Originally published on rAVe Pubs December 16th, 2011
"If you want to destroy this sweater - Just pull this thread as I walk away...”
Go ahead 'n' pull, you might get what you want or a surprise worth waiting for, depending on your point of view. With the music business still in disarray and profits bleeding out like a moonshine still at the wrong end of a ATF shotgun, the pundits have declared, yet again, Rock’s demise.
A recent article on CNN discussed the rise of (pop) Country Music sales and radio play as other genres are waning, which *of course* was accompanied buy the hackles of "Rock/ Rap is Dead/Dying.”
There is no denying that modern country music has been on the rise for some time. Hell, NYC has had at least two successful country radio stations. I have nothing against country music -- well, I do have a lot against country pop, more on that below. I am a fan of the true roots hillbillies like Hank Williams, the current alt rock decedents of Hank - Lucero and the rockabilly revivalist Reverend Horton Heat. Unless you want to get caught up in a day long discussion of music history and Situationist aesthetics don’t even hint at asking me about my Jan Dek fetish.
I do not dislike pop music because it is so prevalent but because it is too easy to like. Top 40 songs are genetically engineered to draw you in and crash your mind on to the rocks of the island of the Sirens. These songs do not ‘stimulate the little grey cells’ - as Hercule Poirot would say- rather they lull them into a catatonic state suppressing the desire for challenging compositions. Admit it, you have caught yourself humming along with the muzak in elevator.... and if alone, enjoyed it. Oh yes you have, and I’ll bet a dollar bill that you tapped your foot, too.
It is undeniable that mainstream rock and rap sales have been in decline recently, but I would not go so far as to start dusting off and updating the obituaries. These genres have been pushed into smaller spaces - off into the anterooms. I find this to be an opportunity.
Unlike many I am quite comfortable in small space, the constraints actually promote more creativity by forcing new angles of thought on how to get around them (more about this in my next post). I could emulate William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch Story telling or Jan Dek’s (I told you I am obsessed) musical interpretations and smash the boundaries à la the 1984 commercial. Yet, even these follow strict rules and delineation -- just not the ones we have been previously accustomed to.
Smaller spaces or musical communities can generate more heat - (canned heat?) - confined as they are, once things get cooking. Underground or regional collectives who have been pushed to the out-lands can grow in what seems a blur and wind up creating some remarkable sounds and genre bending without the need to seek a more global acceptance. These tight collectives can also be incestuous and regrettably, (or thankfully depending on how macabre your persuasions are) produce the musical equivalent of the Blue Fugates.
A well known Alternative/ Punk pioneer often stated that he professionally looked forward to Republican administrations as it stirred up the emotions of the bands and fans (who would often go on to form their own bands). The message? Constrictions, or the appearance of, can generate incredible bursts of creativity. It also generates an exponential explosion of distinct sub-genres. This would seem counter-intuitive at first unless you have an appreciation for Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail and the theory of "a thousand true fans."
The Long Tail upturns a few of the ‘standard models’ of business by showing that a good deal of money can be made in producing not just a few select items, but an entire swath of niche market items, each with their own community of dedicated clientele.
The theory of a thousand true fans postulates - Just how many fans paying (x) amount to you per year would you need to survive and produce your art. Many independent artists are experimenting with some form of this Kevin Kelly-promoted idea, from Radiohead to Thomas Dolby (have you see his new performances, wow, just wow) to the newUnderground Rap movement. Think about this for a moment: if you were able to garner a thousand fans who paid you $75 dollars a year, or $75,000, would this be enough? $75 sound like too much? How about $40 a year, plus concerts/appearance fees. Would this be enough to give you the freedom to create content and access and live comfortably?
While the old school business models may be struggling with a smaller real estate footprint, some are finding opportunity. Just look at what Louis CK did by providing a $5 DRM-free product and wound up earning $200k in less than seven days.
My sweater may be undone, but I still have a stitch in time to create. Knit one, Purl Two.