Freedom for musicians is an international cooperative for musicians to share and cross promote each other’s work. In our Facebook group you can promote your gigs, products and
services to an international audience. You can also feature on our website www.ffmrecords.com
With more than 400 articles, FFM Magazine is packed full of great stories, music, videos and resources for the music enthusiast. Join our community for free or just browse. There is something for every musician at Freedom for Musicians.
At Freedom for Musicians, our philanthropic purpose is to serve and support musicians from any genre, style or culture by providing a free promotional service via FFM Magazine.
Dita Nurdian is an Indonesian writer of electronica and dance music. Her passion for this genre is evident in her prolific output. At FFM Records, we have released 4 of Dita’s latest tracks and you can download them here, Beatport and stream on Spotify.
Slawomir Rataj is a guitarist and composer from Poland. Recently released under the FFM Records label, Slawomir’s debut album ‘Measure of Abstract’ is an instrumental album that combines electronica with Slawomir’s phenomenal guitar playing.
You can download the album here, at itunes and stream on Spotify.
The talent for writing and crafting a song aren’t always innate, but with Lisa Ballew it was something that was instinctive. Raised on the west coast of California, she connected with a deep-rooted musical family tree and began writing her own music at the early age of 13.
At 20 she ventured to Nashville to grow her musical prowess and feed and perform in a creative community. She eventually returned to the West Coast to be near family and continued to develop her art. She has crafted hundreds of songs that are ready for an audience.
“I think there was a period where my songs were cathartic and more for me…an outlet to express how I felt and saw life during both beautiful and difficult times. I finally had a realization that I had been stowing away my songs, my gifts and talents. I felt a strong sense that it was time for me to put it all out there. I needed to move forward in my musical journey and share my songs.”
That journey lead to the creation and release of “Ready For The Ride.” It showcases a pop sensibility and Lisa’s ability and passion to create songs that are relevant and commercial. This is just a glimpse of a deep catalog of songs waiting to be heard. The ride is just beginning……
Interview: Shinedown frontman, Brent Smith discusses the band’s forthcoming, and incredibly emotional record, ‘ATTENTION ATTENTION’
Pick it up, pick it up, pick up the phone!…
45 seconds into Shinedown’s forthcoming record, ATTENTION ATTENTION, the band wholeheartedly sticks to the moniker. They reach out with welcomed force and completely grab your attention. “Pick up the phone,” frontman Brent Smith belts out like a man on mission. But who is on the other side to pick it up? Who are you speaking to while singing along? Who is Smith calling out to? Perhaps that’s just the point. The person is you. Answer your own call.
Prior to ripping into the captivating lyric out of the gate there is a sound (gesture) that sets the tone for the journey. “THE ENTRANCE” closes with a person taking a deep breath. Ready or not, let’s do this.
Welcome to ATTENTION ATTENTION. The sixth studio record from acclaimed rockers Shinedown, to be officially released on May 4th. The 14-track album, Shinedown’s most raw and personal to date, is a mental, emotional and physical sole-searcher that follows an individual from life’s lowest lows to the highest highs as anxieties dissipate and demons disappear.
For Smith, this artistic record is as authentic as it gets. He digs deep into every corner while delivering honest lyrics filled with cold, cruel, harsh realities. You find yourself immediately trusting Smith without question. The alliance is appreciated and reciprocated, ultimately sending you on your way with a slap on the back — encouraging you that it’s now your day to be brilliant.
In between the deep breath and rolling credits, you are placed right in front of a mirror. Steam clouds the glass, and as it begins to fade, words and sometimes full sentences appear before you.
“Wake Up! Pull yourself together. Speak up! cuz no one heard your name.” “The voices inside my head are legendary.” “EVOLVE.” “special.” “MONSTERS.” “We march.”
Written exactly as you see above, it’s like a kid with enthralling eyes, etching their name into the aforementioned steam filled mirror, knowing the words will repeatedly appear in the same place — until you wash them away.
