DJ Shadow, the legendary turntablist and self-described "37-year-old technophobe" seems to think cash rules everything around us when it comes to music. (This is at the beginning of a long rant about how the Internet is terrible. And yes, this rant takes place on the Internet.)
Time for a little straight talk, from one reasonably intelligent human being to YOU, the reasonably intelligent reader. As distasteful as it may sound, the fact is that so many of our heroes: Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, The Beatles, whoever you care to name; generated much of their best art in return for financial compensation. If you take away the compensation, guess what...the art stops. For example, how many young rap artists are grinding away these days in New York, trying to get a deal? Not too many, certainly compared to the '80s and '90s. There's no allure, no pot at the end of the rainbow. People have been asking for years now, "Where's the next Nas, the next Jay-Z?" Be prepared to keep waiting...and for music, overall, to keep sucking. Why? Because only bottom-of-the-barrel, embarrassing pop tripe generates enough income to feed the machine. Anything unproven or risky? Nobody's going to bankroll that kind of 'experiment.'
I don't know how many young rappers are trying to get a deal in New York these days, to be honest, but where's the data? And the last time I watched rap videos on the TV it sure seemed like there was at least the illusion of allure, if one finds money, jewelry and the attention of supple-bodied women alluring.
But really--rappers aren't rapping because there's no leprechaun hiding dubloons at the end of the rainbow? I like what Ian MacKaye said about this: "If people lose their incentive to make music because they're not making money, they're not musicians. They're business people. Musicians don't have a choice in the matter, you gotta make music." (By the way, read that entire interview if music means anything to you.)
Not to mention the fact that artists often get worse the richer they get. But Shadow is trying to make a larger point--that the gears of commerce can produce great works, whether we like to think so or not.
Let me be clear: I love music. I love the culture of music, making music, playing music, geeking out over music from the past and present. I love old record company stories, and the characters that inhabited it. In other words, I have learned to appreciate the merchants of commerce as well as the art. If you love movies or cars, chances are you can relate to what I'm describing. What would Hollywood be without the larger-than-life, audacious personalities behind the scenes? What would cars be like if there had never been Detroit?
To take the movie analogy a little further, not every movie can be Paranormal Activity, shot on a shoestring budget and then discovered by an adoring, paying public. Your big-budget Cinemascope productions, your Lawrence of Arabias and such, need big money and big machinery to get made. As for the Detroit analogy, I have one word: Aztec.
Of course, as someone who made his debut album entirely from samples of other records, Shadow might not be the likeliest defender of the record industry--or maybe that makes him the perfect choice--but once you get a slice of pie you're bound to try to keep the baker in business, right? On the one hand, sure, musicians used to get paid a lot more for making records. But is the culture of ultra-rich rock stardom really worth preserving? Has our culture really lost something because there are fewer really rich guys sitting in their mansions surrounded by cocaine and hookers?
I saw DJ Shadow live once at a little spot in Seattle that isn't there anymore, and it was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my show-going life. Endtroducing.... is one of the best instrumental albums ever made--and worth 100,000 Girl Talks any day of the week, if you want to talk about sampling. (Sadly, The Private Press is not. A crazy-driving-caper song? Really?) But watching DJ Shadow live was just crazy. So many records, so many loops, so much movement as he built and rebuilt these colossal sound structures, then tore them down enough to build something else on top of them. Maybe that's what needs to happen to the record business.
Via The Daily Swarm.