This is a guest post from a great friend Daniel Wilder. You’ll find his bio at the end of the post. Enjoy!
Modern Music: The Marvel of the Craft
Concerning the post on authenticity in the art of contemporary music, I felt the urge to not only comment on the presented analysis that deals in particular with genuine artistic and personal charisma, no, as an admirer and attendant in the field of music I felt the urge to give insight on the corporate strings behind the craft: a voice about the music we love and buy, the music we hate, but the music we cannot live without.
The modern music world underwent a tremendous shift where being a great artist is not the overt demand A&Rs or giant executive producers expect when you sign your future and become part of the music business.
If you intend to be an original artist in a niche genre being a great artist will get you local success and fame and your fans and followers will respect you for not selling out and be one of the stars that fell to the music industry; but getting beyond the localities in an assessable and manageable artistic realm does not only ask you to give up parts of your originality but—if you have potential to be chosen—demands that you become part of a large clockwork that is steering you and the music we love and hate.
The marvel of the craft, the creativity is not that of the artist itself anymore, the marvel of the craft is the constitution and composition the music industry inflicts upon the art.
When closely observing the music industry, how it works, and for that matter comparing it to the local music scene you know, a few things can be observed that are nearly as evident to make them facts, but refraining from generalization, I consider it to be a much better approach to point out the few facets I have observed since I started working in the art of music and eventually have the observer connect the dots yourself in order to realize that the marvel of modern music is no longer the art itself but the overall concept and product the music industry provides: insidious, yet ingenious, and after all an inspiration for any artist out there who still dreams of being the star of tomorrow.
Don’t be discouraged, be aware of what to expect…
Beyond the Talent and Skills
No matter how good of a voice you have, or how good your instrumental skills are, if you want to make it big and eventually see the music as a business and your job, your occupation, there is a lot more than merely the art.
I knew (and still know) multiple singers that have amazing voices, but their appearance will be the eradicating factor that brings the artistic charisma to equilibrium (and thus stagnation). Your talent and skills are sublime, but your look is not according to the 21st century ‘sexy’ standard?—you will never make it to anything beyond local shows and a small group of fans/followers.
Because the music world will not give you a platform to make the move up to where you think you belong, because when selling music you quickly come to realize that there is a lot more behind the façade of the art itself, namely the marketing behind it (which is insidious, yet ingenious, and after all an inspiration in itself).
When music is being sold you have to see it as an overall product and not just an art form where artists can express themselves; what counts is the overall concept. If you are an artist that is authentic but does not quite fit in with the ‘marketing qualities’ (i.e. marketable looks and charisma) the industry demands, you will remain original, of course, but in the giant clockwork as one of the thousand nobodies.
However, bringing a great appearance with your skills and talents proves you are a candidate, congratulations!
An easy and apparent way to observe exactly that phenomenon are the many talent, casting, and idol shows, all around the world, where artists (or those who consider themselves artists) prove to the ‘music industry’ that they are candidates.
The big hope, the dream come true, the beginning of rock star fantasies, the one shot you waited for all your life? Well, not here, not now, maybe nowhere, and never.
Do the TV shows need to produce the star of tomorrow? Is it not enough to raise enormous funds by just having the show be produced? Why then risk investing in an artist that will be fired and forgotten when the new season starts, when you can just use them as disposable dreams?
There is no longer a Kelly Clarkson of the early beginnings that people still remember simply because they were the pioneer, there are many no-names that keep many eyes riveted to the television once the show is on, but those obsessed “fans” will keep watching if there is someone else, even if there is none at all, because there is the show and that is all that matters.
And the artist?
Their short period of fame is limited by the lifetime of those shows (which is especially in Europe the case, because you go to the show, dream big, eventually win, are known for a month or two, produce a single, sell 20k copies, become a one hit wonder, then disappear, and then there is a new show and another one has to follow your lead).
In that particular setting the show is the product, not the music (or in that sense the artist) itself, but while you are reading this, see for yourself, get some chips (and don’t forget a good ol’ spicy dip) and a cold one for a night of The Voice and Sexy Body, Embarrassing Idol, Many Got Talent but there will always be someone else following, or your show of choice, with your special someone and see what the former vice president of Sony Music Germany once stated and presented at a conference I was invited to:
Music?—negative; you sell the shows, and the shows will get the fans, not the artist.
The Corporate Clockwork
There is a thin line between being authentic and expressing the self and being a part of this big corporate entity behind, or moreover within the music industry; not that big stars aren’t authentic, but when getting behind their music and their careers you come to realize, how the corporate thought and the marketing and business aspect comes into play.