I recently had the chance to speak with Smith, the band’s courageous singer, literally from the side of a road en route to South Dakota. The band was a day away from kicking off their 72 date, six-month tour in Deadwood, SD. The reception through the valleys was not great so Smith had the bus pulled over so he could speak to me without static. That small gesture, to me, was symbolic to the entire craft-work of ATTENTION ATTENTION and its creators. Thoughtful. Sincere. Precise — a leadership through music delivered eloquently by the platform and power that is Smith’s voice.
The call was answered with grace. Over the next 25 minutes, Smith took me inside the ride. We picked up every stone — even those placed on the dark-side, and then gently put them down. As Smith closed the door behind us in conclusion, we were sent on our way with … “until next time.”
You’re embarking on an extensive tour, the new Shinedown record will be released in May, and the lead single “DEVIL” is officially out now, how are you feeling?
Everybody in the band, including myself, we are all feeling really strong. We are also feeling super humble in regards to ATTENTION ATTENTION being released on May 4th, and of course with the song “DEVIL” being out now along with the video. There’s a lot of touring already lined up. We are technically already booked through November. Everybody is just ready to begin. The record is a huge part of what we really wanted to convey and what we wanted to express to the world. We were able to do that and now its time perform it for everybody.
For you personally, is there a transition that takes places coming out of touring acoustically with Smith and Myers? What is it like going from performing and singing over an acoustic to now kicking it into high gear with the band?
It’s interesting, me and Zach did that run in December of last year. I wasn’t expecting to tour in December. Zach had asked back in October if I wanted to do it and I said, “Sure, why not.” The interesting thing when it comes to the roll-out of ATTENTION ATTENTION and all the work that went into creating it, was that it was the first record we did in house. Eric Bass sat in the captain’s chair and he produced and mixed the record. We were also touring while we were making the record.
We did 44 days with Iron Maiden in April of last year, we toured in July and did a few festivals before me and Zach went out. During all of that we were going back to the studio to put the finishing touches on the new music. It gave us a lot of perspective. We paced ourselves really well. We put much of the touring together ahead of time so that we knew what we were capable of. When you’re touring for 20 years, you know what your limits are.
Everybody’s in good health, everybody’s ready to go, and everybody’s got a strong will going into this album. As performers, we are making sure everyone is taking care of because it’s a really important record.
There are some very strong visuals and accents with ATTENTION ATTENTION. For example, everything is capitalized except for the song “special”. What is the artistic process and intent behind that?
Everything was built around impact. We had a laser focus. We didn’t have any questions going into making this album, we knew exactly what we wanted to do. That helped a lot from a direction standpoint. From an artistic standpoint, we didn’t want to clutter it up, especially visually. The album cover is an exclamation point, but it’s very specific. It came from us. We wanted to find a way to emphasize getting people’s attention — combining the visuals and sounds. The best way to do that is by a symbol and what better symbol than an exclamation point — basically telling the listener, less is more here. There’s something very important inside of this. I really feel like it’s a record the world needs right now. It’s a necessary album that was written from a very real place.
I completely agree. I find it very inspiring how much music has a true purpose behind it right now, especially in rock. I’m a big lyrics person and I was very moved immediately upon listening to “DEVIL”. There’s this buildup and then boom you come out swinging — the first words you hear on the record are, “Pick it up, pick it up, pick up the phone.”
We always knew “DEVIL” was going to be the first song because it’s the beginning of a story. In the “DEVIL” video, you can see how the beginning of the album should be looked at in regard to the journey. The story had to start off in a very intense place. This person is making a decision to confront these subject matters. They are saying, “I need to face my fears, it’s going to be terrifying, but if I’m going to move forward in my life, I am going to have to do this.” That’s why the whole record takes place inside a room. There’s a lot of symbolism in the fact that the person is in a chair during much of this.
