Being an Artist Is Like Being A Penis: You Either Fit In Or You Stick Out!

When was the last time you were genuinely excited by new music? Oh, I'm not talking the prospect of buying a 30- or 40-year-old album in some new bonus configuration, with a bunch of bogus VIP passes and cheesy guitar picks thrown in to make you think it's somehow worth the asking price, but actually something new, something vital, something that showed at least an inkling of a creative heartbeat.

It's as if so much music being made these days aspires to blend in rather than stand out. You go to a house set at Smart Bar and see some heavily-hyped house hero throw the same four-on-the-floor nonsense at the crowd as the last two dozen DJ's. Thing is, if they didn't, it would strike the audience as weird and they would feel ripped off that they weren't given what they expected.

So it would seem that the audience is at least part of the problem.

I am forever reminded of Paul Weller breaking up The Jam. While a part of me will never quite forgive him for doing so - and for refusing thus far to even reunite with them for a single show - I applaud the man for following his musical heart, even at the risk of upsetting his fans, his label, and, most importantly, his accountant. 

While he has gone on to enjoy a great career in the UK that now spans five decades, he has done so at the expense of any sort of large-scale U.S. popularity. Why is this, you ask? Because when Paul Weller puts out a new album, you have no idea what its going to sound like.

On the other side of the coin, we have the likes of Dave Grohl, who serves up exactly what his audience wants and expects, with no stylistic variation whatsoever. I don't even have to listen to the latest Foo Fighters record to know what it sounds like because Grohl and the boys have been serving up the same sonic goo for over twenty years. 

What makes it worse is that its the same sonic goo that Nickelback has been spurting into the stratosphere for about the same length of time, yet Grohl is beloved by millions and Chad Kroeger is the punchline to a joke. Mind you, a very wealthy punchline.

My point being, neither one of those bands has the guts to take a musical chance because they've got too much resting on it: they've got a battalion of roadies and stylists and go-fers on the payroll who would suddenly find themselves in need of another gig if the Foo Fighters decided to deviate from the playbook.

Which makes the achievements of the Beatles all the more spectacular when you consider how much baggage in the form of raised expectations comes with success of that magnitude, both from fans and those on the business side, yet albums like Revolver, Rubber Soul and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band saw the band taking huge risks in the name of musical exploration.

What if any of those albums hadn't been the success that it was? You can bet your sweet buns that fans and record company folk would have been clamoring for the Fab Four to "go back to being themselves" and give the people what they want, much like U2 after Zooropa and Pop, or R.E.M. after Reveal and Around The Sun.

The resulting albums, All That You Can't Leave Behind and Accelerator, respectively, returned U2 and R.E.M. to their rightful positions at the top of the charts, but at the expense of becoming a brand more than a band. U2's latest attempt at "being different" earned them a tsunami of scorn when they inserted their latest album into the inboxes of millions of iTunes users without informing them in advance.

U2's mistake, of course, was to apologize for having done so when the right thing to do would have been for Bono to throw a right hissy fit about people being upset about getting something of great value, that the band spent months of their time and lots of money to make. Granted, the album itself wasn't very good.

If it had been good, great even, would people have complained as much?

Probably not.

While there is a definite need for something new, something exhilarating and visceral, from new artists, there is no law saying that established bands can't throw us a nice curveball, too, and change the world. I'm thinking of Chicago's very own Al Jourgenson who, after releasing the somewhat tepid synth-pop album With Sympathy in '83, left his label, fired his management and his band, and chased his inspiration to England, where he worked with Adrian Sherwood and Keith leBlanc to not only create a new album (Twitch), but a new genre of music in the process (industrial).

Oh sure, there were bands doing similar things, but none of them took it to the next level like Jourgenson did, thereby influencing new artists and challenging those who were already mining a similar musical territory to up their game or be left behind.

To new artists searching for their place in this world, musically speaking, why expend so much energy fitting in to a pre-existing scene when you can create your own? How else do you think the Smiths became the Smiths or Jesus & Mary Chain became the Jesus & Mary Chain?

Don't just create your own music, create your own genre, for crying out loud. Make something that people will be talking about thirty years from now.

Are you gonna fit in, or stick out?

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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