Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Devaluation of Music & Why We Need 'Gatekeepers'!

A few short years ago, I joked about being able to record your next album at Starbucks on your smart phone and, thanks to cheap burner phones and free digital recording apps, it is now a complete possibility.

Additionally, those with the proper foresight and ability to go a week without their daily grande caramel macchiato can then blow that chump change on a couple plug-in's and, voila, the shittiest coffee joint in the world can be transformed into Abbey Road without disturbing any of the staff or customers.

Seconds later, the results of that recording session can then be uploaded to every streaming platform in the known universe and, by nightfall, your little sister and her friends are a global sensation.

There are those who celebrate the "D.I.Y." world we currently live in, where everybody has access to the same tools as established recording artists and, while it might be nice to think that the next Lennon & McCartney will not be stymied by economic or geographic limitations, neither will those who have absolutely no business making or releasing music - even free music.

Welcome to a world without gatekeepers.

Back in the mid-'80s, when yours truly was just starting out in this crazy business, there were those who said that you had to be rich to get anywhere in music and, to a degree, they were absolutely right.

But, with a little fortitude and the ability to sacrifice well beyond a weeks' worth of mocha frappes, one could gradually save up enough cash for a decent guitar or a couple days at the local multi-track recording studio.

Those who couldn't...tough shit.

When I think about all the proverbial gates we had to crash just to get to the level of playing the best clubs in the shittiest towns, or, for that matter, the shittiest clubs in the best towns, part of me remains amazed we ever made it out of the starting gate.

After all, in addition to continually having to come up with more money to get to the next level of screaming obscurity we budding rockers had to contend with one shark-infested above-ground swimming pool of rejection and resistance after another from those who viewed your dreams and dedication with complete disdain.

By the time we finally made it to our first serious, big-time opening slot, we looked like soldiers who'd seen heavy combat and lived to tell.

Agent orange? Pfft. We musicians drink that shit for breakfast and ask for seconds.

Thing was, even as I was bitching up a storm about those who were lucky to have born in the right place, with rich and/or supportive parents and easy access to the studios and venues that may as well have been on Mars, the truth of the matter is that money was always the greatest musical gatekeeper of them all.

Truth be told, if Lennon & McCartney hadn't been lucky enough to meet Brian Epstein AND his checkbook, I shudder to think of what our record collections might look like.

Sure, some who could have been great artists were no doubt turned away from a life of groundbreaking music-making, but so were those who would have just taken up valuable space on the musical landscape.

In other words, the fact that "everybody's in a band" these days is not a good thing - AT ALL - because the collective humanity blocks out the fucking sun and makes wading through a single week's new releases nigh impossible, whereas, back in the day, being in a band actually meant something.

Hell, recording a demo meant something.

Putting out your own album or CD meant something, although pressing up cassettes was akin to going to all the trouble of qualifying for the regional bowling tournament and then using one of those community bowling balls with a huge chunk missing out of it from years of careless neglect.

Spending a little more to work with a Mitch Easter or Steve Albini, or put together a nicer package, was like having a Fast Pass at Six Flags long before there ever was one. By doing so, you were able to breeze past a number of gatekeepers, not to mention the great unwashed (lesser bands all waiting in line in the hot sun for their Tuesday night slot at Hoghead McSlugger's).

As literally one of the first indie artists to release a CD in 1988, I can tell you from first-hand experience how many doors that fact alone opened for me, but, instead, I will simply pass along this fact:

One week after sending my CD to Joe Shanahan at "Cabaret Metro", he CALLED ME.

Why, you ask?

Because, while he and his staff were wading through stacks and stacks of demo tapes, he did not yet have a stack of CD's taking up valuable real estate on his desk. Oh sure, there were other factors, but none as glaring as that.

With physical product having long ago been replaced by "an email address and a wi-fi connection", those stacks of tapes may have gone the way of the dinosaur, but the onslaught of artists looking for a quick reply to their email inquiries has no doubt driven many a once-sane booking agent to the mortuary, either as a casualty of the 21st Century Booking Wars or as a mortician, where nobody pesters you to open for the Smoking Popes.

Yes, gatekeepers are a total arbitrary pain in the ass, but, as you can see by the current state of music, they are needed...and sadly missed.

Until we bring back the gatekeepers in some form, music will continue to be devalued by all except those who make it.

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