A big clockwork it is, where the artist has in the end only the representational part. You are the ambassador, the diplomat between the industry and the customer, the strings others are pulling, but delivering the message is your job as an artist.
A good example is Nashville, a music city like no other, rich in quality and talent and skills and looks, where artists can preset themselves at the open mic nights for being heard (and let’s not forget: being seen) by the country industry, where when you qualify as an artist, there are two options (and for both you should congratulate yourself):
- The ones that are phenomenal artists and look good and look like they can be sold as an overall product are the ones that make it big, become the next Luke Bryan or Miranda Lambert; or
- The ones that are ‘merely’ good artists become song writers and work in the background, not because their art or craft isn’t good but simply because they did not qualify for being marketed as big stars.
It’s the same in the studio, where I work with artists and have them audition, and—since I intend to more and more treat it as a business—I pick the ones that look good and are decent singers over the ones that do not look ‘good enough’ (according to a western perception and perspective) and are extremely talented singers, just because the singing can be fixed in the studio.
Meaning roughly two to three more hours of work for the producer editing their vocals, but in the end there is an artist with a great song, great singing, and someone who people want to see on a CD cover (as opposed to a super voice that does not) look “pleasing to the eye.”
It’s a moral dilemma, even a personal conundrum within the clockwork that artists all around the world are facing, yet a conundrum one can observe when digging deeper in that particular business.
The Trend is (not!) Dead
Don’t we all remember the good old times of true rock n’ roll, where innovative and original geniuses and masterminds produced timeless and priceless hits?
Rock nostalgia all the way, where we were welcomed to the jungle, couldn’t get no satisfaction, met Dr. Feelgood, had people step on our blue suede shoes, when big wheels kept on turning, we were paranoid, and highway knew only one direction: straight to hell.
What would (or wouldn’t) we all give to relive those times again and not only follow the few relics this life hasn’t yet taken from us?
Times in which the trend was dead, and today? Times in which the trend is everything, in terms of genre, where one artist serves better as another what the broad masses want (or are told to want).
Who will get the shot? The one that delivers best, a small space of a limited sky, however, is reserved for outstanding artists (that unfortunately are not and not going to become more than that): talented metal artists and their local fans, phenomenal drummers thundering the off-beat double bass drum to a 7/8 measure funk pattern with triplet fill over toms and snare drum, both impressive and outstanding in craft and creativity, but both will have to spark a singer with a simple song getting the shot, just because the niche genres are too complex for the majority; the trend is where the masses are, the simplistic catchy music dictated not primarily by the artist but the artist in compliance with the driving impulse of the clockwork.
You do not present what you want to express, no, you present what is currently ‘demanded,’ (and artistically coming from rock music and heavy metal that music shift was one I felt in every artistic cell I have.
As diverse and original those niche genres are, there is no more potential and no progress to make it applicable and attractive to the masses. But in that sense one must understand music in its marvelous beauty and purpose, as an art of entertainment, and there is currently no space for newness as it once was, where virtuosi with long curly hair and a topper smoking multiple cigarettes while playing some of the best guitar solos in the artistic history of all mankind; those witnesses of that particular time period(s) are still there, as relics and legends writing down and having hall of fame spots in our record books, but the zeitgeist moved along: a new concept in the industry has arrived, and the industry will pick its personnel according to who can deliver best.
If you are the best rapper out there, you better make sure either you change and shift toward what the clockwork asks for, or…you convince them to shift their concept and expectations to the extent that in the end it matches who you as the best rapper alive really are. The latter, however, will not happen, because who are you, little cogwheel, to tell the driving impulse of the clockwork they are so wrong and should change their concept, after all a concept that worked fine for many years?
Step up, or shut up, two (not too) lucrative options, where the first offers your shot to someone else and the second takes the essence of it being your shot.
Foreign Trade and the International Factor
To me fascinating as it was on day one are the regional facets that are to be considered just as in any solid economic model on import/export and supply/demand.
The market is set to be in (or, if it does not apply, seek an) equilibrium where the demand is satisfied by the supply. What happens with the worldwide music market is not distorting theory or any model, but exposes the imbalance within the import and export of music, where there is only one market to function as a global exporter: the United States.
A Kelly Clarkson, a star made by television, earns fame and sells records globally, as opposed to the first winner of the German equivalent (you don’t remember who that was? Me neither, and probably for a reason). Is that a deliberate occurrence? Perhaps, but most likely because there is a main exporter with the potential and global prestige in order to do so, as seen not just in TV shows but also with sales in general.
