Money & Music (and The Avett Brothers)
We had a pretty good discussion about the internet and making ends meet as musicians, but it struck me last night that I’d left out one important factor about the music (and musicians) of today vs. the music (and musicians) of my teenage years. Let me just put it bluntly: money kills good music. Or, rather, too much money kills good music. This is not always the case, but it is more often than not the case.
I think there is something to be said for the starving artist, or at least the struggling artist. For songwriters and poets, having struggles beyond whatever superficial internal struggles rich, drug-addled rock-stars have is vital to creating good art. Having real experiences is an essential component of creating real music and meaningful lyrics and all that jazz. Again, this is not a hard and fast rule, but it has played out over and over again as musicians reach super-stardom and there talent seems to collapse in on itself. All that ease, all those riches – it changes people. It changes artists and musicians and poets and not typically for the better.
This is another reason why I don’t worry too much about the new business model in the music industry. There’s less of a chance that a band or artist becomes a Huge Star, but more of a chance that they can reach a wider audience.
For instance, I just went and saw The Avett Brothers in Mesa a couple weeks ago. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to (truly – I had this big dumb grin on my face the entire time, it was a joyful experience) and I can’t recommend them highly enough. I found them via – of all things – Wikipedia – while reading about Blind Melon front-man Shannon Hoon. Then I listened to their music on Rhapsody and was pretty much immediately hooked.
In any case, they just signed on with a major record label for the first time. They’ve already released something like eight really excellent records. They’ve had to tour a lot to get the sort of fan base that they need to sustain their careers, and will likely need to keep touring even with the added marketing and distribution capacity that the record label brings them.
My only concern is that they make too much money and start to suck. This is a valid concern. It’s happened over and over and over again. I don’t wish struggles on anyone, but I hope that The Avett Brothers continue to have to work hard at their art and don’t get sucked into that lazy complacency and the sort of creativity-killing cycle that seems to accompany artistic success or at least the sort of artistic success that we’ve seen in the past few decades. I hope they’re successful enough to keep on keeping on, of course, but I don’t want them to achieve the level of fame or fortune that pretty much killed (figuratively but also literally) the rockstars of the 80’s and 90’s.
See also: Jim Harper on the value – and reality – of amateurism in art.