Welcome to the Inaugural Blog of Maestro@FringeMusic
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
When I was a kid, on the cusp of my adolescence and on the verge of my musical awakening, I lived for a couple of years in Europe. For my birthday, I received a turntable and one of those K-Tel Best of Motown-type records. Can’t say I particularly liked the musical choice my Godmother had made for my first foray into music but that wasn’t the point. I was grateful for the opportunity to discover and open up new horizons. This truly happened when my brother and I got our (yes, shared!) Christmas present that same year: a shortwave radio. I played that thing to death, even hiding it under the covers so I could tune in Hilversum or some unknown or obscure station broadcasting at 2 or 3 in the morning. What a ride that was, just turning a dial and going wherever I wanted in the world, peeking in, not always understanding the language but revelling in the discovery of new sounds, new expressions of the universal language of music.
“Du bist kein Kind
Kein Kind mehr”
(You are no longer a child
A child anymore)
OK, the lyrics weren’t the most evolved but it was rock ‘n roll baby. Just… in German. And it sounded great. At least to that part inside me that wanted to explode, to explore, to grow, to share, to speak that universal language. And that’s when I became a collector, buying records, cassettes and 45s, spending all my allowance money on music. Out with the turntable, in with the ghetto blaster, etc., moving with the progress of technology. I must have bought my vast collection in multiple formats 10 times over. I had to have everything from the artists I was in to, even down to bootlegs. Then, when I was old enough to go to concerts, I started spending my money there too. Aaah! Would that I could and had I had unlimited resources, I would have travelled the world over to catch every imaginable act I liked. I must say that I count myself lucky, after all these years, to have been able to see all the artists I ever wanted to except for maybe a handful, mostly because they no longer performed or were dead. It only took me about 250 concerts to do so. As much as I loved the ability to enjoy the craft of musicians through the private medium of my headphones, in my own private concert, with my own playlists, there was no rush like seeing a band live. I would often be ‘high’ for days from the experience. Nothing would prevent me from attending a concert, not even the fact that no one wanted to go with me. Too bad for them, I’d think, they’re the ones missing out and I won’t deprive myself of the pleasure just because none of my friends would come along. Then, one day, I started writing down my thoughts and feelings about these concert experiences and finally I had found an outlet to express my pure joy at living the music, something to compensate for my dreadfully inept musical abilities. I was a frustrated musician at heart, I couldn’t play any instrument, I couldn’t hold a tune, but I loved, loved music and lyrics, which, to me, were a new form of poetry.
That’s what this site is all about. Breaking down barriers, making music accessible to the masses and bridging the gaps between nations and continents and people and languages. I want to relive, recapture the joy, the freedom of my youth without the strictures of the biz, the artificial divide, the business decisions made not in the artists’ interest, the money-grubbing side of things. One day I asked myself: how is it a huge artist such as Johnny Hallyday in Europe has practically never been heard of in America? He’s sold nearly 100 million albums, which is about a fifth as many albums as Elvis Presley worldwide. That’s what’s wrong with the music business: it’s a moribund industry that’s run out of ideas, that seeks to replicate the formula of previous success, over and over again, until they kill the Goose with the Golden Egg. How many bands that sounded ‘like the next Nirvana’ did they forcefeed us until they nearly killed the grunge genre? I’m not saying there weren’t some good acts in that mix, but it’s the sequilitis approach that’s gone haywire. The same thing has happened to the movie industry. When the ideas dry up, Hollywood acquires the rights to an obscure (at least in America) script from abroad and gives it the full Monte treatment, dusting it off and passing it off as an original. Music labels do the same thing: they find local ‘hits’ in other markets abroad that never made it across the pond and they get recording artists who don’t write their own material and who belong to their worldwide ‘stable’ to ‘redo’ these often one-hit wonders in America and resell the same thing over again to a new audience. There’s nothing essentially wrong with that idea, except for the pall cast on artistic creativity. It’s all about getting as much mileage out of the same material as possible and making more money, not better music. And there are so many middlemen whose palms need to be greased that it drives up the price of CDs and DVDs.
The music industry resells us the same product (I believe purposely) in various formats. Those of us old enough to remember bought our first music in vinyl format, only to replace it several years later with cassette tapes because they were more portable and could be taken with us into our cars and portable stereos to wherever we wanted to be, only to once again rebuy the same things in CD format because it too was slim and portable and could contain far more songs, videos and now mp3s. And now, there are iPods and other portable devices for the music enthusiast on the go.
And these same moguls who hog the music industry have priced kids out of the concert market as they cater to big-buck middle-class, middle-aged babyboomers who can afford the outrageous prices they charge, often against the express wishes of the artists themselves. So, pirate or student radio stations crop up. So, kids steal mp3s (the artists’ work, craft and livelihood) on file-sharing sites to be able to afford to enjoy the simple pleasure of music or a concert and they have less and less qualms about doing so. It’s about sticking it to the Man. And the artist gets lost in the process.
