Liner notes appear on the sleeve of an album or CD case and contain a mix of anecdotal or factual information. They often reflect the artists’ personality and contain meaningful statements about the art or life issues. My Liner Notes is a regular feature on Music Canada that allows people of all walks of life to share personal reflections about music.
Photo Credit: Joe Fontana
NonSense of the Music Business
I am delighted to have been invited to write a guest blog for music Canada dot com. I must put forth a caveat at the outset that even though I have been IN the music business for over 20 years, I know incredibly little about the business side of music. I was fortunate enough to have been able to acquire learned helplessness and was basically hand held and spoon fed by others with talent and business acumen the entire time. So my opinions are based solely on my limited experience and what smarter people tell me to think. My expertise lies in my skill at whining.
Henceforth, the business people will be collectively known as The Label, unless otherwise indicated. The music people will be collectively and individually known as
The Artist. The listening public, The People.
To me, the business side of getting music to The People is like a mythical quest, whereby the only way The Label can acquire their quest object (Juno/Grammy/Photo Op with Lorne Michaels) is to bring The Artist to The People and make The People think that The Artist does not totally suck.
They achieve this (or not, depending on the mood of The People and whether or not radio programmers are accepting bribes) by giving The Artist a number of Quest Challenges:
1. Record a decent sounding record that keeps the spirit of The Artist intact but utilizes a big named producer so that Billboard Magazine will give it a mention. This can take anywhere from 10 days to 27 years.
2. Tidy up The Artist’s image. Face it. They look like trolls and need to be polished. This can be the most arduous task, especially at photo shoots where an entire band must be made to look hip. The lead guitarist/singer is a no brainer. They’ve been practicing looking good in the mirror for years. Bass players end up looking slightly apologetic. Keyboard players need to be styled professionally because they ruin any shot with their dorkishness. Drummers always end up wearing sunglasses because they are just weird. Their arms will be crossed. There will be craft services at the photo shoot. The keyboard player will eat so much that she will not fit in her outfit and will look nauseated in every single shot.
3. Spend an incredible amount of money shooting a video to make the band look super cool but then turn around and make them do in-store performances at Target. While both actions have an internal logic, together they cancel each other out.
4. Choose a single and get it on the radio. This involves The Label being super nice to the The Radio people and giving them free cd’s and lunches. The Artist has to get out of bed at 5am to do an on-air Morning Drive performance. There will not be coffee at the radio station. The Artist will sound like they are singing in a cardboard box at gunpoint. Photos will be taken and then brought out 15 years later where The Artist will be reminded how successful they used to be and how fat they have become.
5. Get The Artist on the road. The Label will have reps meet them along the way for pep talks and free stuff. This is the only thing that keeps The Artist from pulling the plug on the tour. Free stuff is the best medicine. The Label, are you listening?
6. At tour’s end, if it has been a success and many albums have been sold, The Label will ask The Artist for 50 new songs within 6 weeks. Everyone congratulates themselves. If it has not been a success, The Artist will blame The Label for everything, even if The Label was actually doing an excellent job. The Artist sulks. The Label blames The Artist for slacking off when they are actually physically and emotionally exhausted. There is no more free stuff.
Of course, it’s not that simple. The relationship between The Artist and The Label is so important to the success of the project. That relationship is complex, potentially Quixotic and mutually reciprocal. If all The Label cared about was making money, they wouldn’t be trying to sell music. If all The Artist cared about was the music, they’d be happy just playing The Red Dog tavern in Peterborough forever and ever and ever. Some of the most passionate about music are at The Label. Some of the most passionate about money are The Artist.
The quest to turn music into gold is conflicted. There are all sorts of beasts and evil wizards along the path to the Holy Grail (Grammy, Juno, Lorne Michaels) that must be fought off. Riddles must be answered, maps decoded, sacrifices made. Before you embark, make sure you’ve got a good guide (lawyer) and plenty of supplies (Advil, Skype, earplugs). Be patient with the other side and let them take the credit once in awhile. Be friendly to The People. If you’re not having fun, get out.
That’s my perspective on the music business, which, as I mentioned, is narrow. It is a weird job to be sure. But it’s the only job where I can whine about miniscule crap and get away with it. Plus there’s free stuff. And that is, after all, what I live for.
Ellen Reid is a longtime member of the Crash Test Dummies.
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