On the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic (which was yesterday) it seems fitting to write about one of the biggest potential disasters of the new music century.
Let me tell you about my morning.
I awake to check my email and whatsoever should appear but eight tiny reindeer..oh wait, no that was something different. I did have more than 8 emails though. At least one of them was the mailing list update from "that band"-- the one I saw once, and I was like, OK, I'll sign up on the list-- or maybe it was even one of those bands that I emailed about booking and just PUT me on the list-- but I think I signed up. So it's OK that I got the email.
It's NOT OK what the email said. The email was all about how their music was going to enhance my life in some way. After listing 4 things I could get or buy from them, their whole reason for contacting me (what, no dinner and a movie first?), the email, closed with the following testament to absurdity: "Treat yourself to something fun, you deserve it."
First off, good god, is what they are offering truly fun? Do I really deserve it? Regardless of the subjective nature of these claims, it is advertising and art all in one, after all, I found them absurd for an entirely other reason.
In fact, so absurd that I had to go make a pot of coffee while I mull all this over.
It's clear they are trying to sell something. [Is it four scoops or five full teaspoons these days for my four-cup maker]? It's clear that that is why they are contacting me. It's great advertising in a way. It's a nice, sunny email inviting me to buy their vintage soft-t's. It's clear they have a marketing budget. Just like Leo Burnett, wherefore art thou.
So, you could say, here's a band, and they are really advertising their product they are doing everything "right". [I opted for four scoops and then 1 heaping tablespoon then we'll see how strong this coffee is...I turned the machine "on" and it starts to percolate...]
Point being, I'm really gonna need some coffee for all this when I lay it on you. In fact, you might need some coffee too.
Come into my world briefly, look from behind the glass. Ok, now break the glass because we're all in the same world. The same way we all have different professions that deal with different things, we are all exposed to different amounts of this or that. I have been exposed to, that I consider to be, toxic levels of music promotion. Like radiation, in parts per million, waaaaaaaay over normal levels. It's toxic, baby, call in the EPA.
Like any drug, it started easy at first. I thought it was a "good idea". I got my website together, I thought about video, I hauled ass to book shows, I scraped together events, I emailed bands back and forth tirelessly, I scouted the web for venues, I listened to advice, I tried to paint that picture...I tried to approach it like an entrepreneur. It all seemed so shiny, the world of social media and I read the book "The Zen of Social Media Marketing" and I wrote press releases, and I got a MailChimp account, and I tried to make messages for my email list, I made Facebook invites, I racked my brain thinking of ways to get people to shows.
What at first seemed like a GIFT or a BONUS from all this effort-- which would be increased exposure for my music soon had the tables turned. Like a drug that seems to get you through the day, then ends up having you steal from mama's wallet to get a fix, music promotion had become a life-sucking entity.
Why? Because it took up all my time allotted for music. I wasn't getting better as a player. I wasn't writing new songs. I wasn't using music the way it had always worked for me. I wasn't creating as an artist at the highest level of my ability.
I had become a jukebox of my own music. A Jehovah's Witness of my own medicine.
Well, great god almighty I am free at last.
Notice that at the top of this site it says "Music Journalism". It doesn't say Music Publicity. Music Publicity is like that email, trying to get you to buy something.
Music Journalism is the real facts, the stories, some of them painted in such a way that it's not just the facts but a story about life of artists in a context. That's what's interesting.
But back to the Titanic for a moment. The crash occurred in the era of "Yellow Journalism". Let me tell you what that was. There were two big newspapers and both of them were competing for people's attention. Before Internet this was the main way to get info. It was like Mac vs. PC on a large scale, or VHS vs. Beta. These two papers were competing so to get people's attention they started running stories and headlines with the rule of "if it bleeds it leads". Man Dies In Fire! Girl Strangled by Dog! Boat Collapses and Kills Many! Point being, it was no longer stories with the facts about life in all it's realms, but the most gory, shocking news of the day-- because that's what sold papers.
(Most of American media still uses this technique but that's another essay). This type of Journalism was called "Yellow Journalism".
Well, I'd like to introduce a catch phrase today. I'm a blog writer, so you heard it hear first. "Yellow Music". It's when you stop getting the stories and the facts and the broad perspective from your music and you just go for the guts and blood of your sales pitch. I think it's a problem. I think it's prevalent. We're so deep into it we don't even see it.
Of course you should promote your music, of course that's professional, of course that's the next level, and so on.....but really?
The captains of the Titanic were plagued by something called "water glear" in the North Atlantic. Mariner air temperatures and reports for the month of April in 1912 showed this. It works similar to a mirage in a desert. Air temperature versus water temperature creates the mirage. The iceberg didn't appear until it was too late because the crew couldn't see it.
Allow me, with all due respect to the dead, to use this as a metaphor.
How do you see the mirage in your music? It's hip today to actually have a mirage in front of your music, and in fact, there's many resources that teach you how to cultivate it. The mirage of it being so great, so wonderful, so necessary to buy....so necessary to buy.....you are getting sleepy....oh, but buy something it's fun, and you deserve it.
Click! That was my mouse as I buy a $4.99 MP3 package and then a vintage soft-tee.
Creating that mirage...that's hard work. It's a lot of work to create that mirage.
Everything might be going great, you might be "unsinkable" you might be selling like gangbusters...putting those other papers out of business.
Yet I think the mission of music and of journalism gets lost with "Yellow Journalism" and "Yellow Music".
I'm going to do something truly revolutionary today. I'm not going to promote my music at all today. I'm going to play it. I'm going to develop as a musician and work on my craft.
Oh, and by the way, I finally got the cup of coffee out. It's a little strong, but just about right.