The economy troubles me; no doubt about that. So does this second Vietnam (the war in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the bailout of industries whose heads I’d prefer to see on stakes. I have a full metal jacket of other issues ripe for baring in a blog whose writers are adults and desirous of exercising their right to free speech in a manner that may enlighten and empower others. But the one issue that has been tearing at my heart since the mid-1990s is the absence of real music in our lives and at our very fingertips.
I define “real music” as that which moves us to tears, makes us think, makes us feel, and in the end, helps make us better people. That last phrase of mine is heartfelt; it is not an exaggeration. I may, in forthcoming articles, expound upon the specific influences that brought our country to the point where it’s impossible to turn on a commercial radio station without hearing the same soulless, boring, and whoring fifteen to twenty songs, churned out by the same soulless, boring, and whoring fifteen to twenty performers day after day, week after week, month after month, ad infinitum.
Like the law of physics that states that matter can never be destroyed, only altered, good music has changed drastically in the way that we are forced to hunt it down and access it. It is still out there, but much of it is no longer free. Music is indeed the universal language; like no other art form and no other form of indulgence, its healing properties are instantaneous and far reaching. It should be freely available at the turn of a radio dial, as it once was, and is no longer.
The American public has been robbed blind of what once uplifted our souls, made us stand up for our fellow man and woman, and got us through a Depression, numerous recessions, and far too many wars. Indeed, music helped shaped our socio-political mores; it drove the way we approached these issues, voted, and even lived our lives! To eliminate good music from a non-paid form of access (commercial radio) is, to my mind, akin to denying us the freedom of speech.
Oh. And if you think the Internet is the great Second Coming poised to deliver you from this nightmare, think again. The suits are on to us, big time. Lovers of real music, and the artists who make it, are being hunted like foxes running one step ahead of the hounds. The suits are waking up to the fact that many music lovers access tunes online. As a result of that escalating trend, their primary business — the sale of hard CD’s — has dwindled. Therefore, the suits are working to stamp out as many forms of non-paid music access as they can bag.
Behold their handiwork. IEEM (formerly on the Web at ieem.com) is dead and buried. Its funeral has forced the independent artists for whom the site was created to move their music to their individual pages on MySpace. This move has deprived us all of a central repository for indy work, leaving us scrambling to locate new artists on a burgeoning social networking site that some of us avoid like the plague. Rhapsody.com? You have to pay for it if you want to hear more than the five or six songs the site allows you on a trial basis. And the fee is annual, amortized over your credit card bill month after month. Just what you always wanted: another credit card bill at exorbitant interest rates, for the privilege of hearing the music of your choice.
Worse, it was announced recently that record industry robber barons, including Clive Davis, have partnered with YouTube to effectively erase the work of all independent artists from this vehicle if said work is not deemed “of the highest quality.” The standards defining that quality were glaringly absent from a public statement scripted for and presented a month or so ago by, of all people U2’s Bono, in honor of the launch of YouTube’s new initiative. I say “of all people” because U2 in its infancy was the first band in history to copyright their music. They were savvy enough to know about the wolves howling at the door, and to protect themselves from the beasts, even when commercial radio was still streaming music crafted in the human heart and soul.
To add insult to injury, any indy artist wishing to submit his or her work to YouTube will be “screened” by a back-end process … a process to which no one but the techies on the payroll, and ah yes, the suits, will be privy.
Clive & Co. attempted to peddle this unprecedented theft as a desire to bring YouTube’s audience only the “highest quality music videos.” Well, those of us with functional brains know that only those artists in Clive & Co.’s stable, and the stables of moguls like them, can afford to produce what the general populace would deem “the highest quality music videos.” Those of us who love music could give a rat’s hind end about grainy or jumpy videos; it’s all about the music for us!
Thus, we have the artists (true artists, not no-talent media whores), whose voices — instrumentally, vocally, and songwriting-wise — have been silenced. The suits at the major labels and their lackeys, including their legal counsel and bean counters, are more concerned with pushing mass-produced product to exceed sales expectations than they are in the quality and integrity of the music they promote to achieve airplay, the music that has made commercial radio a vast wasteland.
In his autobiography published approximately two years ago, Eric Clapton postulated that none of the big labels would be around in ten years. If Old Slow Hand is correct, the sand in Clive’s hourglass has another eight years to go. In that time, I shudder to think what further havoc he and his ilk will perpetrate upon the American music-loving audience.
Like the early Christians who went underground to avoid persecution and spread The Word, we music lovers will continue to ferret out the artists who speak most profoundly to us. We will not stop seeking the channels through which we may enjoy the music, and we will not stop passing the information on to others just as hungry and relentless as we are.