Monday, October 1, 2018

Who's in the Band?

 "Who's in the band?"

This used to be a question asked by promoters to touring artists because they were sincere fans of the music or if they need the information for pamphlets, posters grant or funding proposals and other forms of concert promotion. These days, promoters normally ask this question because, of late, many privately prefer to book all-star groups and tribute bands in order to "fill the seats," as they put it. They consider groups comprised of all well known musicians to be a low-risk venture and many operate under the (ridiculous) notion that young and unknown musicians won't draw a crowd. Most players know all too well that there's a guaranteed better connection amongst musicians who play together regularly and have an actual band dynamic.  But still, "name recognition" is the order of the day for most bookers, (as if every potential patron of a concert makes their decisions based on that information alone.) Speaking as a long time bandleader who presents himself most often in an environment that is charged with youthful energy, and who regularly employs some of the most amazing young upstarts-at- large, I have come to expect not only being asked who's in the band, but am also, even at this point in my career, requested to submit my full press package (bio, photos, press releases and latest CD) as well. On one hand, it's quite the insult to bear the suggestion that one's reputation is not enough to provide an adequate "draw," but  also to have to "sell" your music time and time again to people who NEVER go out to check out the hot new players, nor who know what's really happening in our world and get all of their updates from popularity polls in trade magazines, is an even lower blow.

Generally speaking, "all-star" lineups and compilation/tribute bands are very poor representations of artistic expression at it's best.  Egos, outrageous expectations and artist "handlers"  normally prevent events like these from reaching their full potential.

Just remember, you promoters who request "name" musicians in every line-up: All of the top-tier artists that you want as headliners at your establishment, were also "unknown" at one time and were sidepersons in someone elses' band. If that bandleader hadn't given them a shot, (as many of you fail to do by denying bookings to groups with unfamiliar names) you wouldn't have ANYONE to book now at all. So, whenever the question if "Jazz is Dead" is asked, (as it frequently is) guess whose helping to kill it by turning away capable and provocative talent just because they're uninformed, biased, or simply have no ears for what's really hip?

"Who's in the band?" 

I'll tell you who - someone that you should be HONORED to present,  because you respect the bandleader's judgement, because you respect the mechanism of nurturing and mentorship and that, as an agent of the music, it's someone that you should WANT to present in an effort to further the careers and artistry of those who also have dedicated themselves to the preservation of such a valued and cherished art form.

"Who's in the band?" 

Yes, we know that this question is normally asked for promotional purposes, but perhaps less emphasis should be placed on the individuals involved and more attention could be given to the totality of the work, it's presentation and possible impact.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Let's Keep Things Short And Simple...

As a studied and semi-serious musician, I am incessantly faced with the reality of the challenges stemming from involving myself in a profession that offers dwindling returns as a result of the continued infiltration, participation and domination by hordes of individuals who have undergone absolutely no training whatsoever or who have no true musical aptitude to speak of.

Some of these individuals, after purchasing loads of expensive music equipment or entire recording studios, feel that by doing so they are granted the right to appoint themselves the title of "producer." I was always under the impression that a producer had extensive and well developed organizational skills and a general knowledge of every aspect of the studio itself and the music business. Today, the  producer identification refers to someone that makes "beats, which more times than not, requires absolutely no musical aptitude or training whatsoever. Given that these individuals don't actually write anything original other than possibly rhyme verses, or that they "borrow" snippets of preexisting works in order to craft sonic collages, so to speak, I have chosen to refer to them as "reducers." Mind you, I am not dismissing their abilities nor rights to expression, I just know that their education and trajectory is markedly different than my own or anyone else that I deem to be a legitimate producer or composer of original works. Mine is an argument concerning nomenclature.

Just imagine, if you will, the prospect of being treated by a doctor who started his own practice simply because he was able to afford the equipment? Or imagine being represented in a courtroom legal battle by someone with no legal background or knowledge, who self-appointed himself as an attorney - simply because he showed up dressed for the role and declared it to be so. It is a ludicrous concept and should be hastily rejected without hesitation. Instead, not only is it allowed to continue in music circles, it has become the acceptable and expected standard that unqualified persons will occupy positions once held by skilled and talented specialists.

