March 24, 2009

Glass and steel

Via Geoff Edgers, John Mellencamp on how the corporatization of America has wrecked the music industry. I agree with a lot of this, although I think it's complicated by the fact that the rise of the popular music industry was also fueled by an economic quirk: the post-WWII increase in adolescent disposable income. Corporate money started flooding into pop music in the 1950s, even if the corporations had no clue about the content—it just took a while for technology to render that ignorance moot. And, for the record, I can sing the chorus to "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and frequently do, at seasonally inappropriate times.

The winners of the first Guthman Musical Instrument Competition were announced earlier this month. None of them, though, I'm betting, are as big as the Mid-Hudson Bridge, which Joseph Bertolozzi turned into percussion to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's journey up the eponymous river. (I'm still trying to imagine what that initial $2.2 million budget would have entailed.)

Singing astronomer! I'm a big enough nerd to get behind that. Have you ever drunkenly confused Messier and Messaien? I have. (Take a listen here.)

And "Beverly Hills Housewife," David Hockney's portrait of patron Betty Freeman, is expected to bring $7-10 million when it's auctioned in May.



My goodness, that Mellencamp article is appalling. His arguments seem to be founded on the assumptions that "artists are basically good and wise and well-intentioned" and "corporations are all evil and, uh, corporation-y." This is a guy who's benefited quite richly from a star system that's all about capitalism. Oh, and I love the reasoning that if you can sing the chorus to a song, then apparently it's "built from the ground up," which is apparently true of all his completely authentic songs. How unfair that the bad country music dudes should come in and steal his rightful audience. Poor guy. The most useful thing in the article is the bit of wisdom from Don Henley who, if I read it correctly, seems to understand that artists wouldn't do much better running things. It's always amused me how so few of the idealistic 60's types could even keep a band together, and yet they pretend to know how to make the world a better, fairer, less self-interested place. The truth is, artists are just as good at being self-interested as anyone else, and Mellencamp's article drips with his own self-obsession. Someone should just tell him that "this is oooooooooour country."

Sator Arepo said...

Re: The Singing Astronomer:

A) One is not encouraged to begin such an article with "The stars are aligned..." without inciting derision. *Hack [cough]*

B) Music of the Spheres, see Kepler, Johannes.

Still pretty cool though. It makes me glad to know it's the Year of Astronomy.

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Henry Holland said...

Agreed, that Mellencamp article is awful.

The most useful thing in the article is the bit of wisdom from Don Henley who, if I read it correctly, seems to understand that artists wouldn't do much better running things

See: Apple Records; Rolling Stones Records; Swan Song; ELP's Manticore Records etc. etc. etc.

To me, the fatal mistake was the total lack of foresight that CD's would be used to digitally facilitate file theft, but that cat (sorry Moe!) is long out of the bag.

Matthew said...

Michael: I'm much more forgiving—in terms of judging and argument, at least—of honest self-aggrandizement than false humility. (See Composers, inherent arrogance of all. For anyone to think that they deserve to be listened to by other people crosses a cockiness Rubicon right there.) I do think his characterizations of BDS and SoundScan are spot-on, and echo conclusions I've seen from game-theory studies of the effects of quantized rating systems on selection and choice. (Here's an interesting recent example, via Daniel Wolf.)

The artists-need-be-their-own-marketing-department thing has been in play in new music for a while now: successful composers are those with a talent and flair for self-promotion. Some of them are very good composers as well—but those two skills don't necessarily (in a logical sense) have anything to do with each other. The problem—in any genre—is not so much the romantic notion of unrecognized genius, but having the time to both do the creative work and turn it into, say, a decent middle-class living. Just because that's the way it's always been doesn't mean I have to like it.

Henry: On the other hand, a lot of hip-hop artist-run labels have done pretty well. (Punk, too, in more localized markets.) Of course, a lot of the substance of hip-hop is, in itself, a type of marketing and brand promotion.

Incidentally: one Huffington Post link, and I've been deleting Chinese-language porn spam all morning. What gives?

Gavin Plumley said...

Is it just me, or does everyone have the desire to be painted clambering out of that pool?