Friday, July 5, 2013

The Entertainer vs. The Entertaining Artist

In the history of music, there have ALWAYS been artists. Artists are the ones who craft memorable pieces of music that make you feel a certain way... good or bad. The idea of the entertainer really crept into the spectrum only 100 or so years ago. While there have been soloists in the opera & concerto idiom, the music or composer was always the focus - not the singer. Vaudeville & possibly the circus side shows were the official beginning of the entertainer. Hell, Scott Joplin, the most famousest of famous ragtime composers, had a tune called "The Entertainer." Trust me - you've heard it. Even if you've never seen "The Sting." Al Jolson, Cab Calloway, & even Louis Armstrong converted their previous performing backgrounds into being an entertainer. All of a sudden songwriters were penning tunes for vocalists to croon... not just sheet music. Shortly before the entertainer, music was something that people did together. They'd congregate around a campfire after a long day or in a parlor, around a piano, & sing "Camptown Races." Stephen Foster was the star of "Camptown Races." He wrote it though you never heard him sing it. Fast forward to the refinement of the entertainer: Frank Sinatra & the like. They were not only crooners of other peoples' songs, but they were stars. They made records, played concerts, & made movies... year 'round. It was actually fascinating how many records these entertainers would crank out a year... because other people were writing the songs, writing the arrangements, & handling their image. Truly entertainers. Now, I'm not sure if the invention of the entertaining artist came with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Ray Charles, or Little Richard... but it did happen during this time. Each of those artists penned their own music in the early days. But... the game changer was Bob Dylan into The Beatles. Some could argue that Bob Dylan is not very entertaining & made protest music... which was a by product of Woody Guthrie songs. So I'm going with The Beatles on this one due to their enduring & gargantuan impact. There are certainly entertaining artists BEFORE The Beatles, but they changed the game. After the influence of the Fab Four, rock & roll had never been the same. At the time, there was still pretty lame music on the radio. The term was called 'Middle of the Road': Pat Boone, bubble gum pop, & Perry Como... & other popular entertainers of the day. I'm not saying that there is no merit or joy in this music, I'm just saying that I don't like it. Rock n Roll, while not in its infancy, was at least out of diapers at this point. The late '60's was where The Beatles influence was starting to creep in. Add the hippie movement, experimental drug use, & creative kids starting to realize "hey, maybe I can do that too." By the time The Beatles were actually done, we had the beginnings of Carole King, CSNY, James Taylor, & The Eagles... & then you think about EVERY rock band in the '70's that you loved - almost every one of them wrote their own shit. All the while though, the public still had a need for the entertainer... even though there were some amazingly creative entertaining artists at this point in time (see David Bowie, Elton John). In the 80's, you can see a vast slow down in creativity from the artists on record labels. This was probably attributed to two things specifically: risk & cocaine. Go to any artist that you loved during their career & their's always one record you don't like... they usually chalk up that failure to cocaine. Also, in the 80's came the rise of the ├╝ber-entertainer... & none was bigger than Michael Jackson. There STILL may never be one bigger than MJ... & he wrote a lot of his own shit. However, the entertainment & the showiness of the entertaining artist became more & more important. (I guess we can thank the right hand of Joe Jackson for that one). Anyway, thank the fucking Lucky Charms that grunge came along when it did... because 1990 fucking sucked for music. C+C Music Factory, MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice, & Milli Vanilli were your staple entertaining artists that year... along with Mariah Carey, who was JUST an entertainer. In those days, she was pretty great. While now, eeeehhhh, that's a different blog. The '90's did have some pretty great moments. It was the last time that record labels actually spent resources on developing an artist. They made a bunch of bad bets but the good bets made up the difference. But... in creeps file sharing & the diminishing for money at said labels. The past decade has been the most interesting, & somehow, the most boring. There are infinity (∞) indie labels now. There are too many releases each week. The only great thing about the OLD way of doing business was that we had limited options... what the major labels released. Granted, today's business model allows ANYONE to release an album, it has also made it exhausting & impossible to sift through it all. Impossible. &, furthermore, they give very few artists a second chance. There is no such thing as development. You have to be readymade. The major labels only deal in entertainers now, as they are the best bet in investment. They put a team of songwriters, producers, choreographers, show designers, & spin doctors (not the band) together with a mildly talented, yet usually smoking hot, entertainer. To the labels, this is the safest bet they can make. They trust 0% of the art with the entertainer. All the entertainer is responsible for is the execution of the "art." Also, good luck to anyone who is over 25 who wants to make it in this day & age. Call me crazy, but when I hear some one singing a song, I want it to be them telling me THEIR story or a story from their own imagination. I guess that's my real beef with entertainers... I see their place in this world but to be slowly repositioning the artist to a servitude level (ghostwriter, backing musician, etc.) rubs me the wrong way for obvious reasons. However, it is we the people who get to choose what we want to consume... & if it's entertainers & reality TV, then that's what it is. This is much smaller of an argument than liberal vs. conservative, secular vs. religious, or even Coke vs. Pepsi. (In my household, we treat the word 'Pespi' like the word 'Voldemort.') $$$ fucked the whole thing up. I can't point to a time when the system or industry was perfect. There are a few times that you can point to when things were clicking creatively or financially. It's actually crazy we get to make music for a living... & it's not just a bunch of us in the living room singing "Camptown Races."