Friday, August 28, 2009

Mainstream Music Industry - Art or Business?

The Music Industry. Perhaps an alternative name might be the Business of Musical Art? Can there be such a thing? This is a thought I've been pondering recently - the co-existence of music and industry, of art and business. Business seems so cold, calculated, driven by the mighty dollar, and highly contrary to the romantic, emotive, philosophical, and liberating nature of art. Given these two seemingly polarized ideas, again I ask : Can they co-exist?

Staying alive in the mainstream music industry must be tough, particularly these days. Some artists seem to operate under an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality and continue to find success. It's like they've tapped into a formula that works and/or they've found their niche and grown an audience fanbase out of it. Country Artist Kenny Chesney is a perfect example of this in both respects. His songs do well, he sells albums, sells out arenas, and really everything he does stays within a certain formula and sound - proud country dude who enjoys relaxing on the beach, good drinking, good loving, and good living. Other artists that seem to fit this "niche" category would be Jack Johnson, Nickelback, and maybe even Beyonce. This seems to be more rare than common and usually these artists find their niche as a result of experience over time, proper timing, and trial & error. And even still many well-established artists still have to work to stay fresh. The majority of artists have to work to stay fresh and relevant through constantly re-inventing themselves and/or experimenting with their sound - is this perfecting their art or perfecting their product? So the question is - have these artist mastered the business or mastered the art? Are they good marketers or is their art speaking and connecting to people?

Can what the mainstream music industry produces really be considered art? Or is it all strategy and all for dollar signs and nothing more? I argue for both strategy AND art. It is an industry/business- there is strategy and marketing involved. But it is art - there is creative expression...or at least there should be, maybe not in all cases. At any rate, in mainstream music, I give props to both the smart strategic people and the artistic people. I feel both are deserving of props in their own right. Relatedly, I also think its important to clarify one's art. There are great writers versus musicians, performers versus vocalists, collaborators versus soloists, passionate artists versus strategic artists. This isn't always a black-or-white matter either...there are some who fit more than one for sure. Name a music artist and we can discuss where their bread-and-butter is. Some examples from my perception: Sheryl Crow is a writer, Michael Jackson is a performer, Leonna Lewis is a vocalist, Mary J. Blige and Coldplay are passionate artists, Madonna and Eminem are strategic artists, etc. [Another thought: those who have the complete package - are they more successful? are they more hall-of-fame worthy?]

The concept of Mainstream Art - art for the masses, that which comes from the artist and speaks both TO & FOR the audience. To be mainstream art is a challenge. You'd need to be business minded otherwise you wouldn't sell and be considered mainstream (However, your art cred would score high). On the other hand, too much business mindedness leaves you a puppet, a product, and/or a slave to the masses - and there is no art in that.

Thoughts? Reactions? Leanings? Feelings? Hopes, Dreams, Desires?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Oh, Bogie...but there is an art in enslaving yourself to society. Looking and sounding like a whore takes so much artistic talent. I think Fergie is sooooo talented. Kidding, of course.

  3. The Art of that's talent!