Today is Mark Twain’s birthday. I wonder what America’s most prominent literary icon would think about content, intellectual property, artistic license, and out and out fabrication of professional prowess as it applies to our lives in the digital age.
Twain is perhaps the one person, living or dead, I’d most like to have a long leisurely lunch with and just listen to his take on a variety of topics.
Take for example, what has become of music. Twain was from Missouri, where Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag became one of America’s first hit singles due to its (now disputed) legacy being the first song to reach one million in sales.
Music as an art form should have never turned into big business. This beautiful intangible thing brings out the worst in human beings, when its true purpose is meant to bring out the best in us.
Distrust is one of the worst characteristics it brings out in those who work to bring great music to the masses. And on the flip side it brings out unadulterated lust. A lust for fame and fortune whether we happen to make music, or make music happen.
Musicians have a great deal of distrust for those of us on the side of the white washed fence that make music happen. From this side of the white wash, most music insiders have a great distrust, even contempt, for artists. This is a conflict that should be easy to understand.
Art and business just don’t mix. It’s crazy to think it could be so, because it becomes incredibly convoluted with power, ego and greed.
With the recent democratization of music another malady of epidemic proportion is the “crossover specialist” on the business side of things. Each day I’m amazed at individuals and companies proclaiming they can deliver a wide range of specialized services to artists who are hoping to rise to the next level.
These are all true examples…all the names are omitted to protect the guilty.
An artist under contract with management breaches their contract and signs a subsequent legal instrument with a music publisher. The publisher acts on the artist’s behalf to showcase said artist to major labels with the intent to secure a major label deal, but without the management’s consent. Publishers should not act on behalf of an artist to get a record deal. Publishers take care of myriad other details, but not record deals.Talk about a mashup of misguided vision and conflict of interest. Everyone is gonna lose in this situation.
A public relations company expands its service list to include radio promotion, artist development, A&R, and a laundry list that just baffles the mind. These are all very specific disciplines in the business of music that no intelligent, or sane person would even conceive tackling without an army of personnel. It’s like going to your dentist and he tells you if you need it, he can do brain surgery, ear surgery, eye surgery, and give you a manicure to boot. Ego is pushing the boundaries of legitimacy on many fronts here. If I worked for this company, I’d call in stupid tomorrow.
A company branded as a publisher boasts a fast food-style list of services from press releases, to management, to licensing, to distribution, and the list goes on and on. It’s little wonder there is such a gigantic level of distrust that affects all of us.
A recent article featured an attorney asking artists if they had a few thousand dollars to spend on a manager, a booking agent, a publicist, or an attorney which would be the right answer. Really? Hire an attorney before a booking agent? Would you book a band when their attorney called and asked for a certain date? Ummm, let me think about that.
Then there’s one of my all time fave examples where a record label, an indie label, decided the best way to market an artist’s work was to give away a coupon for a free download every time someone bought a cup of joe at a local coffee house. Mind you this wasn’t even a Starbucks, but a mom and pop joint. Intellectual property lost on intellect big time.
The business of music lost its integrity long ago to greed. It’s about to lose everything based on dumb ass ideas luring artists in for a little bit of money. I say a little bit of money because there isn’t enough money to repair the damage when you don’t know what you’re doing.
The truth of the matter is this: Exceptional music sells itself. It needs guidance through proper channels to protect the rights of the artist; to protect the intellectual property; and to reach the widest possible audience.
Samuel Clemens chose his pen name, Mark Twain, from his early years as a river pilot. Mark twain literally means it’s safe to navigate. But even a river pilot has a crew to help him navigate uncharted water.
If you want your boat to float, hire an experienced crew who can guide it through all the necessary channels to set sail and avoid the perfect storm.