Reading Prince Caspian
The Manor House

This (Wretched) Business of Music

music business One of the bibles of the music business is the multi-authored This Business of Music, now in its tenth edition.  Billed as the "definitive guide to the music industry," the prose is dry and often pedantic, frustratingly anecdoteless, just the kind of thing you avoid reading at bedtime (or maybe you do read it, as a sleep-aid).  And yet there are a precious few light moments in this encyclopedic tome, or more to point, some thought-provoking comments.

On the very first page, for example, there is a quote from sociologist Marshal McLuhan, who said that "The medium is the message."  Though the writers seem oblivious to what the quote really means, as it is disconnected with what follows, it made me realize, sadly, that form has trumped content, that image and sound mark one out as belonging to a particular "tribe," and the lyric has (except in folk music, the poor stepchild of the music family) been neglected.  Being, looking, and sounding like Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus) is more important to tweens than that which she sings about.  McLuhan's comment, like his disciple Neil Postman's follow-up work (Amusing Ourselves to Death) has proven prophetic.

In a section on Independent record producers, there is a very helpful categorization of producers offered by Jerry Wexler, renowned producer and former co-owner of Atlantic Records.  Wexler (who ought to know) said there are three types of producers --- the documentarian, the project leader, and the studio superstar.  The documentarian simply tries to capture what is there, unadorned and real; the project leader tires to enhance what is there, to get the best out of the artist; and the studio superstar, as you can imagine, takes center stage.  Every record the studio superstar producer makes sounds uncannily just like. . . him.  For some reason this may be the predominant type in the Contemporary Christian Music business, though I won't name any names.  Maybe the three producer types are really just reflections of personalities in the general culture --- those who simply take it in for what it is (a refreshing kind of person to be around, though quite frustrating if you need to get something done), those who accept what is and yet interact with and try to transform it, and those who simply think they are what is, the kind of people that seem to suck all the air out of a room when they enter it.  All this makes it so critical that the artist matches the producer; two superstars in the studio are incendiary; two documentarians spend a lot of money and get nowhere fast; and two project leaders (enhancers) may lose sight of what it is they are enhancing, lose focus.  What is your spouse?  What are you?  Somehow I sense that the somnolent wanderings of The Grateful Dead and Jerry Wexler's production must have been an expensive marriage.

The chapter on copyright infringement yielded some interesting anecdotes, if only that they were court cases.  There's Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., which allowed Creedence Clearwater Revival's leader to recover attorney fees from his record company.  Oh my.  It reminds how litigation can sap a life.  Fogerty spent years fighting Fantasy, never releasing a record, sounding more bitter all the time.  A little foresight and better advice and he might have seen a "bad moon arising."

The most dissatisfying chapter of the book was the one on agents and managers.  Now this special breed of prima donnas deserves better.  There's so much material to work with!  I didn't work with many, but one I worked with was a crazy alcoholic who sent me hand-typed single page sizzling faxes at midnight with (count 'em) sometimes as many as 50 profanities on a page.  Listen to the understatement of this sentence: "The close and often difficult relationship between artists and managers during the years of active management makes it desirable that the parties involved be sure of their compatibility before entering into binding contracts."  No, no, no.   These "parties" need marriage counseling before working together, and the manager may need a personality profile.  They tend to be controlling, all-consuming players in an artist's life.  There should be a big stop sign here in the book.

I could go on, but I might bore you.  The music business is a lot more interesting than this book, full of sin, wretched in its on peculiar way, and redeemed the same way anything else in this world is redeemed, by the power of love (love of music) and, in the end, by the One who loves His Creation.  I'm shelving the book.  I don't want to think about copyrights and managers, whining artists and super star producers, lawsuits and licenses.  Just give me the music.  Somehow that never fails me, because even the bad music still reminds me of a Music that just may come, some day soon.