Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Price Of Not Being Hip & Cool

I got my first real music job - otherwise known as a "gig" in 1980.  I was uncomfortable in the bars; I was kinda apprehensive about the people who hung out in them.  Many of the musicians had this sneering look about them.  Most were not on the stages to give something, they were there to take.  I don't know why this happened, but right then I decided that I was never going to be like any of them.  I was going to do my own - not copy anybody, and I was not going to be up there with the attitude of "Everybody look at me" - I never was like that anyway.  As I was around the music world more and more, I noticed that most of them thought that imitating what was on the radio was the way to go, they all proclaimed to have their own "style", but none of them actually did - they tried to play, sing, dress, talk, and even make the same faces as their radio heroes.  This kinda made my skin crawl.  So, after the first couple of years of trying to just be able to play at all, I started to be able to look around, and began to hone into my own way of doing things.  Yes, I was influenced by certain artists - Merle Haggard, Waylon, Hank Jr., Creedence, Eagles, and later, Earl Scruggs and Ray Flacke, but I wasn't going to try to imitate any of them.  I did impressions, for fun, but the more I played in my unorthodox ways, the more I noticed that musicians absolutely hated the way I played, in fact, they hated everything I did.  I worked with this one drummer who would parrot, "You GOT to play commercial!!!".  Well, I never did, still don't, and truth is, I've paid for that a lot of the time.  Other than those 8 years or so where I worked all the time, it's been the case where copycats worked, and those with their own way worked less.  My music wasn't obscure, just not like everybody else.  I watched all the copycats get their shot at the next level, and by the time the 90s arrived, if you weren't doing everything that Nasvhille was doing, you weren't going to work much, and you certainly weren't going to get any music people to give you a second look.  The innovators who did get anywhere were the ones who managed to slip through the cracks somehow - with Nashville right behind 'em patching up the holes.  Funny thing, though, while the Nashville Sales dynasty was exclaiming about how this one was going Gold, and that one going Platinum, I was watching documentaries on some of the more obscure TV channels, with the same guys screaming bloody murder about how "units" were not selling, blaming piracy and a few other things for the dismal sales.  So, which was it, guys, selling, or not selling?  They were cranking out "artists" at headspinning speed - most of which would be here today and gone tomorrow - a glaring indicator that they were not selling.  I remember one time sending in a CD that I'd recorded - it was a Hawaiian thing, when I was living in Hawaii in the mid 90s.  There were a couple of songs that probably would have done ok on the (Hawaii) radio.  Well, I sent it to a few of the local distributors, who systematically sent them back, one who sent it back still in the cellophane wrapper.  I happened to hear the guy on a local talk radio show one day, so I called in, and amazingly, I got through.  I asked him if he was honesltly looking for new artists, and how was he doing it.  He claimed that oh yes, we are ALWAYS looking for new talent - and we do it in whatever way possible.  I then asked him why he sent my CD back to me, with the included rejection form letter saying how much they loved my music, but..., and the CD still in the wrapper.  He stammered for about a minute, then said, "Oh, we have our own machine that does the wrapping", at which time the host hung up on me.  There was another instance, in Virginia this time, I attended a "Songwriter's Seminar".  After the spiel from several music business bigwigs, they passed the wireless mic around for Q & A.  When the mic came around my way, I asked, "This question is for Mr McCarty (Gary McCarty, big time program director for one of the big FM Country radio stations on the east coast), being that record sales and requests no longer have anything to do with Billboard's #1, #2, or #10, can you tell us what does determine the "Top 40"?".  I never heard anybody stutter and stammer the way he did for about the next 3 or 4 minutes.  He never did answer my question, and the mic never came anywhere near me again.  Just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the mass corruption of the so called music business.  I degress, sorry.  My original point was, that everybody was mimicking everybody else, and if you weren't doing that, then it was going to be a long, hard road.  From what I've seen, all the great people (not just in music, but in all walks of life) were the ones who did things their own way, they didn't care about fashion, being hip and cool, they didn't do anything resembling "commercial", they didn't follow trends, they just did what they did.  Those are, and have always been, the people I want to be among.  There are a lot less of them, but again, I so don't care about the masses of sheep - both on the sales side and the consumer side.

I continue to play the way I play.  In my recent recordings, there is nothing that sounds like anything I've ever heard.  When I upload my pieces to certain sites, there is usually the one section that asks what artists or music I sound like - I never know what to write there.  While I've consciously said that I would never be like anybody else, I think that defiant attitude was just there all along, and I instinctively just do what I do - not really thinking about "being different".  I'm sure I will continue to have difficulty getting my music past screeners and other middle men, but I can't sell out - I couldn't do it no matter how much money, fame, or whatever else is offered, or dangled in front of me.  The good thing is, the internet has opened up many new ways to get music out there, and ya know what, I happen to know that the music biz people HATE that, and that makes me happy :D .

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