Ask people in Germany who Chris Daughtry is, they will know, but ask some of my dearest friends in New York (a liberal and culturally rich and open center city) who the Böhse Onkelz, most likely the biggest and most famous German rock band of all times, are (having single concerts in front of by far more fans than any other European festival has for an entire weekend); or Helene Fischer (interesting comparison, but for drawing the image it works quite well).
It is partly the language, of course, but what about the ones singing in English? The United States export music to all the world and the other countries import music, making the U.S. the playground for any artist determined to make it to the mountain peak and most powerful and successful clockwork around the globe. Go and see for yourself, how many artists in your local charts are from your country, and how many are from the music forge called America.
Music monopoly, a case of antitrust, but really we shouldn’t complain, because the music forged in America is still at its best, producing better and better music year by year, beautiful music we all love.
The Tour de Force
Going platinum has always been the dream of any artist (and those who are determined to become our future stars), but selling music is not the main income type anymore.
It may have been before downloading, copying, where people had to buy a CD had they wanted to purchase a song, where now you download the songs you like and those only; but that is no more, it is not the sales that get you paid (where labels hope to break even with the production expenses primarily and write off false and fateful investments), it is the tours that yield and generate massive success of artistic endeavors planned and inflicted by the clockwork we call the music industry.
When you have a look at recent statistics, you see that rock and country are the only two genres that generate an increase of income, and that is mainly evident because of the tours famous country stars and rock bands put together (which is the extended evaluation of the international factor, considering how country music is primarily, or mainly bound to one country and out of the top twenty best paid musicians in the world more than ten of them are country stars that in the rest of the world no one has ever heard of); not leaping too far, but perhaps there is some reasoning for why rappers release two to three CDs a year as opposed to a Luke Bryan who has a new album every other year.
Why produce a new CD when you can benefit from one for quite some time?
The Value of Music
Now that the music industry has been presented as a relentless realm that knows no mercy, some things have to be said regarding the essential value of music, because no matter how little the actual artistic involvement is or not or how much the industry can credit itself with, the value and creativity of music has never decreased, even if we will most likely never have a Michael Jackson or a Frank Sinatra again.
No, those were legends, and there are other legends out right now, and there will always be other legends, but those have different names and are legends not for their guitar skills or dance moves. They are famous for delivering what the contemporary music industry presents and represents: the overall well-rounded, polished universal artist who is nothing but a beautiful, original, specialist of the art and performance of the craft.
Whether you call them Pink or Lady Gaga, or Nikki Minaj, or Taylor Swift (to name only a few), those are ‘bred’ artists brought forth not by their exquisite talent and their (natural) beauty alone but as the whole artists they are.
Because they were and are artists that understood, how the modern music market functions, how the wheel spins in the early 21st century, and even more they worked their way into the clockwork where the driving impulse realized their potential as representatives of what is asked for by an artist nowadays.
And those ‘bred’ artists started early, vocal training, theater rehearsal, piano lessons, songwriting, all simultaneously when others stole from their parents’ mini-bar or watch TV or rode their skateboards, artists that trained themselves physically and spiritually to be ready for the big shot, and that is where the beauty of contemporary music, its marvel lies.
Not the voice, not the instrumental skills, not the talent, but a compound of dedication and a give-and-take with the real driving forces pulling the strings in the back, where the artist and the industry becomes one, a relentless unit that produces music for the masses that sounds new and fresh whenever you listen to it; same chords and similar catchy melodies there are, over and over again, for decades, and still is it always like falling in love all over again.
Music is not dead, it is alive, active, breathing the air of what we want and what the industry wants to give us. We demand, and they supply, and they are never shy of bringing our musical desires to the balanced entity it ought to have: equilibrium.
And if you still dream of becoming the star of tomorrow, never stop dreaming but think of how you can work your way into the system to eventually become a part of the clockwork.
Authentic you will be after all, just in a different way, a way reserved for the most dedicated and determined artists that are willing to be in constant dialogue with the ones that can make it happen.
And as music makes the world go round, is that alone not inspiration enough to give it a try?
Author Bio: Daniel Wilder
Daniel Wilder is a writer, singer / songwriter, and music producer from Frankfurt, Germany who has worked in the genres of hip-hop, contemporary rhythm and blues, rock, metal, punk, country, dance, and pop music as a producer; he further performed for various bands as lead singer, pianist, guitarist, and drummer before seeing his contribution to the music world in studio production and as a solo artist, where he was involved in projects all around the world. The artist’s side, however, is to him only one side of the coin, there is a big spider-web of marketing and sales strategies that is just as important as the music being original and catchy. He understands the music industry as a synergy that allows the directing forces more involvement, but as seen the results these days are still what music has been and always will be: excellent.
Learn more about Daniel at Dan-Wilder.com.