Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Where did the music go? - part 1.

A couple of days ago my students - I teach at a well known jazz school in the heart of Europe - asked me  : -

- "What is our future in music?"
- "Well" I answered, "It can't get much worse than it is now!"
- "Yes" they laughed, "but will there be anywhere for us to play?"

What is the future of music and the industry that surrounds it?  These students are in their early twenties and all wonder what will happen to them after they leave the comfy surroundings of a conservatory or other educational center. Ronan Guilfoyle (*) in his blog Mostly Music talks about comparisons between  jazz and pop and success - making a living, or not, the idea of success in both areas, and whether we jazz musicians can compete with that type of 'financial' pressure/backing.

As pointed out in the comments section, it's rare to see a 'rock/pop' musician just making a living. Most are either famous at the moment, living on past glories, or amateurs who play from time to time - there are of course some very committed amateurs (**). As a practicing musician I've seen the whole music scene shrink over the past 10 years (more in real terms - 50 years), a very sad thing to have to say. Many wonder why this is happening and what can be done to make it better, but with the direction our world and civilization is taking things won't be changing in the near future I suspect.

What are some of the reasons for the demise of the music scene and real live venues. After all the festival scene is still flourishing. And the world of rock still draws thousands to it's festival circuit every summer. The jazz scene also seems to work relatively well, although many festivals in the winter months are just concerts grouped together in one program but not in one place - often over several weeks and in varied venues, which in some cases can be far apart/different towns. What are some of the reasons for the demise of our small live music venues, which were the lifeblood of local scenes? Why have they (in general) disappeared?

Some changes that (I think) have affected live music - in no particular order :

1) The advent of the CD.
2) The demise of major record companies.
3) The demise of state owned (and run) radio and television stations.

See below for further points - to be continued in later blog discussions ..... part 2 and beyond!

These are just a few sketchy points that come to mind when talking about the state of live music and reasons for it's demise at the moment. I'm not going to go through every point in detail, a few words about some of the points could be : -

The advent of the CD (1) really changed our perception in the 80s, even if not immediately, of buying music and consequently live music. For the first time music was digital and so able to be copied at high speeds, passed around, re-copied, edited and the like. Of course we didn't immediately notice this. Many people even now complain if they have to pay for something 'on line' and so expect all music should be free. In a recent article in Jazzwise Magazine, Brad Mehldau pointed out that downloading/copying music either from the net or otherwise (if the music is available publicly on CD etc) is stealing. And he's right, as a musician I can quite simply add nothing else and I can't think of any argument that can justify otherwise.

With the demise of the large major labels (3), which some people saw as a good thing at the time, a major blow was dealt for the development of groups, touring schedules and record contracts. Luckily in the area of cinema the independent and large film companies work on attracting investors who see making films as a type of investment. With the demise of the majors much money no longer reaches the smaller groups. Even as late as the 80s talent scouts were still looking around smaller clubs hoping to find the next 'new thing'. Although I'm sure that labels still hope to find the 'next thing' much more of the searching (due to the digital age) can be done via myspace, CDs or the internet as just a few examples. After all why go looking for bands when they're all around you on the net, or YouTube?

Another advantage, some would say disadvantage, was that most labels new what they were talking about. Many of the producers, recording engineers, and even some of the executives were qualified to back up their choices. Such people as Peter Asher, George Martin, Arif Mardin and Berry Gordy were not only producers but very able arrangers, songwriters or/and musicians. Many of the labels had house bands or musicians working with them as salaried employees., not forgetting orchestras that worked in the bigger studios day and night. A huge article alone could be written about some of the house bands/musicians that worked for the various labels and many of these became celebrities in their own names. Many of these musicians also worked outside of the studios on the local gig circuit - most of the jazz fraternity, rock musicians such as John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page (later on with Led Zep), to name just two, were very hard working studio musicians before becoming pop stars in their own right. More to the point a very large amount of people were employed by these major recording companies and of course that meant that musicians played on a regular basis, had chances to develop their styles and music, and more importantly make a good living, just like any other profession. There were less needs for subsidies or government grants due to the earning power of those musicians. And of course supply and demand - meaning music companies promoted their products (the music) in newspapers, on radio and television ......... even more avant garde jazz!! Not enough can be written (in such a small blog article (***)) about this major blow to the live music scene, but had the majors survived the blow from the beginning of the computer age and development of independent companies, it would be interesting to see how music would/could of developed.  

To be continued in Part 2.

4) The advent of the electric keyboards/drum machines/computer programs.
5) The advent of the DVD and beforehand the video.
6) State intervention (subsidies).
7) The proliferation of cars and difficulties in moving around the cities, finding parking space etc.
8) Drink driving laws.
9) Education.
10) The development of MTV, and other music TV channels.

(*) Peter Hun's blog originally started the ball rolling with an article about pop and jazz.
(**) Amateurs I should point out does not reflect the level of musicianship, just that the primary source of income is not from playing music.
(***) I don't even have any real figures to quote you and after all this is just a small blog where everything is just done for the fun of it!
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