It’s bookended too. The last says, “The devil’s in the next room” but the last chorus “The devil is right beside you.” It goes into the next song. Then the final song on the record, which is “Brilliant”, the last thing you hear is “It’s my day to be brilliant.” As that song ends, you hear the individual get out of the chair, walk back outside, and say “Until next time.” The journey never ends. You just move on.
Funny you should say that, I often look very closely at the first line in a record and the last line when listening to a new album full of meaningful music. What I really appreciate with ATTENTION ATTENTION, is that there is no shying away from what you have to go through in between the first and last line of the journey. There’s a lot of focus on facing your fears and it’s going to be tough. For example, in the title track you have this line, “The voices in my head are legendary”. It’s subtle, but hits so hard. How important was it for you to focus on this concept of — the only way out is through?
It’s the idea that you have to fall into a hole in order to get out of it. The record is about facing different fears, but also about accepting that you are terrified of those fears. The world can be a very tricky place. It can be scary and at the same time beautiful. The journey for this person is them trying to find their humanity again. They are trying to remember what it was like to be a human being and discovering that it’s not always about them. There’s a great good in the world. Sometimes we get lost in technology and inside of ourselves and we get selfish. There’s nothing wrong with that. We live in a world that is technologically advanced. Any questions people have, you can go to the internet. People always say the internet is undefeated. That’s an interesting way to embark on the world. If you truly believe that, a bit of your sole has been lost. There’s so much information. So many people have a platform and they have opinions, but that also generates a lot of negativity and something I call false positivity. You see all these hashtags of “blessed life” and you think — do you feel like that or are you doing that because everyone else is hash-tagging that?
You can’t lose sight of yourself, what you believe in and what you want in your own life. You’ll be the first person you see in the morning when you look in the mirror. If you can’t make that person happy then you won’t make anyone else happy. But you can’t forget that you are human. You are going to make mistakes. This record is about not being afraid to fail. People too often, put themselves in a corner and paralyze themselves mentally and physically. They want to achieve certain things, but they think because they’ve never done it before, they are not going to win. You are probably right, you’re not going to win every time. That’s the beauty of being alive.
That’s a very important point. How much did you tap into your own personal experiences when writing the lyrics?
The whole record is about everyone in the band. Specifically, to me, I feel I’m everywhere in there, but so is the rest of Shinedown. There’s a song called “Monsters”. When I make that statement about “My monsters are real, and they’re trained how to kill”, that’s about as blunt and bold as I can be about those voices that I did say were legendary, but can also be my demise if I let them. Personally, it has a lot to do with substance abuse. I will forever be an addict. I’m clean now, but the fact is — I have to take it day-by-day. Those pathways are already paved in my brain. I know exactly what’s on those roads. For me to think I can go into a bar today and just have one drink, that would be great, but that’s not reality. If I were to go into a bar and have one drink I would end up drinking every single one in the building and probably wind up in jail. I know the parts of me that I must respect. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I do have to respect it. It’s something I can’t think about in the future, I literally have to take one day at a time. I haven’t gone to rehab, I don’t do self-help, nor am I a part of a 12-step program, I only know how to do it this way. I’m also very lucky because the other three guys I’m in a band with are my brothers and they’ve never judged me. They’ve just been there to pick me up when I fell.
What was the Shinedown process in writing and recording these songs? Was there anything brand new that you tried?
One thing that was new was that we didn’t talk about any outside producers. We are really fortunate to have had to some great engineers that we’ve worked with over the years, male and female, but there was no question that Eric Bass was going to produce the record. He’s our bass player, but he’s way more than that. He mixed it as well. It was all four of us writing, but having someone at the forefront that we are with all the time, from both a creative and technical side, was incredible. He put himself through it. He made this record with all his heart. That was a big part of why it doesn’t sound like any other Shinedown record.