I honestly believe there’s a reason why there has been an industry ‘backlash’ from certain labels (i.e., not those making money off them) against shows like RockStar, American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, the X-Factor and why so many people in the ‘business’ are haters of the truly original and gifted artists of this world, because the establishment feels very threatened by this new access ramp to stardom (including the Internet and its many music promotion sites) for really talented undiscovered artists that are not docile Milli Vanilli-type studio creations, which is why it tries to orchestrate their failure and denigrate the up-and-coming talent which it does not control. Those of us, consumers, with our pent-up frustrations about music and what lows it has descended to, need to come out of the woodwork and embrace what we had been hungering for for so long and we must talk with our pocketbooks. We yearn to discover artists and musicians who should have ‘made it’ a long time ago based on sheer talent but were ignored and passed over for more marketable, less fussy and easier-to-control commodities (pretty boys and girls who can’t sing, or act or dance, or even speak or write properly, but it doesn’t matter).
Even protectionist measures, for instance in Canada and probably other countries, that were meant to protect the cultural heritage of the nation by forcing broadcasters to play a percentage of ‘Canadian’ content (especially the way that requirement was interpreted to include any band as long as there was a Canadian element, e.g. a drummer) has truly harmed non-established artists and condemned them to the club circuit for years, even decades, until they are discovered by pure luck or something strikes a chord on YouTube. A fluke. Not the way it should be. Just because many (not all) radio and TV execs or music program directors are too lazy to seek out new, up-and-coming local talent and would rather stick with what people know, i.e. artists who have already made it. And it’s easier to accept money from labels to put a certain artist on rotation on the airwaves.
This is why music needs to be free … and freed from its current strictures. The advent of the Internet and digital era holds that promise. Artists are retaking a measure of control and the market is forcing the biz to change. I like the Grateful Dead model: the band has often given away their music for free, but fans must pay to see them live. Live is big again. Some artists even do private Internet concerts via PPV. The mp3 revolution means that music consumers no longer have to buy a whole (often mediocre) record for one song that’s really good, unless we’re talking about a ‘concept’ album which is the artist’s creative intent in the first place, and, if it is consistently good throughout, then the public will buy all the songs. In the end, it is the buying and listening public that will win out by the choices it makes as to who and what it wants to hear and pay for.
Three other events marked my musical journey.
One was meeting a man whom I will call The Professor, who was a classmate of mine when I was still in school, learning the craft of what would become my calling in life. His phenomenal (encyclopaedic really) knowledge of, and love for, music awakened a fire within me. I will always be eternally grateful for the countless hours he spent over a period of six months that we studied together nurturing this new-found passion of mine, which he has since passed on to his two sons and maybe his daughter as well (I’m not sure).
The second and third events are more of a life experience.
Throughout my musical explorations, I have had the good fortune of meeting other like-minded, generous human beings, who really care about others, who actually think about the trials and tribulations and life and who have become lifelong friends, not just people who shared the same musical experiences. Some of the most amazing people I have met in my life have been though artists and the communities they have created. These often unheralded artists have been a balm for the suffering of many and a beacon of hope for others. Their ability to bring people together in that way, just through the power of music and lyrics, is an incredible quality to possess. And, in the process, judging from the changing dynamic of attendance at concerts, I discovered as well, that it’s not just men that like heavy, dark and brooding music and it’s not just women that like thoughtful, revealing and introspective lyrics. People, men and women, like honest music that speaks to them and that they can relate to.
The last event which profoundly altered my musical journey occurred when my father passed away in early December 2013. His death happened at a particularly low point in my life when all was going wrong and I felt very isolated and alone, cut off from the world. I instinctively (protectively?) embarked on a one-year intense musical peregrination (which is still ongoing and may never stop) of educating myself musically, of testing my boundaries and delving further and further into the unknown, exploring, thirsting and hungering for novelty with a renewed passion to discover more and more, to somehow decrypt this mystery of life and better understand myself and this language that speaks to all of our souls. Music was my only companion and friend during the sleepless nights that followed in monotonous succession. I attacked my ‘mission’ with zeal, with a fervour previously unknown to me and deployed all the tools, experience and abilities at my disposal to discover those precious nuggets that were hiding in the vast ocean of music in the universe. I accumulated close to 10,000 pages of notes on over 40,000 music tracks in the span of a year, tracks which I consumed voraciously on a daily basis, slowly, progressively building the musical spectrum in my mind piece by piece, that would allow me to see the connections between styles and subgenres in one huge interwoven web of beauty and harshness. It was like I was writing a doctoral thesis on music itself, but, in point of fact, I was peering into the depths of myself and seeking to understand the darkness and the light that inhabits all of us.
I hope you’ll all find a home here and that even artists that we will be promoting will drop by before they get too big for their britches (insert smile).
May music live on forever and may artists be able to find a venue for their creative expression that does not require them to sell their soul!