Grammys: That’s Not MY Music Industry

by Jason on February 1, 2010 · 20 comments

in Business, Thoughts

Watching the Grammy Awards tonight I was struck with one thought: they might call that the Music Industry, but that has nothing to do with what I do as a working musician. I have been a professional musician for 15 years, and it’s been my sole job for 9 of those years. But whatever that was on the TV tonight, that’s not even close to my world.

And you know what? Rather than that thought being depressing it is actually quite liberating. Just when I started to get upset about the things I was seeing I realized that the only reason for it to upset me is if it effects me, which it doesn’t. All that pomp and circumstance, all the tuxes and evening gowns, all the money that went into the production, all the out-of-tune and/or lip-synched performances, all the celebrity presenters – that’s a reflection of a completely different world than the one in which I live and work. Once I realized that I actually found myself happy for Taylor Swift when she won Record of the Year. She was the one winner tonight that seemed genuinely surprised and pleased to win. You go girl!

Like most musicians I know, I did at one time have fantasies of someday winning a Grammy. I will admit that when I was a kid I would practice my acceptance speech in front of the mirror in my bedroom, thanking my family and my as-yet-unknown record label. But I long ago gave up those fantasies, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change much about my music industry.

Sure, it’d be cool to have my music heard and appreciated by a larger audience. And to make a little more money than I do now. I’d love to have a savings account and a health-care plan that’s not the least expensive one I could find. I hope to one day buy a house.

But what’s great about my music industry at this moment in time is that all of those things are up to me 100%. No longer do I have to hope for a manager to take notice of me and a PR firm to help spread the word so that a major record label would take a gamble on me and loan me a ridiculous sum of money that I’ll never be able to pay back so that I can make an album that will hopefully get noticed by Rolling Stone and played on the radio and then sell millions of copies just so I can eat for a few years until the next guy like me comes along and takes my place.

Those days are over. Now, I can make the music I want to make, find people all over the world who appreciate it and are willing to support me, and live a comfortable and…wait for it…sustainable life as a musician.

That’s my music industry. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.


If you’d like to support a real working musician please visit my music page and consider purchasing/downloading one of my albums. Thanks!

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Toya February 1, 2010 at 2:07 am

This was a wonderful post. Certainly am glad to hear this from a musician who obviously loves hwat he does. The Grammys and all the other awards shows are to me just another form of “entertainment”. Basically more PR. It does not reflect what the really good music is. It however does award the corporate music world.

Marko
Twitter: markozirkovich
February 1, 2010 at 4:01 am

Hi Jason,

Spot on.

Classic scenario: “What do you do?” “I’m a musician.” Puzzled glazing stare…
After the initial shock comes the inevitable follow-up question: “And, you can live off it??? I’ve never heard of you…”

I have to admit, it sometimes annoyed me in the past – now, it’s more a sort of amusement to me.

Due to such industry circus events like the Grammy’s and charts, most regular folks have the distorted view that this is it. The only option for a musician to “make it.”

Fortunately, there’s so many options available – as you said, it really is liberating once you realize it.

Thanks for the awesome post,

Marko

Bob Magnuson February 1, 2010 at 4:50 am

Thanks for your post.Sounds like your finding your way.Stay positive and create your own new ways to reach people that can become a supporting fan base for you

Barry
Twitter: playjazzblog
February 1, 2010 at 5:18 am

So true Jason – and nice to hear a positive outlook for once.

I think that the modern music industry has been distorted by the pop/rock explosion of 60s and 70s. The ludicrous amounts of money made by some of the bands (even though normally a fraction of what the record companies earned) and the dream of a rock’n’roll lifestyle have created false expectation amongst many musicians regarding success – even jazz musicians.

It’s not greed either that fuels this expectation, just the pervasive idea in modern society that success in the music business means private jets, dustbin bags full of drugs, endlessly nubile groupies and the adoration of most of the civilised world.

Whilst this is still seen as the ultimate success, many musicians will feel dissatisfied (even subconsciously) with anything less. This is despite the fact that the history books show that musicians have rarely been a rich demographic in any society. The superstar millionaires thrown up by the rock’n’roll explosion are an anomaly, not a norm.

