2011 has been quite a year. It kind of goes without saying. In fact, I've been saying that a lot lately in these entries. I'm not sure if I have because I'm trying to nail an already fastened hinge of a thought, or maybe I'm just trying to tell myself it's not a dream or I'm not lying to myself or the audience - which at this point, for the most part, should agree on the subject. As we come to a close on this year and prepare ourselves for an exciting 2012 (see I'm already making predictions with what I know, and most of you don't and things neither of us have knowledge of), major things are happening right now.
One of those things is the SOPA/Protect-IP Act we have been discussing this week. It's a noble cause to put a stop to illegal means of sharing and obtaining content artists are losing money on, but for many, it's unconstitutional and could completely put the archival properties, the marketplace of ideas and the ability to create and share new thoughts and art in an unwanted grave by many. We're talking about the censorship of the Internet and the longstanding legal bout of fair use. How do we put a stop to the trucks being unloaded on the back of the dock, while also maintaining order that shouldn't be run by an industry who aren't suffering as bad as college graduates without jobs and student debt or the high rate of unemployment across the board for that matter.
But, we have to think of the middle ground as well. The margin of bands that are truly being affected by all of this. After having lunch yesterday with a good network of mine, he shined some light on the topic and points I was overlooking: the way the casual listener really controls the fate of most bands, how the second and third waves of a movement are always more successful than the first (and we're sick of it by the fourth and fifth wave of over-saturation) and how most people in this industry have their big moment before they later go back to working part-time jobs while not out on the road to actually go out on the road thereafter - advance or not. Is illegal downloading the problem? Part of it. Will streaming subscriptions be the next solution? Possibly, but I've just been told the return on each stream is less than a download. Does that mean we should take extremes in building walls, or does Hasselhoff have to come sing a song atop the cyber barriers while we tear it down? #occupytheInternet
There are two sides divided between listeners: the casual observer who will download and sit at home, away from venues and their local record stores, and there is the diehard fan - the one who might download a leak, but pay the door charge, buy a t-shirt, snag a pre-order or vinyl. Unfortunately the latter is the 99%. See, the 1% hold the power to change trends, to follow what's hip, to never dig deep enough to appreciate album artwork or holding a booklet and taking time to read every single lyric as you listen through an album - a piece of music meant to act as one larger piece of art and not a radio hit with a hook. As we sit here and blame the industry, we blame the labels (both indie and major level) and blame how "open" the Internet is to piracy and obstruction of intellectual property - we actually should be blaming ourselves and others around us.
If you like a band, support them. Buy a print if they do art on the side. Go to a show and rage and share high fives with the audience after their set. Get in the pit "and try to love someone," even if you've never been that close and thrown around for the last eight years of your life. Want to know why a band isn't touring your neck of the woods? Sure, maybe they're not "moving units," or maybe they showed up to play and you didn't show up for support because you didn't like one album out of the four or six that they've done so far. Take an album on mediafire? Buy a t-shirt. Just as bands have to stay on the road to survive, we have to make sure we're doing our part as well. New favorite album? Play it in the car for your friends. Praise it on a message board. Put it on a mix for a friend. All these things we've always been doing years before we could hoard illegal downloads on our hard drives, those are the things that still really connect people to music - and hopefully for a long time thereafter. There's always going to be press; there's always going to be sites giving off free promotion presented as journalism; there's always going to be a hype machine churning out what you should hear.
At the end of the day - and something more than pointed out to me by the aforementioned person I had lunch with - it boils down to your friends, your networks and the people that you ultimately trust. Remember going to see your favorite band and hearing a new favorite band as an opener? There was no social site to hear their music. There was no subscription service that you used its trial version to sift through discographies before going out. You just went, and you discovered. Maybe I'm jaded toward that now since I have this job. Maybe that's all still happening, and I hope it is. I know good bands are taking out my new favorite bands. On the flipside, I know shitty bands are taking out new shitty bands. Unfortunately, I know those tours are doing better.
Friday night I experienced two viewpoints. First, for the first time since Warped Tour 2002, I was in a pit, up front and screaming every lyric to Every Time I Die. A band that continues to be one of my favorites as each album comes out. A band that is herald by many, not gotten by some and literally spat on by others at some of their shows - the current tour they're on. They soldier on through all of it. After sitting in the van drenched in sweat, while Jordan Buckley played my friend and I four new tracks off the upcoming album, it's a band that just keeps getting stronger. I heard Botch. I heard Harkonen. My friend heard Dangers. Most importantly, I hear a band that's not slowing down anytime soon. A band that doesn't give a fuck about the rest, and only feeds off the energy of the crowds and their fans. As the scene (whatever that is) has changed, they never adapted, they paved their own road while some came up and others fell.
After that, I headed across town to catch Senses Fail's set. Now, I've never been a Senses Fail fan, but I think they're a band that has made way better albums than most of the bands that tried to copy their style and others thereafter, and my show of support goes out to them because unlike some of those bands - they're still around. What was interesting when watching the show from the stage was that the crowd of people to the front, crowdsurfing and pumping their fist (a position I was in earlier), they were all wearing wristbands - meaning they were of age, some holding drinks. These were kids that were thankful to see one of their favorite bands years later - maybe for the first time and maybe for the sixth. What one could hope is that they are also continuing the support I mentioned earlier. (Since they're at the show, I'm sure they are. duh!)
The thing that got me, that clinched a nerve inside me - the right way - was that the band was making shout-outs to the next generation, the next movement. Sure, I've heard that on stage the last five or so years, but I feel like there's truth behind it now. There's a collective of bands that don't sound alike feeding off of each other. While I've more than made that point many times this year, I think I missed one though: It's important to respect your elders. Again, as previously discussed, first generations of bands and movements - they're never overly appreciated until a demise and later, possibly a reunion. But when those elders that are still around are telling you about new band x or taking them out on tour and talking about them in an interview or giving shout-outs on the other bands' social media pages - well, that means something. Maybe I'm blind to it. I'm sure it's always been happening - but I've never seen it enforced like it has been lately. I've never seen the companionship of punk so backed as I've seen it at the tail end of 2010 and throughout 2011.
While I understand this rant is going on longer than it should, I'm going to make one last point. A point that speaks volumes as to the name of this blog. A point that we tend to overlook as we sit behind our computers and judge decisions not in our hands - and many that don't directly effect us anyway. I've wanted to quit this job multiple times. I tend to get aggravated reading through news articles on the industry weekly and curse out my computer multiple times throughout the day. "You got to be fucking kidding me" should be my next tattoo. Out of the three big entertainment industries (music, television and movies), music is by far the shakiest ground. While there's this world of people around us trying to figure out a way to make it work, to build up walls, to protect property that rightly belongs to artists that created it and strive desperately to make a living off it, we need to remember why we're all here to begin with: the music itself. It's the way a song crawls up the back of your spine, or is a perfect fit for the weather when you're running errands around town on your bike or in your car with the windows down. I've jaded my love of music with having a job like this because of knowing about all the bullshit that comes with the territory. I know people who have quit because of it as well to go back to that constant feeling.
As I told a band last night, it doesn't matter what label you're signed to, as long as the music, your art (and under a bastardized term - your product) holds water and meaning and is something worthwhile to the general public of both the casual listener and diehard alike, that's all that matters. That is what I want bands who are creating the music to think about. I believe in the ability for art to resonate well amongst those who hold that art to some sort of value.
2012 can be another exciting year for music. But you as the producers and we as the consumers need to value the output.