Is the recording industry dead? Does it still have the power? Good questions in this day and age. There was a time when you had to work your butt off just to get noticed and when you did ‘arrive’ you were forced to sell your soul to the devil. Record companies controlled everything. The Monkees had to buy their own albums just to see what was on them. Brian Wilson had breakdowns over the pressure to do it faster. Do it the industry way or take the highway. Blacklisting of difficult performers was common practice.
However, there was a bright, explosive period in the late 60′s and early 70′s when the music industry started signing everyone to a recording contract. They were searching for the next ‘Beatles-like’ cash cow. Not fully understanding the cultural revolution that was reshaping America, they used the scatter-gun approach and boy, did it produce! Every week the Cow Palace in San Francisco would put on a Bill Graham produced rock show and for less than the cost of a gallon of gas in today’s world you could watch the world’s greatest rock acts do their thing. Led Zeppelin, Lou Reed, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull, The Who, Hollies, Badfinger, Bread, Allman Brothers, Doobie Brothers, CCR, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, Todd Rundgren, Simon & Garfunkle, Elton John, The Band, Cream, Guess Who, James Brown, Eagles, Uriah Heep, and dozens and dozens more. The list was endless. But just as rock critic Lester Bangs had predicted, the recording industry swooped in and started commercializing, stylizing, over producing, over hyping and strangling everything that was glorious and destroying everything that we loved about rock music. Sad times for true rock fans as group after group began to dissolve over creative the issues.
The world moves on and the worm turns. Music evolved from vinyl, to 8-track, to cassette, to cd, to digital. And now vinyl is coming back…go figure! Maybe record stores will come back too and people will once again thumb through the new releases bins looking for favorites and reading liner notes. But I doubt it. The internet provides a whole universe of artists and there’s something for everyone. Musicians get their friends to help them create and put their music on youtube and build an audience themselves. They can market their cds or let itunes and amazon be a download sales source. And everyone has a chance to find an audience that will be waiting anxiously and warmly for them everytime they hop in the van to head to the next gig. It’s how I discovered ‘Make Your Exit’, ‘Brave Yesterday’, ‘Nikki Blum and the Gramblers’, and the more famous ‘Him and Her’ and many other equally entertaining and wonderful groups. Major labels? Bleah! The fans, and the artists they love, blew that house down. Now we watch the Grammys, not for the rare moment of excellence, but for the trainwreck appeal in seeing just how painful the three-hour broadcast will be and just how many cringe-inducing moments will take place. It’s a brave new world in a new millenium of music. Isn’t it great to be along for the ride?!