What’s wrong with the music industry?
That’s a loaded question. It might be better to ask what’s right with it. But even that standpoint depends on which side of the coin — provided you still have one — you live on.
Everyone knows the state of the music industry is dire. Labels are sinking, bands are barely dog-paddling and, unless you’re a bankruptcy lawyer or an Internet service provider, saying “I’m in music” is like saying, “I throw money down a large hole and hope it returns.”
No one has an easy answer to the conundrum. File sharing has made stars of some acts. Take a quick peek at the rosters of independent labels such as Epitaph or Fat Wreck Chords. While most punkers over 25 would be hard-pressed to recognize a single band, and sales are far from the success of The Offspring’s Smash, avenues such as MySpace, Facebook and other Internet connections ensure the lights are still on in a number of venues and offices internationally. That said, others who previously topped sales charts can’t find nickels to scrape together. Witness hip hop artists paring back their eccentricities and wearing the same jewelry for multiple photo sessions.
It’s unsurprising, then, that many bands have turned to vastly different areas to reap rewards, let alone break even. The same people who once urged us to kill our televisions are now crossing their fingers in the hopes that we’ll tune in to their customized commercials for new albums, tours or whatever else they can hock.
On the big screen, there’s heavy metal trio Anvil’s recent Spinal Tap-ish step onto the silver screen via Anvil! The Story Of Anvil and Iron Maiden’s more laid-back Flight 666, which followed their 2008 world tour. Then there are the small-screen spectacles, such as Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons’s reality shows, which score big DVD and merchandising sales, yet prompt fans to wonder when these musicians last did something musical (does Simmons even know how to play bass anymore?). Clearly, pictures are worth a lot more than sounds today.
People pan MTV and Much Music for airing everything but the very music videos they helped popularize. Yet, with current programming, they’re still responsible for building up and tearing down disposable entertainers like Britney Spears and Lady GaGa. Image is fleeting, but it’s still worth way more than substance, and aging, legendary acts are struggling to keep pace. They’re learning that face time and Neilsen ratings sell more than studio time and SoundScan rankings.
Hell, even Poison warbler Brett Michaels and (gasp) Glenn Danzig are hunting for love and profit on the ridiculous Rock of Love series, which is garnering more and more weekly viewers and endless water cooler banter. The reality bug has now seeped into anti-establishment punk culture, as 25-year veterans NOFX recently released their own series, Backstage Passport, that follows the quartet as they perform in South American countries most people — musical or military — avoid with 10-foot drum risers.
Some of these shows could be timeless hits, but most are worthless schlock worth. Quick — name the winner of 2003’s American Idol. At one point that was important information. Now, it barely counts as trivia.
Will these shows help bands sell albums? No, but it puts a name to a face and, hopefully, butts into seats. One look at an upcoming concert calendar proves that by pushing their visages into our face weekly, these musicians are able to survive by pulling us into their gigs. The albums don’t sell, but tickets do. While we’re there, we might even buy a T-shirt.
At one point, there was a division between television stations and record labels. As time passes, the latter is seen as archaic, and while we don’t think it, the remote control is fast becoming our new “label.” Television is the last bastion of promotion left for musicians who must now, agreeably or not, treat their music as business cards: give it away free because, while the medium is worthless, the information it contains will hopefully result in future transactions. You may not be ready, but it’s already here. Television dictates who you know, and by default, who you hear.