In terms of the songwriting, everything was fair game. Anyone who had an idea, we’d be open to them. We navigated it all together.
Well, it’s heartfelt process, resulting in a heartfelt record.
Coming full circle here, in a close-your-eyes moment and all things considered, what does ATTENTION ATTENTION mean to you?
It means don’t lose site of yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail. You will not be defined by your failures, you’ll be defined by the fact that you did not give up. There was an interview that I read early on in the writing of this album, that was one of the last interviews that Miles Davis did before he passed away. Miles said, “The music is already inside of you. It’s always been there. You’re a vessel.” The next thing he said was the most powerful,“If you’re going to tell a story then till it with an attitude.” That’s exactly what ATTENTION ATTENTION is. It’s an attitude.
WATCH: the video for “THE HUMAN RADIO” — a brand new track off ATTENTION ATTENTION
Official “DEVIL” video:
SHINEDOWN TOUR DATES 2018:
April 9 Modesto, CA @ Modesto Centre Plaza
April 10 Chico, CA @ Senator Theatre
April 12 Riverside, CA @ Riverside Municipal Auditorium
April 13 Scottsdale, AZ @ Arizona Bike Week Live at the Rock Yard
April 14 El Paso, TX @ Speaking Rock
April 16 San Antonio, TX @ Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
April 17 Corpus Christi, TX @ Concrete Street Pavilion
April 18 Baton Rouge, LA @ Raising Cane’s River Center
April 20 Tampa, FL @ 98RockFest Live at Amalie Arena
April 21 Orlando, FL @ WJRR Earthday Birthday Live at Central Florida Fairgrounds
April 28 Sunrise, FL @ Monster Energy Fort Rock Fest Live at Markham Park
May 4 Concord, NC @ Carolina Rebellion Live @ Rock City Campgrounds
May 6 Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
May 8 Lexington, KY @ Rupp Arena
May 10 Tulsa, OK @ Bok Center
May 11 Council Bluffs, IA @ Westfair Amphitheatre
May 12 Maryland Heights, MO @ Pointfest
May 14 Salem, VA @ Salem Civic Center
May 16 Birmingham, AL @ Legacy Arena at BJCC
May 17 Evansville, IN @ Live at the Ford Center
May 18 Moline, IL @ Tax Slayer Center
May 20 Grand Forks, ND @ Alerus Center
June 2 Nürberg, Germany @ Rock am Ring
June 3 Nuremberg, Germany @ Rock im Park
June 8 Interlaken, Switzerland @ Greenfield Festival
June 10 Donington Park, England @ Download Festival
June 14 Nickelsdorf, Austria @ Nova Rock
June 16 Firenze, Italy @ Firenze Rocks
June 22 Dessel, Belgium @ Graspop
June 24 Clisson, France @ Hellfest
June 30 Madrid, Spain @ Download Festival
July 14 Oshkosh, WI @ Rock USA
July 22 Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
July 24 Darien Center, NY @ Darien Lake Amphitheater
July 25 Mount Pleasant, MI @ Soaring Eagle Casino
July 27 Tinley Park, IL @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
July 28 Noblesville, IN @ Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center
July 29 Des Moines, IA @ KAZR Bday Show
July 31 Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center
August 2 Salt Lake City, UT @ USANA Amphitheatre
August 3 Las Vegas, NV @ Downtown Las Vegas Events Center
August 4 Irvine, CA @ FivePoint Amphitheatre
August 6 Albuquerque, NM @ Isleta Amphitheater
August 8 Bonner Springs, KS @ Providence Medical Center Amphitheater
August 11 Houston, TX @ The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
August 12 Dallas, TX @ Starplex Pavillion
August 14 North Little Rock, AR @ Verizon Arena
August 15 Biloxi, MS @ Coast Coliseum
August 16 Atlanta, GA @ Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood
August 18 Virginia Beach, VA @ Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater
August 19 Bristow, VA @ Jiffy Lube Live
August 21 Saratoga Springs, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center
August 22 Gilford, NH @ Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion
August 24 Hartford, CT @ XFINITY Theatre
August 25 Boston, MA @ Xfinity Center
August 26 Camden, NJ @ BB&T Pavilion
August 28 Burgettstown, PA @ KeyBank Pavilion
August 29 Syracuse, NY @ Lakeview Amphitheater
August 31 Scranton, PA @ The Pavilion at Montage Mountain
September 1 Holmdel, NJ @ PNC Bank Arts Center
September 2 Wantagh, NY @ Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater
For tickets and more information including dates with Godsmack visit Shinedown.com
If you enjoyed, please recommend below and sign up for our newsletter below
Queen’s mega-hit has been interpreted countless times. But who did it first?
