Everyone Was Looking, But I Saw You First

It is not entirely without reason that the music industry has such a bad name for being populated by crooks and thieves and scoundrels.  In a variety of ways, whether through their songwriting, writing tell-all books, or even their dramatic behaviors up to and including self-destruction [1], musicians and songwriters have made their hostility to the corrupt ways of many people involved in the music industry all too commonly known to the general body of the public at large, to the extent that even among a populace that harbors considerable mistrust for executives, music executives are viewed with even more mistrust and suspicion than the run of the mill examples of high capitalists.  It would seem to be pointless for people to defend the moral virtue of the music industry or those who are in charge of running it, and I will not attempt such a case here in the face of the near total opprobrium in which most executives in the business are held.

On what grounds can music industry executives be judged as less than entirely wicked?  Such grounds may be found in the sort of people that are discovered by A&R executives.  These are the sales and marketing people whose job it is to find people who can make labels a large amount of money.  The sort of people that are easily discovered can be placed into fairly narrow categories.  For example, it is fairly common when talented backup singers become famous musicians themselves–such as Mariah Carey being a backup for Brenda K. Starr before being discovered herself, or Sheryl Crow being a big-haired backup for Michael Jackson and, more happily, a backup singer for Don Henley.  Other people are relatives of other famous musicians.  Sam Smith, for example, is the cousin of another British artist who got famous first.  Whitney Houston was the niece of Dionne Warwick and the daughter of a talented backup singer herself, Cissy Houston.  The lead singer of the talented band The Wallflowers is the son of Bob Dylan, Julian Lennon and Sean Lennon both had John Lennon for a famous father, and on and on it goes.  It is easier to discover someone when they are already on the radar.  People from previous bands often find it easier to be discovered because they are known quantities.  That is how Chris Cornell manages to find himself continually in famous bands, after all, despite the fact that he seems to court a fair amount of drama within his bands.  The same is true of Carly Smithson, who was once an unsuccessful teen singer before becoming a slightly more successful American Idol contestant and member of a successor group to Evanescence.

We may see music executives, if we judge them as evil, as evil in the way that studios that continually greenlight mediocre retreads rather than risking investment money on daring and original films are evil, cowardly, mostly concerned with the bottom line, and with a strong bias towards safety and against risk because of the fear of loss.  Indeed, this fear of loss tends to exaggerate the behavior of music executives when it comes to milking every cent possible out of their artists and refusing to act with the long term in mind, a malady, it must be admitted, can be seen throughout our society and our general lack of interest in maintaining or building infrastructure of any kind, or in behaving with an eye towards the long term.  Music industry executives are not immune to the short-term thinking that is present within all aspects of our society, but they are certainly not role models in seeking to rise above it either.  If being cowardly makes one evil, then most of us can be said to be immensely cowardly, whether we are the sort of people who seek short-term pleasure in light of long-term difficulties, or fail to invest in our own lives and in the lives of others by paying now for future gain, including getting our own personal, institutional, and national houses in order.  If we point fingers at music executives as being a special sort of evil, then there are a lot of fingers to be pointed at the rest of us as well for having the same weaknesses in our own lives and for voting the same people into office ourselves, people who will blind themselves to future misery in order to prevent any sort of painful present retrenchment.

In at least one other way the behavior of music executives is very similar to our own behavior.  We are all creatures far more comfortable with the tried and true than with the novel.  We have a sort of conservatism by nature, in which our wide ranging habits in some areas depend on having a life that is more or less stable in other areas.  This bias towards familiarity and stability is, in the main, a good thing.  Whatever bonding we have between parents and children, whatever loyalty between husbands and wives, whatever fidelity we have in our friendships and other relationships, we owe at least in part to this bias towards familiarity.  I will not pretend to deny that this familiarity exists with myself, for I am notorious among my friends and coworkers and other acquaintances for being a person of habits, for having my very facial expressions be rather telling about my thoughts, for eating the same foods and going to the same restaurants over and over again because of this fondness for the familiar, for hanging around with and working with the same people, and even for listening to the same music over and over again.  How can I blame other people for doing the same thing, for showing a certain bias to what is known, and a caution to what is unknown, even when what is known is not necessarily to my own preferences?  I at least struggle not to be a total hypocrite in judging others for what I do myself, and if I do not always succeed in avoiding hypocrisy, at least there is some worth in making the effort, right?

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/book-review-what-theyll-never-tell-you-about-the-music-business

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/book-review-who-did-it-first-great-pop-cover-songs-and-their-original-artists

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/book-review-so-you-wanna-be-a-rock-roll-star/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/wait-until-they-ask-you-who-you-know/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/book-review-walk-to-beautiful/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/power-pop-tragedies-and-the-search-for-obscure-music-history/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/book-review-the-secret-history-of-rock/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/have-a-cigar/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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