Integrity and the Music Business
June 2, 2011 | Posted in Blog | By steve
[This post was originally written in 2008.]
I know the two ideas above seem diametrically opposed to one another. I often wonder… in a “chicken or the egg” kind of way… Are musicians flaky by nature or does the world of music just tend to attract flaky people?
I mention this because I just sat on a panel of music producers at the Independent Music Conference this weekend, and a question brought up by an audience member made me think. “What about integrity in the music industry? How do you find those people, and shouldn’t a conference like this one be promoting such values?”
The moderator (Noel Ramos) shook his head and told a great story about how the first year of the conference he put together a great panel on integrity, with honest panelists in respectable positions who had great points to make on the subject… but no one showed up to listen.
He then began to talk about how musicians themselves tend to be very selfish creatures. And its true. I believe that some artists become artists just to say “look at me, aren’t I great?” I know that there are many exceptions to this, but sometimes it just seems like the bad stories stay with us far more readily that the good.
Several of the managers on another panel commented on how clients often failed to simply say “thank you” to them for their hard work and efforts. Others mentioned how they had put their whole heart and soul into breaking a client only to see them jump-ship the moment they are wooed by a larger firm enticing them with big promises.
Managers, producers, and other industry professionals can often be very loyal members of a new artist’s team and often take on substantial risks by putting in valuable time, energy, and promotion working with someone who is generally unknown. New artists typically make little or no money with their music which means they usually don’t have a lot to pay anyone who is helping them out.
Yet I know a lot of great, honest people who continue to help unknown artists because they love what they do. These are special people who believe in artists and are willing to take a chance on them before they become a success.
If you know any of these great people, be sure to let them know how much you appreciate them.
However, as many artists know, selfishness and careless self-interest often come from the “artist services” side of the business as well.
During the Women in Music panel, someone asked “How come every time I try and have a business relationship with a man in this business he expects me to have sex with him?”
Are there really still men who act like this? Even with the laws against this sort of behavior in the workplace apparently the idea of expecting sex in exchange for career advancement still exists. What a shame!
I realize people are human and they make mistakes but sex is not a valid form of payment. Making a pass at a client is just plain stupid! An even if a client were to try and provoke this sort of behavior a true professional should maintain a basic human respect for all his clients no matter what. Such a self-serving advance is extremely degrading and shows a total lack of respect. As far as I’m concerned, people in the music making business should be in it for the music, not just for themselves.
This got me thinking of another “Hollywood” issue; the live booking scene.
Anyone who has played a gig in Hollywood knows how it goes. You as an artist bring 22 of your closest friends from 50 miles in all directions to some hole-in-the-wall venue in LA. The promoter or the club takes most of the door, telling you that they were disappointed with the turnout.
You have brought the club patrons it would not have had who are expected to order two overpriced drinks and leave immediately after your set is over. Your friends are sure to leave once the next band arrives, because the next band (and their crowd) have nothing in common with yours. You go home after paying for your gas, parking, and the extra players you hired out of the $8 you made from those two tickets you actually got paid for. Because as you know the first 20 tickets go to cover the cost of the sound engineer, or whatever else you’re told.
Don’t like it? That’s okay. There are a hundred other people willing to sign up for your gig.
This very situation preys on the fact that artists tend to be in it for the attention. “You want your moment on our stage? Either bring us patrons or pay up.” Now I’m sure people will correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t promoting used to be the Promoter’s job?
Now of course a venue needs to make money or it won’t stay open. But when I think of any truly innovative and successful business who’s success depends on their customers I notice that the good ones always pay attention to the satisfaction that their guests receive.
So what if artists and promoters alike were in it for the audience? What if number one goal was to put on a great show?
Selflessness and Community
I believe that most of us who make music have the desire within to inspire others and even ourselves. I know having been a part of the Don’t Call Us Torishowcases that I am regularly inspired by the musicians we’ve worked with. And when I’ve found myself thus inspired all I want to do is share that music with others. So when audience member comes up to me or Shannon to say “thank you, this music was just what I needed today,” I feel complete.
Consider how us Angelinos drive past hundreds of people in our cars every day. Yet how many people do we actually get to connect to? So many people here remain disconnected from one another and many feel hopelessly alone.
But music connects people to one another. Music draws people together.
So why don’t we try to create a little more sense of community? Tired of schlepping to a gig that’s 30 miles away? Start something local.
I feel that we need to sponsor more actual human contact, more events that bring people together.
Our collective sense of empathy is fostered by the idea that we can do-it-together, that we can help each other. Our sense of community will grow by cultivating cooperation and friendship.
As we support each other that the community will grow and the vampires that try to suck the life out of everyone will have much less power.
But in order bring people together in this way, it will require integrity. Because for community to work it can’t just be all about you.
We all have our faults and weaknesses. Misunderstandings happen. People get angry and hurt each other. But the question is will you be the first one to practice kindness instead of malice? Will you be patient with people who don’t really deserve it? Will you refrain from putting down someone who offended you? Will you practice forgiveness?
After all, its easy to be nice to someone who’s nice to you, but how do you hold up when people get on your nerves? It is the true test of character. By being our best to each other we create beauty in the world. Even if only one person were to be affected by your kindness, you never know how deeply your kindness may inspire that person down the line.
I personally would like to meet more of you good people in music. Let’s get together, work together, encourage each other, and continue to bring other kind people like us into our circle.