And yet the question remains; why is the music industry the only professional undertaking in our time that allows amateurs, self appointed "producers" and weekend warriors to prosper and even dominate the ranks? Whose fault is this, and doesn't the audience deserve better? Why are the standards of acceptance so low? Why are charlatans and amateurs celebrated and revered to the degree that they have outright displaced capable and accomplished actual artists? On that note, why are persons who do not compose or have any knowledge of music forms, art constructs or it's history, considered "artists." Is the actual signing of a person to a binding contract the new and only criteria for identification under the title of "artist?" If so, then the floodgates that have been opened which allow hordes of talentless, unskilled posers in to invade the musical arena will possibly never be shut again UNLESS the bars of achievement and expectations are raised. The standards of acceptance have to be changed and there should be no allowances of compromise made. And for that matter, consumers themselves should demand more of those who request their support and patronage.

The following is an article that examines several reasons for the decline in quality.

Or, for even more clarification, you can simply check out just about ANY Frank Zappa interview on video for even more illumination on this subject. He was brutally honest, was absolutely very demanding and pulled no punches in his criticisms of the industry or participants who were unprepared or unqualified. 

1. Stop calling people who don't play instruments and know absolutely nothing about music "producers" when all they do is program infantile, silly little parts that repeat over and over again that have the bass frequencies boosted ridiculously and unnaturally loud. That is not what a producer does.

2. Stop calling people songwriters that never write content that has any true focus or theme which  develops and builds. Nonsensical words that've been strung together which lead to annoying catch phrases (known as a "hooks") are neither poetic and are absolutely NOT songs. 

2. Rapping is not singing. It simply isn't. Practically all of rap has no melody and that which does, the vocal parts are "sung" in a drab and annoying monotone that requires no musical ear whatsoever. There was a time when you would be ridiculed for sounding like that. Now it's an industry standard.

3. An unreinforced or uninsulated bedrroom, attic or basement is not a studio. Too many people declare that they've been working in their "studio" when they were actually only in a spare area where they've placed some audio equipment. A legitimate studio is layered, soundproof and will have been professionally treated and balanced to be sonically superior to a simple square room with a bed or couch in it, which interfere with the reflection and absorption of sonic waves and accurate audio playback. Again, the "low-fi" sound that is the result of arranging music in such inferior spaces has become what's to be expected in the current climate. It's like calling McDonalds a gourmet meal.

4. Listen to how a real accomplished drummer plays and then listen to 100% of what is called "beats." An incessant kick, snare & hi-hat pattern that plays over and over which never changes is not a legitimate groove and is absolutely not how truly artistic and creative minds think. In any other culture or scenario, it would be considered torture to play something to someone in that fashion. In our culture, a "beatmaker" is called a musician.

5. A DJ is not a musician. It does, however, require a refined skillset and exceptional instincts to be a successful DJ.  But let's not conflate the two practices. Playing records, cutting, mixing, fading, scratching, blending and transforming is not the same as performing on an instrument that has taken years of sacrifice and effort to master.

6. If anyone can do what you do without respectful , apprenticeship, training or preparation, then perhaps it's not very special and certainly not difficult. Therefore, if anyone can purchase the same equipment that so-called "producers" use and can effectively have the same results, then it should be considered a medium that is borne of intuition as opposed to calling it art.

In conclusion, my position is not one of elitism or exclusion, but rather one which seeks proper labeling and terminology. An adult that gives a child a baby aspirin does not make that person a doctor any more than a person who acquires some equipment and pushes some buttons does not make them a musician, and certainly not a producer. Our platform has suffered enough and for too long at the hands of persons who are so bad that they can not even be called amatuers. Amatuers, at the very least, make an attempt to study music and it's principles and properties. Anything to the contrary is outright disrespectful and thoughtless.