Why isn’t there a concomitant examination of music?
I’m positively stunned at the amount of coverage the Oscars are getting. Especially for a show everyone has agreed no one will see. Bill Maher said it best…
“Every year I write down my Oscars predictions. This year I predict I’m not going to watch.”
The coverage is a reflection of the myopia of mainstream media, which believes if it cares about it, everyone else will. This is the great bifurcation which truly gained steam about ten years ago, between those who get their “news” from newspapers and TV and those who get it online, oftentimes via social media and “word of mouth.” The end result is we live in a world where facts are fungible and no one can agree on the truth, but rather than address this problem, the mainstream media feels if it doubles-down, it can just convince people to care, to pay attention, when the truth is they don’t. To put it another way, we haven’t had that spirit here since 1999.
As for the outsized focus on film…
In 2019, U.S. box office revenues were $11.4 billion.
In 2019, U.S. recorded music revenues were $11.1 billion.
Furthermore, you can add on another $28 billion for the live music business, which doesn’t have a film equivalent. Then again, visual entertainment has streaming television revenues.
But let’s go back to box office. Traditionally, the exhibitors retain 50% of the gross, which means $5.7 billion flowed back to rights holders.
In music, streaming outlets retain 30% of the gross, which means $7.7 billion flowed back to rights holders. So why does music get no respect?
If you look to history, the Warner cable system was built on the back of the Warner music labels, which were throwing off tons of cash. Not that we ever hear about that.
But we do hear about the decline in recorded music revenue this century. Yes, music was the canary in the coal mine for digital disruption, but although it was a wrenching transition, music figured it out, via streaming, and now revenues are consistently going up. As for film? It’s still wrestling with digital disruption. Do we release the films day and date on streaming services? Do we have one outlet where everyone can pay one price and see all the content online?
Even worse, we’ve got a cadre of oldsters complaining that films must be seen in theatres, when that ship sailed in the music business, finally no one is complaining that music must be listened to on CD. Remember all the arguments about the sound of MP3s? Well, it turned out most people could not tell the difference, and presently there’s a move to higher resolution streaming. As a matter of fact, for a low price you can stream better than CD quality via Amazon Music Ultra HD. And finally, the oldsters’ complaints are fading in music.
But not in film.
The irony is that as music playback systems have gotten worse, film’s have gotten better. And I’m not talking about the theatre experience, which is arguably worse, no comfy seat in a stadium arrangement can overcome of smartphone use and talking, never mind sticky floors, but you can buy a 65″ plus OLED TV that renders an astounding picture, ironically the same one all the filmmakers employ. And, you can watch on demand, as in when you want to. Why is it the film business believes it can dictate our habits when everything else is on demand, at our fingertips instantly? I.e. the film starts at 7:30. You’ve got to leave your house, budget time to park, buy tickets, go to the bathroom, watch trailers and…if you get there late, tough noogies.
Yet the music business is consistently seen as a second-class citizen.
So for months we’ve endured a debate as to the wokeness and content of today’s films.
That’s not an issue in music, Black music dominates the charts.
As for awards… If you think awards matter, an Oscar or a Grammy, you don’t know how many broke, out of work, no longer remembered people have won each.
As for executives… Strides need to be made, but the truth is today’s major labels are oftentimes just the end point, the acts are developed by people of color and managed by people of color. That does not mean progress cannot be made in the executive ranks, but a little perspective would help here, not that you ever want to mix truth into the story…
But what blows my mind is all this debate re the content of film. There’s no debate about the content of music!
Film is expensive. A collaborative effort. Resulting in story that even a five year old can debate.
Music can be extremely inexpensive, made by one person in their bedroom, and even the biggest hits…about the most you can say about them is “it had a good beat, I could dance to it.”
Then again, music has started to imitate film, at the elite level anyway. Marketing is so expensive that the major labels put out less product than ever before and want to do their damnedest to ensure they’re hits. To the point where records are made by committee, and constantly reworked, remixed in an effort to have success, when the truth is music is best when it has that je ne sais quoi of lightning captured in a bottle.
But, in movies people are complaining about the content. Either it’s too serious or not mindless enough. As if movies could truly parallel life, when the truth is that’s music’s skill.
But music is in a bad place.
Music is purely commercial. Art is secondary. True, the Oscars might have nominated a bunch of highbrow stuff the hoi polloi have not seen, but we don’t have an equivalent layer of product in music, that which demands respect but got little commercial traction. Instead in music the focus is always on the vapid mainstream, repetitive sans meaning. In music, a forty year old fake drum sound, i.e. the Roland 808, dominates today. Which is kind of like insisting all films be shot in black and white. But there’s no uproar. Except from the audience, the truth is new music has lost its hold on the public, most people don’t care, which is why the hits have less market share on Spotify than they have previously, you don’t need to know them. As for the petty wars and triumphs…that’s fodder for fans and gossip rags, nobodies arguing about nothing, and too often it’s about money not art.
But criticize a successful act/record at your peril. If it made money, it cannot be bad. At least the highbrows bitch about high concept cartoon/superhero flicks, but they don’t bother to even weigh in on the dreck sold to the listening audience.
And in both cases, film and music, all the heat now rises from the bottom. Yes, it’s the unfettered individuals online who garner all the attention. Film/the Oscars has not even figured out how to harness the power of TikTok, never mind YouTube and Instagram and Snapchat. As for the music business, all it can do is sign that which is successful online. The truth is the major labels don’t grow anything anymore, they just cherry-pick that which is flowering. Which is why the execs are faceless. These are bean counters, marketers not conservators of the soul of America. It’s even worse in film, not one single executive is known by the masses. As for power? Neither of them have any, music or film executives, in the general landscape. That’s owned by Mark Zuckerberg, Google, Reed Hastings… And all of these tech titans have bigger mindshare than the product itself, never mind those who green light it.
But ain’t that America, where debate must be easy and only the elites are entitled to an opinion. Yes, those with any cultural power pooh-pooh the masses as know-nothings. But if that is so, why do they keep pushing the envelope online?
Now it used to be that change was always in the offing, but income inequality killed that. The best and the brightest will not go into the arts. And if they do, the focus is on the bottom line, not the content, because he with the greatest number of bucks is…the greatest. But we used to revere those who didn’t sell so well, but impacted us with their art.
Those days are through.
The tail has wagged the dog in the arts for decades, it’s just the ancient industries and the boomers who run them have refused to acknowledge this. Furthermore, the companies they run are long in the tooth public enterprises that no executive has a significant ownership interest in, it’s all about short term gain. So is it any wonder the product reflects this?
As for those commenting… The truth is they don’t really care, it’s only once a year, when awards season comes along, and the truth is the “unknown” social media stars online have much more overall influence.
Things will get better when the boomers pass.
But until then we’ve got twentieth century mores in a twenty first century world. And you wonder why these industries and their awards shows continue to miss the target…