Three years ago,we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” complete with a reissue of the single’s original artwork for Record Store Day’s Black Friday and a Queen-endorsed brew, aptly named “Bohemian Lager,” made in — where else? — the Bohemia region of the Czech Republic.
Over the years, the Freddie Mercury-penned song has evolved from a radio staple to competition showcase for melismatic singers everywhere to something akin to public domain. There’s countless parodies: “Bohemian Carsody,” a car-themed parody by the all-female comedian troupe SketchShe, has racked up almost 30 million hits. There’s also ascience-themed “Bohemian Gravity,” College Humor’s “Bro-hemian Rhapsody,” “Bohemian Momsody,” the Minecraft-themed “Bohemian Craftsody,” and “Nintendohian Rhapsody.” And that’s just scratching the surface.
Interpretations of “Bohemian Rhapsody” also abound. Ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro’s TED Talk cover from 2010 has nine million views and counting. American Idol’s Adam Lambert’s rendition of “Bo Rhap” led to a job playing Mercury himself in a biopic set to release this year. Kanye West, the supremely self-confident rap artist and provocateur, opened his headlining set at Glastonbury Music Festival with a “Mama” heard ‘round the world in a performance that could charitably be described as pitch-imperfect. Remember Robert Wilkison? Arrested for driving while intoxicated in Alberta, Canada, he proclaimed his innocence with a full-throated “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the back of a squad car. He racked up 11 million hits. They did not let him go.
But who made the very first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover?
Or maybe the 1987 cover by Bad News, the comedy metal band?
Good guesses, but both are wrong.
The very first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover was recorded for a Top of The Popscompilation volume and released in December 1975, three months after the original song was released on the airwaves. Not to be confused with the television show by the same name, the Top of The Pops series were budget-priced compilations that featured studio musicians and singers recreating chart-toppers, and usually featured a scantily clad model as the album art. We’re talking everyone from the Supremes to the Sex Pistols. Found on Top of The Pops #49, the “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios, next to Wembley Stadium, where — it might be noted — Queen recorded early demos for tracks like “Keep Yourself Alive.”
Recently I tracked down Tony Rivers, one of the four Top of The Pops singers who recorded that first “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover. He was also the vocal arranger on the sessions, a thankless task for which he was well-prepared: Rivers’ long and varied career includes working on tracks from early 60s vocal groups Harmony Grass and the Castaways, recordings with Pink Floyd and INXS, and singing backup for Cliff Richard and Elton John — all of which he’s written about in his book, I’m Nearly Famous: The Tales of a Likely Lad.
Rivers was kind enough to let me pick his brain over email about the original “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Everyone covers or parodies “Bohemian Rhapsody” these days — from the Muppets, Phish, Flaming Lips, William Shatner, Zac Brown Band, Kanye West — everyone climbs Bo Rhap Mountain, it seems.
Well, not many could manage to put this together, least of all Kanye West!
But you were the first.
I have always assumed that [it was], mainly because harmony wasn’t many singers’ strong point at that time, and it was the most complicated arrangement to learn in a few days and record.
A few days? The original famously took three, four weeks.
