk their wares at their shows. But, even once they develop a following, it still takes time before they really make money. It doesn’t mean they are not amazing talents. But starting from zero, takes time. It is painful.
Endless months on the road away from their loved ones. Night after night living like a gypsy. Even the most determined find it difficult. The only fun is the 40 minutes or so they get on stage each night. This makes it all worth it…at least for a while.
The troubled music business is essentially eating its young. The best artists and/or the ones who have other talents, tire of living like a hobo and give up. In all probability, had the world been the same in Dylan’s and Springsteen’s time, they may have never made the impact they did. They literally changed the world for a lot of people. Would they have tired of the game and found other outlets for their creativity? There is one young writer/performer that I have worked with. He is a terrific writer and singer. He had a major label deal at one time. That is gone and he has a real job now. He has two children and quite honestly can’t afford to leave his job and go on the road. He is smart and rational. We are also never going to hear the music he is capable of writing.
As a country, we need to support out young musicians. If you are an amazingly talented musician from the inner city, there may be funds for you from some government program. But if you are an amazing contemporary songwriter that plays guitar and lives in say, upstate New York, you are on your own. Other countries support their young writers and musicians. They view them as cultural exports. Most of them come to the US to succeed. One thing they have besides ambition and talent, is money. Can imagine how far a couple of billion dollars would go in helping these people. Let’s see…which makes more sense? Making hundreds of bombs to explode a dirt pile in Afghanistan or giving our youth a chance to chase the dream that they are capable of achieving?
Artists and musicians starve. This has always been the way. But back in the day we were talking about relatively few people. Now, the dream is more accessible and less attainable than ever. Many of our kids, who in the past would have given up hope (because they weren’t good enough) would have headed down another path. Now they are allowed to follow their dream much too long.
Good isn’t good enough. In order to be successful you truly have to be GREAT!!! If only these young people could live in reality. Unfortunately, the best ones can’t allow themselves to think that way.
As a result there are thousands of kids riding around tonight in vans that badly need brakes. They probably haven’t had a bath in two or three days. They ate McDonald’s for breakfast and lunch and they will drink their dinner. They dare not look in the mirror. If they are truthful with themselves they will not like what they see.
We can’t help these folks, but we can help the next Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon or Bono. Because without help, we may never find them.