Sometimes when musicians are doing OK for themselves (as Jason is), building and growing their personal business and maintaining a good lifestyle, instead of embracing that success they are haunted by the unrealistic success model of the past couple of decades.

Sure we’d all be millionaires if we could but, as this post rightly points out, we have the opportunity these days to build our own careers, on our own terms doing what we love to do. The fact that we may not ever own a private jet or have a swimming pool the size of a football field in our back garden does not mean we have somehow failed.

Should musicians, even great ones, really expect to earn hundreds of times more than nurses, or firefighters or teachers? Is what most of us do really that significant? When you look at it in that context the need to define musical success by excess seems just stupid.

I really believe that the grammys in their current form and the procession of manufactured ‘artists’ still topping the charts and living the champagne lifestyle are simply the result of the final throes of the traditional record industry.

I just can’t see that the interchangeable artificial boy bands and tuneless pop ‘divas’ many ‘real’ musicians abhor will still exist be a phenomenon in 10-20 years as the monopoly of the big labels and their strength in the marketplace continues to dwindle.

Good luck to those currently living that ‘dream’ while it lasts, but I am convinced that music is returning to what it always was – a more-or-less meritocracy fuelled by the desire of the listener to hear music that interests them.

So don’t waste time being bitter that you won’t get to snort coke off a pneumatic, barely legal teenager’s boobs in your stretch limo between parties as a result of your success; instead console yourself that with hard work, talent and persistence you live in a time where YOU can build your own career playing music that you love and believe in for the rest of your life.

And if that’s not a definition of success, I don’t know what is.

Barry
Twitter: playjazzblog
February 1, 2010 at 5:20 am

…D’Oh, forgot my twitter link! Told you I’m still getting my head around it Jason…

Matt Wilson February 1, 2010 at 5:28 am

jason,
All I know is that I look forward to having jeff lederer and kirk knuffke do the suspended wrap choreography ala Pink on our upcoming tour dates.

SWINGING MAN!
M@

Chris
Twitter: Chodgesmusic
February 1, 2010 at 8:52 am

Well put, Jason. I gave up on those fantasies just about a decade ago when I realized the ridiculous amount of luck it requires to pull it off. In a week and a half, I will be thirty and I won’t be famous or driving that Aston Martin that I thought I would but my life is freaking awesome! I get to play ALL the time and I don’t have the pressure of pleasing my label or replacing that 100k it took to record my album or the other god-awefull sums of money spent on promotion, etc.

I was in a band once that got noticed and signed a deal with a PR/Management company and, literally, in less than a month, they were trying to make our music more “marketable” and persuade us to make lyrical changes and take more popular directions with our compositions. We were lucky enough to realize the B.S. early enough to get out of the contract.

Sad thing is, I know cats that are straight up “I’m not a union guy. I don’t play for people…I have THE NAME” blah blah blah. Well, one dude has had a few (yes, like three) record deals and well…

By no means am I saying give up on dreams but you gotta admit the truth to yourself…the odds are against you. Enjoy the music and, if it’s meant to be, you will be a big star. But, then, do you really want to be stalked by paparazzi and all the other stuff that comes along with it? I digress.

Point is, I agree. Our music industry is waaaaayyyyy more fun and free. It’s good that there are cats that want to live in that music industry, though. We need the balance and, let’s face it, it’s their music people are likely to get into when they start REALLY listening. It’s a good starter.

Art Brown February 1, 2010 at 9:55 am

All good points, but it was preeeetty cool to see Herbie Hancock win the big kahuna last year, not gonna lie….

Federico Antin
Twitter: euskirmusic
February 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

Hello Jason:
Brilliant article, I’m 100% agree…
Best wishes, as always,

Federico

Sunstreaked
Twitter: Sunstreaked
February 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

As a getting-older music fan, one thing I’ve noticed – Madonna always comes to mind – is that artists started getting glitzier and gimmick-ier as their voices were nothing special. Give me someone who can sing (!), who has a voice that drags me in and I’m a fan. Give me music that makes me want to move, that actually has rhythm (!) and I’m there. Have fun when you’re singing and engage your audience and I’m in. Congrats on what you do and may you find your dreams whatever they are!

