Now that the dust has settled on Taylor-Gate, I can't help but feel a sense of deja vu . Starting with Milli Vanilli's best new artist Grammy win in 1990, Ashlee Simpson's SNL performance a few years ago, and now Taylor Swift's universally panned Grammy performance, every few years some new just-add-water-and-stir-insta-pop-star is exposed for having no real musical talent. Inevitably the recriminations begin and you get the obvious reactions. "Oh no, it's the music biz boogeyman at it again!" "We're tired of all the superficial, talentless artists the music biz boogeyman is forcing on us."
"For once, why won't the boogeyman listen to the fans?" Well, if you're hoping to hear recordings of high artistic merit recorded by great musicians therein lies your problem. The music biz boogeyman does indeed listen to music fans. In fact, he listens to music fans to such an extent, that as it actually turns out the music biz boogeyman is you, the music fan. Here's your first lesson in music biz 101.
Open a word document. Type the words "music" and "business" on the same line but make sure there is a space between these two words. Highlight the word "music" and make the font size 8pts. Now, highlight the word "business" and make the font size 72pts. Actually, feel free to make the font size for the word "business" as large as you'd like, but keep "music" in a puny font. Are you getting my point here? Don't get me wrong, not that real artists are intentionally excluded from the music business, it's just that when recordings with any kind of real artistic merit break through and achieve critical mass it's a happy coincidence, not the intent.
You see, the music business is an agnostic business. It doesn't care what kind of music it puts out, just so long as the recordings sell and make money. In my book there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is a business after all. If you want art you're probably better off heading over to the Getty Center.
Here's something else you need to consider. Contrary to popular belief, the music business does not make trends. Instead, it follows trends the way a group of brainwashed cult members follow their clueless and misinformed leader. That's where you, the music fan, exerts a great deal of influence on the kinds of recordings being produced. The reason why music personalities as opposed to accomplished musicians are what dominate the rosters of major record labels today, is because that's the kind of artist you, the music biz boogeyman, are telling the music business to produce and market.
If Yo-Yo Ma's recording of Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suites unexpectedly sold 1,000,000 copies in a week, Joshua Bell's recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto sold 2,000,000 the week after that, and suddenly Britney Spears, The Black Eyed Peas, and Pink struggled to sell 5,000 units a week, all of which were from their latest recordings; you can bet the farm that every record label chief and their dog would suddenly be extolling the virtues of classical music while newly forgotten pop stars would end up wearing funny little hats to work that say,"Have It Your Way!"
You laugh but this has happened many times before and will continue to happen so long as there are new trends in popular culture. Do you remember how quickly Hair Metal was forgotten when Kurt Kobain came to town?
This tendency to focus on what is hot and happening according to the masses has only become more exaggerated ever since record labels became part of publicly traded companies and most recently private equity firms. You don't reach critical mass and boost quarterly profits by selling a few five-star meals. You do it by selling a ton of Happy Meals and Big Macs.
Now I know what a few of you are saying, "What about Norah Jones or even the mulit-platinum Gregorian Chant recording that came out back in 1994?" These recordings are outliers, or, exceptions to the rule. Before anyone ascribes a tone to my post know that I make no judgment at all about this situation. I'm simply giving you the lay of the land from someone that makes his living from this business.
Speaking of my own business, I'd like to leave you with a shameless plug. I represent a band that is utilizing all the profits from their album release to benefit an amazing missionary that has been in Haiti for over 10 years. You can read all about The Classic Crime and Tom Osbeck in my last blog, The Classic Crime In Haiti. OK, I'm stepping off my soapbox now.
Follow Jorge Hernandez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LAMaing