Monday, July 12, 2010

Did They Ask For It?

The Dead Kennedys
I was watching an old episode of Real Time with Bill Maher last night, and David Simon was on.  [See video below] Creator of the show "The Wire" and veteran news journalist, Simon had some interesting theories on the fate of the newspaper industry. While most people are mourning the death of this news medium, David Simon is thinking about this from an inside perspective. He basically said that once newspapers started caring more about profits than real news reporting, the business began to lose integrity. It is no longer a solid product. Mom and Pop newspapers of the old days reported the news and did not cater to advertising. Now, the newspaper industry is a business first, news source second. Naturally, over time, readers would become fed up and seek out alternatives. And thus, the internet news sources are born. The people have spoken, and I don't really blame them. It reminds me of the music industry.

The music industry is always whining about piracy and YouTube giving away the music for free. They worry about the fate of their business, and they should, but I can tell you this started long before the internet was present in every American household. This phenomenon started in the late 70's with the Punk movement. Rebelious, artsy teens in the 70's and 80's felt like they were not being represented by the music industry, so they made their own! DIY culture was born, and independent record labels spread to big cities like NYC and Washington, D.C.  Bands booked their own tours and paid for their own studio time. This allowed for complete creative control. No pandering to advertisers or religious people who are offended by curse words. Well. This never stopped. It simply evolved!

I came of age in the early nineties, just before Nirvana hit the big time. Right before that happened, I remember hanging out with the older kids at a club in Jacksonville Beach called
"Einstein A Go Go,"(Known as Einstein's to the "Steiners" who frequented this venue)  where indie bands would stop on their tours to play to an all ages, music obsessed crowd of teenagers. Bands like The Cure, The Cranberries, *and* Nirvana, among countless others, all hit that stage before they exploded onto the mainstream radio airwaves. After that happened, we would usually loose interest and cheer on the next round of indie musicians. We bought independently produced records, and most of the time the money went straight to the artists. Kids even made their own Zines to spread the word about independent music. It was exciting to be part of a new music revolution.

River Pheonix Performing at Einstein A Go Go
At Einstein's, as well as the swarms of other all ages clubs around the country, teens like us were developing an attitude of disdain for the music industry. The way we saw it, they didn't care about kids like us. We were interested in politics, social change, and art. The mainstream music industry still saw us as easily manipulated by scandalous clothing, sexual lyrics, and money. We felt insulted by this. We prided ourselves on being intellectual, and the musical "products" (Yes, by products I mean records and artists) being released were of no interest to the growing movement of indie music fans. Yes there was a market for the bikini music videos. If you lived in a town that lacked an "alternative" scene, you had to listen to what the music industry put out there, or spend your life listening to the oldies station (Trust me... that get's annoying very quickly) There was also this growing DIY movement happening right under their noses, and they never once tried to understand what we were interested in.  Bands in the indie scene continuously sent demos to Major Label Los Angeles offices, but it was like this monarchy that you could not get through, unless you could prove some sort of royal authority for yourself. 

An Old DIY Show Flyer
When Nirvana hit the big time, a HUGE divide split through the indie scene. Many saw Kurt Cobain as a "sell-out" while other fans stayed committed. For me, it was bittersweet. I felt sad that my romantic underground scene would no longer be the same, but I felt some hope that perhaps this meant that the music industry was evolving. I was wrong. This is probably the moment when DIY culture became more well known to the rest of the world. All of a sudden, "Grunge" became the "Alternative" music, when really, it wasn't. The word "Alternative" was applied to music on the indie scene; the DIY peeps who wanted an "alternative" to what they saw as a flawed system for spitting out mindless music to the masses.

So, this is simply my opinion for why I have a hard time sympathizing with the failing music industry. Perhaps this will be a warning to other big markets who care more about profits than substance (film industry: take note). 

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