There were very few around who could have done it that quickly. It was a bit easier for us four, all coming up with vocal group backgrounds. All four of us sang on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We usually took a day to lay down lead and backing vocal tracks, and would be on our way home by 11pm. Not this time!
So it wasn’t easy to do, then.
No. With due modesty it was difficult for us because of the time restriction — maybe two or three days to live with it (once the committee had chosen it).
By “committee” you mean the people at Top of The Pops?
A small group of Hallmark employees, along with producer Bruce Baxter, would sit down prior to the planned sessions and choose the potential hits. That, of course, was the secret to the label’s success. I have no idea what their thoughts were in choosing “Bohemian Rhapsody” other than “what an amazing record!”
The cover is pretty much perfect, note-for-note. How did you pull that off?
As usual, I had the job of sorting out the vocal arrangement. I had to listen and memorize the parts. John Perry and Ken Gold were also listening and were both assigned lead lines that suited their voices, which they did brilliantly I think. Oh, and let’s not forget the late Stu Calver, who was the very high voice on the Roger Taylor parts — the “Gallileo”’s and so on.
Normally this wouldn’t be too big a deal, but with this song, I had to sit for hours at home listening, making notes, and memorizing vocal lines — apart from the other tracks we had to do that day!
The time-consuming job of layering track after track of vocals ’til we got the sound and the voicing right seemed to take forever. But in the end, it had been a great opportunity to find out how that song was put together.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around you doing all of this in a few days, to be honest.
The harmony parts were obviously part of the problem, but they are not difficult harmonies. The problem was lack of familiarity with the whole thing. We could copy sections, piece by piece. The other problem was the time needed to achieve a similar “sound.” That kind of mass tracking takes time, and wasn’t usually available in big lumps. This was something with many lumps!
We were helped greatly by the fact that all three of us had good range in our voices with JP and Stu blessed with fantastic falsetto range.
I believe we spent the early part and the rest of the day, singing whatever vocals or harmonies needed on the other songs that had been selected.
You worked on other songs at the same time?
Memory tells me at around 7pm we started on Bo Rhap, bit by bit, until each section sounded good, and added voices until it did. We finished and hit the A406 [a main London road] around 7 the next morning in a daze, in rush hour traffic, with “Gallileo”s running round our heads.
I have nothing but admiration for the man who created it: Freddie Mercury. What a record.
A bit different from something like [The Sweet’s] “Little Willie!”
The original version made a splash, of course, but the TOTP version made headlines as well. Kenny Everett, who famously played the test pressing of the original track, also played your cover.
Kenny Everett was a big name at that time , and decided to see if the listeners could tell which version had taken months and a fortune to record, and which was done in a few hours on a budget album! He played our version and Queen’s, cutting between the two, asking “Can you tell which one’s the ten-bob version, and which one cost six million quid to make?”
Did you ever hear from the Queen camp regarding your cover? I know you worked with Cliff Richard for quite some time, and Freddie Mercury and he were friends.
Ken Gold was introduced to Freddie whilst on an Elton John tour of the USA. Ken decided to ask Freddie what he thought about “that cover.” He looked pensive, then added, “Hmm, an interesting version!”
I did meet Brian May once. He said, “Hi, Tony! Roger and I used to go to see you live at Loughborough Uni/College, and you were a very big influence on our harmonies!” Not bad, eh?
For the past 13 years, Luca Brassy, born and raised in Upstate NY, has been building a reputation in the Tri-State area as one of the hottest emcees in the region. His journey really started in entertainment through professional wrestling at age 13. By the time he turned 16, Luca was running his own professional wrestling training center (24/7 Wrestling Productions LLC) in Upstate NY.
Due to things out of his own control, 24/7 closed its doors in the summer of 2003. From there, Brassy had a hard time finding himself again until he discovered his love for writing and music in 2004. In October 2004, he met Jgreen Moneytalkz who has been producing his music ever since.
