How A Little-Known Tom Hanks Movie Could Save The Music Industry!

I can't help that I like the music I like.  None of us can.  In that sense, it's kind of like one's sexuality; you're either one way or another, or a total poseur fraud living a horrible lie.

I also can't help that I see today's music as just the saddest and most cynical version of the music from my youth.  I graduated in 1984, at arguably the height of MTV's coolness, which is not to be confused with the height of MTV's popularity because, let's face it, there is nothing cool about a network that plays the same Paula Abdul video 30 times a day.

Before MTV, we kids in the flyover states had a limited number of options for finding new music, but the most obvious method was to turn on the radio.  Even in my podunk town in Michigan, we were able to pull in big stations in Chicago like WLS and The Loop.  As a result, we got a heavy dose of hard rock acts like Aerosmith, Foghat, Led Zep, Kiss, and Ted Nugent.

That's all fine and good if you like that sort of thing, but thankfully, the program directors at most of these stations were music geeks themselves and always made sure to slip in as much other cool bands as they could to appeal to their more discerning listeners.  Thinking back on it now, it must have been amazing for those guys to go to work each day knowing they had the power - all 50,000 watts of it - to turn millions of kids on to all kinds of great new music.

And back then, great new music was coming from all directions, but there wasn't so much of it that it was overwhelming.  These days, there are literally more cookie monster metal bands in existence than there were bands in general back in 1979 and that, my friends, is a huge part of the problem.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, there are just too many bands, too many attention-starved kids whose parents apparently couldn't be bothered to hug them a couple times so now we're stuck with them for the rest of our natural born lives.

Are you thinking Miley Cyrus, too?  Katy Perry maybe?

If either of those gals had been old enough to make a go of it in, say, 1985, they'd have both hit the cold, hard wall of reality within the first month and would have found their rightful place in the office pool, or trailer park rental office, where they belong.  See, back then, you had to earn your way to the top by playing dingy little clubs and cutting demos on a shoestring like most everybody else, hoping that some gatekeeper at one of the many major labels would find your talent impossible to deny and sign you.

There was no Disney channel plucking names out of a hat because they knew they could turn anyone into a star by sheer force of will.

What very few people realize is that if Miley hadn't been cast as Hannah Montana, some other kid of modest talent would have and we'd be just as sick of her by now too because the powers that be do not wish to relinquish the brands they've worked so hard to build.

Back in the '80s, Debbie Gibson and Tiffany enjoyed huge runs, sold gazillions in albums, t-shirts and lunch boxes, and were literally everywhere,  but both fell very quickly back to earth when their audiences simply grew up and, in doing so, outgrew them.  How else could you explain someone going from hanging MC Hammer posters all over their room one year to owning every Pixies and Nirvana album the next?

When Debbie Gibson's audience outgrew her, the same record label that had signed her, groomed her, and made her a star would also discard her like a candy wrapper a few years later.  That might seem cruel now, but, in actuality, it was the right thing to do because it allowed the labels to move on to something else that the next batch of teenagers would embrace.

If Debbie and Tiffany had remained on the rosters of their respective labels, the label's resources would have just been stretched too thing to do justice to their newer signings.  The result would have been disastrous because instead of 20 acts signed and promoted to great success over a five-year period, you'd have had only ten because you insisted on keeping Debbie and Tiffany on the roster.
That may not matter in the short term, but the lack of exploitable back catalog ten or twenty years down the road would spell slim pickings for the record industry.

See, the only thing keeping the music industry afloat these days is the money culled from the sales of back catalog.  By back catalog, I mean the Journey and Meatloaf and Pink Floyd and Beatles albums that continue to outsell albums by new artists some 30 or 40 years after their release.  Without them, the music industry would have ceased to exist ages ago.

At some point, the labels in all of their short-sighted greed said to themselves, "Hey, we spent millions to develop a brand like Debbie Gibson, it's silly to just put it out to pasture." So instead of focusing on a steady revolving door of new artists, they stay with their established brands and, instead of establishing 20 different artists in a five-year period whose back catalogs will one day reap steady rewards in the budget bins of Walmarts and Targets and truck stops across the land, they only have five or ten.

And while those labels devote a majority of ther resources to those cherished five or ten acts, there are literally ten times the number of acts that were around in 1985 getting no support whatsoever.  For all we know, the next Beatles may actually be out their somewhere but because such and such a label is still hell bent on ramming Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry down our throats well past their sell-by dates, the world is none the wiser.

Sure, every year sees a few organic success stories.  Nobody in their right minds could have predicted that bands like Mumford & Sons or the Black Keys would be filling stadiums in the year 2014, but now that they are huge, their labels will never let them go and they too will become a part of the pollution that blocks out the sun, so to speak, making it impossible for new bands to spring forth and blossom.

What's the solution, you ask?

I know it sounds drastic, but have you seen the ending to "Joe vs. The Volcano", where Tom Hanks' character, believing that he has a terminal illness, agrees to sacrifice himself to the gods of the Waponi tribe by jumping into an active volcano?

Instead of granting vapid idiots like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus extensive multi-decade careers at the major label level, we humor them for three albums and then we ceremoniously chuck them into the nearest volcano.

The immediate upside is that fewer and fewer vapid idiots will want to be pop stars, thereby freeing up a lot of space for those artists actually committed to their craft.  The short-term downside, unfortunately, is that they too will be chucked into a volcano after three albums.

Of course, the long-term advantages are that we would never have to pay $300 a ticket to see a 72-year-old Keith Richards try to play "Satisfaction" or a geriatric Paul McCartney trot out his new album, Chaos and Procreation In The Old Folks Home.

You're welcome.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

1 comment:

  1. Not only is JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO a great film, with one of the most beautiful filmic images of the decade of the 1980s (Tom Hanks, atop his indestructible waterproof luggage, struggling to stay alive, and greeting a screen-filling rising moon somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean), but the opening sequence of the film (which itself is a work of soul-crushing art) is set to Eric Burdon's version of Merle Travis' 16 TONS, which can be seen here (at