Somewhere along the way I think that music industry seriously failed the musicians. To a musician, his music is his art, the thing he does to express himself. Really, it’s the same thing I do here, like any blogger. Nobody has to like it or be willing to pay for it as long as I keep getting to do it. If others gain from it, well, shiny.
Years ago, the wealthy might think your art had merit. They would greatly desire good talent. They might hire you to beautify their lives with music or works, maybe even become your patron, paying for your living expenses so you could go on making nice things without the worry of having to make some other living (and in the process, bring increased status to the patron).
It worked this way up until the mid-twentieth century, near as I can tell. Today, an artist is still free to do all the art he wants. There aren’t all that many patrons floating around these days, but there is a whole market of affluent people for an artist to transact with and sell to. If he’s lucky enough or talented enough, people in that market will pay money for the work, perhaps even enough to make a living on. So for physical artists and performance artists, there hasn’t been all that much of a change.
The modern media industry promised something different to its artists than the patrons of old did. Like a patron, they promised to help pay for things like production and promotion. In the early days of the modern industry, they promised “we will make us rich, because you’ve got the talent and I know how to sell it to people.” Pretty quickly this evolved into, “you make the goods and I’ll sell them in the market.” Today, the deal seems to be along the lines of, “I’ll hire you to make me money.” In a couple of generations, many musicians and writers have gone from being unique treasures to mere employees in some industrial enterprise.
This might explain why so much of the popular media these days is all the same. Quality control in any industry is all about standardisation and uniformity.
I think what the media industry is still trying to wrap its head around is that their entire “industry” might not be the optimal way for art to be spread around a society. If you have founded an entire money making industry on controlling and monopolising the output of unsuspecting artists, the idea this could be wrong might come as something of a shock.
The media industry can’t not know just how good it has it right now: every book and every album is a potential gold mine to be exploited, a guaranteed monopoly with all the wealth being funnelled back to one source — them. So much with the shareholders and the stock options and the money. . . you’d better believe they’ll hang on to it for as long as they can.
Obviously, I feel that the idea of art as an industrial product is wrong. I contend that the best way for the artist to carry out his love is to just do it, whether it is commercially successful or not. Maybe he can attract some patrons, in one form or another, and do it full time, maybe not. I concede this is not the easiest thing to do in this modern age. The Internet can help, I think, to connect with those patrons. Perhaps one of the things our governments can do for us is try to form a society that discourages 2 hour commutes and sixty hour work-weeks. This might give artists more time to do their thing so they won’t have to rely on the big, bad media industry.