Luca Brassy has performed at numerous cities and states including Schenectady, Albany, Glens Falls, Syracuse, Amsterdam, Rochester, Pittsfield, Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, Buffalo, Newport Rhode Island, Brooklyn, Bronx NY, Manhattan, Staten Island, Ardmore PA, Uniontown Alabama, Birmingham, Atlanta GA, Marshall NC, and Memphis TN among others and has been building a name for himself based on his politically and socially oriented music.
Among other great accolades, he has opened for several well known emcees such as Rakim and Lil Kim. Brassy is now moving in a new direction with his music and putting his old school lyrical mentality to use with his club vibe which has brought him a whole new fan base as well as a different kind of recognition.
Brassy’s first mixtape was released in 2006 titled “The Project: Stereotyped”, and his first full length album “The Narration: The Heart of a Champion” in 2010. A remake of that album was released Through Tate Music Group in 2014 titled simply “The Heart of a Champion.” Luca was recently signed to Sony RED where he released 2 singles “Like That” and “3000” (produced by Younglord).
With this, he continues to be active around his own community as well as others. He continues to grind and make new contacts in radio, magazine, film, blogs, etc. He most recently was signed to CNY Mode modeling agency based in Syracuse NY! In music, his newest single “Lose Your Mind” was recorded in Los Angeles with the music video being shot in ATL. Brassy stays on the grind and is always active in his music and all business endeavors. Stay tuned for the latest on Luca Brassy! POW!!!
Starving artists have been affected by more than just piracy and streaming royalties
Intheir many (justified) laments about the trajectory of their profession in the digital age, songwriters and musicians regularly assert that music has been “devalued.” Over the years they’ve pointed at two outstanding culprits. First, it was music piracy and the futility of “competing with free.” More recently the focus has been on the seemingly miniscule payments songs generate when they’re streamed on services such as Spotify or Apple Music.
These are serious issues, and many agree that the industry and lawmakers have a lot of work to do. But at least there is dialogue and progress being made toward new models for rights and royalties in the new music economy.
Less obvious are a number of other forces and trends that have devalued music in a more pernicious way than the problems of hyper-supply and inter-industry jockeying. And by music I don’t mean the popular song formats that one sees on awards shows and hears on commercial radio. I mean music the sonic art form — imaginative, conceptual composition and improvisation rooted in harmonic and rhythmic ideas. In other words, music as it was defined and regarded four or five decades ago, when art music (incompletely but generally called “classical” and “jazz”) had a seat at the table.
When I hear songwriters of radio hits decry their tiny checks from Spotify, I think of today’s jazz prodigies who won’t have a shot at even a fraction of the old guard’s popular success. They can’t even imagine working in a music environment that might lead them to household name status of the Miles Davis or John Coltrane variety. They are struggling against forces at the very nexus of commerce, culture and education that have conspired to make music less meaningful to the public at large. Here are some of the most problematic issues musicians are facing in the industry’s current landscape.
1. The Death of Context
Digital music ecosystems, starting with Apple’s iTunes, reduced recordings down to a stamp-sized cover image and three data points: Artist, Song Title, Album. As classical music commentators have long argued, these systems do a poor job with composers, conductors, soloists and ensembles. Plus, as I argued at length in a prior essay, they’re devoid of context. While there are capsule biographies of artists and composers in most of the services, historic albums are sold and streamed without the credits or liner notes of the LP and CD era. The constituency of super-fans who read and assimilate this stuff is too small to merit attention from the digital services or labels, but what’s lost is the maven class that infuses the culture with informed enthusiasm. Our information-poor environment of digital is failing to inspire such fandom, and that’s profoundly harmful to our shared idea about the value of music.
