I have been following several discussions lately about the nature of “the business”. People rue the passing of the old ways and the coming of new ways that seem to work against us. But it has always been thus.
In the mid-1800s, Wagner took opera in a new direction that mystified the Italians. A whole opera without a clearly definable “aria”? In the late 1800s sound recording was invented. Wouldn’t that be the death of live music? In the early 1900s, Jazz and Tin Pan Alley were brought to the masses through recordings and became popular. Wouldn’t they kill classical music and lead to cultural decadence?
The 1950s had Rock and Roll displacing the Big Band singers and Crooners on the Top 40 list. The British Invasion of the early 1960s represented the echo of American Blues; Rock and Roll bounced off of Britain back to us through the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and others. Popular music became increasingly international, and was given a lot of credit for affecting/damaging other genres.
There have been many waves since – Punk, Techno, Rap, Folk, Popera, the Rockifying of musicals, the evolution of R&B and Country into forms quite different from their roots. Recordings going into the cloud. Piracy running rampant. Musicians having to tour like crazy to make a buck. Dozens of opera companies folding in the last five years after a couple of decades of growth. Things wax and wane, ebb and flow. Arguments can be made about the demise of this or that, but musicians at all times have had to adapt to things and promote themselves, whether they had a “record deal” or not, whether they had performance contracts three years out or not, whether the economy was good or bad.
It is important for young musicians to understand that you can’t always outsmart the trends and have the perfect product at the perfect time in history. You need to be alert and watching and listening, and make the best business decisions possible, but you also need to be the best artist you can be in your genre. There is a limited amount of time in any lifetime and being true to yourself as an artist might be more important than being the most popular act in the world. Perhaps, in the long run, being excellent at what you do is the best policy. If it pays, it pays. If it doesn’t, then you have to decide whether you support it out of love, or leave the game. What you can’t do is pretend that everything is supposed to stay the same.
It seems to me that it’s about that simple, and that hard.