Heather
Twitter: peaceheather
February 1, 2010 at 11:36 am

I’m having such a depressing Monday that even though I’m not a musician, I really, really needed to hear this. Thank you for reminding me – so much of that public megastardom is about appearances and comparisons, neither of which are the same thing as actual happiness.

Not that I’m on the path to megastardom – but I get suckerpunched by the comparison game every damn time. So thanks.

Janet Hansen February 1, 2010 at 3:07 pm

A little later I’ll write a blog post about this topic…but the very best thing you can do to remedy this situation is become involved with NARAS. Agree the show was less than an honorable tribute the industry at large.

Neil Alexander February 1, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Wonderful post, Jason. Nicely articulated.
I’m in the same boat – I do music full time. I’ve been a working musician for 30 years now. I’ve recently even eliminated 90% of music i don’t care for (including a really well paying gig) – so I can put 150% effort into the things I’m doing and feel great about it. The new revolution in social media has enabled me to promote myself as never before.
But to be quite frank it’s not quite…enough. I’ve been at this a long time, and I grow weary at never quite making ends meet. I’t a constant struggle (though it’s definitely “the good fight” as they say). I’ve a house (long story) and family, a day gig (playing Dance classes at a conservatory) that pays Gas Money; I live too far from NYC to be on the scene there…
I guess what I’m saying is 1) I agree with you completely – that’s not MY world. And 2) I’m struggling hard, and have been for many years. (So?)
Anyway, thanks again for a great read!
best,
– Neil A

Alexa Weber Morales
Twitter: AlexaMorales
February 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

I agree with you. I am not bothered by the Grammy telecast’s glitz, because I don’t expect it to reflect anything other than pop music. I fully enjoy the eye-candy and the showmanship — because say what you will, every performer was an excellent showman/woman. I think it also may be a reflection of the moment that we are feeling economically depressed, so the telecast emphasized the fantasy more than in other years, similar to how movies in the 1920s showed rich people partying in mansions. Escapism.

mrG
Twitter: teledyn
February 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I myself don’t bother much with big labels of any sort, but I do have a disproof of your thesis in one duo: Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer.

who? well, yeah, but dig, back in 1976 or so I’d catch Cathy playing hillbilly music in the basement of the St. Vital hotel in Winnipeg, and she was good at what she did, with an infectious presence and an authentic sound. Flash forward all these decades and I encounter Cathy again in her incarnation as a children’s performer paired with Marcie, they do YouTube episodes and perhaps also a local channel show, but they are selling some disks and as you say, they can do this business full time.

But then a very unexpected thing happens: I get this photo of Cathy and Marcie hob-nobbing with none other than Sir Paul McCartney. Say what? You see, there they are, peripheral to the gowns and glitter perhaps, but there nonetheless, up for a Grammy! And they got one, and say what you will, the laser beam attention of the public was drawn their way.

I don’t know if they noticed the event in their bankbooks, I do know they noticed a distinct set of doors opening for creative collaborations in the year that follows, but I have no idea if this was related. And they must have enjoyed it because this year they were back again for another.

So, in all fairness to the Grammys, I have to conclude that while I don’t think one should aim only for their recognition, the awards do, on occasion, recognize real hard-working dedicated musicians, and that recognition, whatever else it may be worth, is not a bad thing per se for the advancement of one’s career.

Jan Leder February 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Great stuff, Jason! I also make my living playing jazz. I’m self-employed, work from home and average between 30-40 gigs a month playing in mostly healthcare facilities, for seniors and for the infirm. I adore my work because I make people smile and feel better, doing what I trained for so many years to do, and they really appreciate it. I get paid a respectable wage and raised my two children by myself on that income, and they got to see me doing what I love. I’ve been making my living exclusively playing jazz for 13 years, and now I also offer a consultation (and sometimes workshop) called “Making a Living in Music Wellness” because I also enjoy empowering other musicians.

ger March 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Nice post, Jason.
If you think a jazz musician is in trouble in the states, you can imagine how Paraguay is!!! Yeah, it’s hard…
But at the same time, there’s no much difference with your situation. A musician just wants to make music. The best possible music.
There will always be better money in that pseudo-music. But if its money you want, becoming a musician is the wrong decision!
Being a lawyer or an accountant would be easier, faster and demand far less energy!

Greetings from the South

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