2. Commercial Radio
It’s an easy target, but one can’t overstate how profoundly radio changed between the explosion of popular music in the mid 20th century and the corporate model of the last 30 years. An ethos of musicality and discovery has been replaced wholesale by a cynical manipulation of demographics and the blandest common denominator. Playlists are much shorter, with a handful of singles repeated incessantly until focus groups say quit. DJs no longer choose music based on their expertise and no longer weave a narrative around the records. As with liner notes, this makes for more passive listening and shrinks the musical diet of most Americans down to a handful of heavily produced, industrial-scale hits.
3. The Media
In the 1960s, when I was born, mainstream print publications took the arts seriously, covering and promoting exceptional contemporary talents across all styles of music. Thus did Thelonious Monk wind up on the cover of TIMEmagazine, for example. When I began covering music for a chain newspaper around 2000, stories were prioritized by the prior name recognition of the subject. Art/discovery stories were subordinate to celebrity news at a systemic level. Industry metrics (chart position and concert ticket sales) became a staple of music “news.” In the age of measured clicks the always-on focus grouping has institutionalized the echo chamber of pop music, stultifying and discouraging meaningful engagement with art music.
A little noticed but corrosive quirk of the digital age is the way our interfaces conflate music with all other media and entertainment choices. iTunes started it by taking software ostensibly for collecting and playing music and morphing it into a platform for TV, film, podcasts, games, apps and so on. This is both a symbol and a cause of the dwindling meaning and import of music in the multi-media onslaught that is our culture. The shiny displays distracting people away from “just” music are already ubiquitous. So why impose them on a music player?I believe that one reason vinyl and phonographs are hot again is that musically oriented people crave something of a shrine for their music — a device that is for music only.
Music has for decades been promoted and explained to us almost exclusively as a talisman of emotion. The overwhelming issue is how it makes you feel. Whereas the art music of the West transcended because of its dazzling dance of emotion and intellect. Art music relates to mathematics, architecture, symbolism and philosophy. And as such topics have been belittled in the general press or cable television, our collective ability to relate to music through a humanities lens has atrophied. Those of us who had music explained and demonstrated to us as a game for the brain as well as the heart had it really lucky. Why so many are satisfied to engage with music at only the level of feeling is a vast, impoverishing mystery.
6. Movies & Games
We as a culture do hear quite a lot of “classical” or composed instrumental music, but it has migrated from the concert hall to the video game and movie score. On one hand, that’s given young composers options to make a living, and some very good music is being imagined for these imaginary landscapes. But there’s a pernicious effect of the ubiquitous media sound track, in that whole galaxies of musical ideas and motifs and moods have been essentially occupied and rendered cliché. How does a young person steeped in the faux-Shostakovich rumbling of a war game soundtrack hear real Shostakovich and think it’s any big deal? This is rarely remarked on, but I believe that thousands of cumulative impressions of background music assigned to “romance” and “grief” and “heroism” have laid down layers of scar tissue on our ability to feel something when tonal symphonic music is made or written in the 21st century.
7. Music in Schools
It all begins — or ends — here. Like any other language, the rules and terms and structure are most readily absorbed by the young. And as music’s been cut from more than half the grade schools in the US in a long, grinding trend, the pushback has been based increasingly on evidence about music education’s ripple effects on overall academic performance — the ‘music makes kids smarter’ argument. This is true and vital, but we tend to lose sight of the case for the value of music in our culture — that music education makes kids more musical. Those who internalize music’s rules and rites early in life will be more likely to attend serious concerts and bring a more astute ear to their pop music choices as adults.
Those who care about the future of the music business ought to spend less time complaining about digital disruptions and expend more energy lifting up the public’s awareness of serious music, because we truly do devalue music when we reduce our most impactful art form to an artifact of celebrity and a lifestyle choice. Complex instrumental music has become marginalized to within an inch of its very existence, and that has a lot to do with industry folk defining “value” in only the way that affects their mailbox money.
An online magazine with free promotional spaces for all musicians world wide with a huge global audience. By musicians, for musicians and free from exploitation