I played my first live gig in 1963. I was fifteen. My band mates spent every free moment practising our instruments, rehearsing, and ignoring our lives in every other regard. The passion of performance became all-consuming. There was solidarity among the musicians. You’d never sub out. The group mattered. Due to this joining of hearts and minds, a handful of individuals boasting mediocre talents transformed themselves into a formidable touring band. We would pile into an old Chevy and tour from town to town, blasting our versions of the Ventures, zombies, Eric Burdon, Paul Butterfield, Hendrix, and Muddy Waters. Every high school, community center, legion, tavern, and church basement was a potential gig. The one thing missing was recording studios, which were found in a very few large cities.
Nowadays, each town has countless bands and recording studios are sprouting up under every rock. Gigs, however, are few. This presents a massive problem in that if the industry is to progress, it needs money. Money has long left the stadium and, consequently, our wonderful industry is now in its death throes.
It has become watered down with half–baked, pathetically untalented buffoons, MP3s, free downloads, iPods, You Tube, My Space, Twitter, Facebook—anything, in fact, except live music. Add to this the lame Canadian policy of deny money to artists and musicians and you can see the final nail poised to seal the coffin.
Who is responsible? I blame us, the musicians. Between 1990 and 1994 the American Federation of Musicians lost its grip on bookings. Why? Because the amateurs, wannabes, weekend warriors and the venues collaborated. They began lowering salaries, seducing young bands to play for free or for a couple of beers—often passing on their generosity to up to three bands a night.
In addition, there is no solidarity between the AF of M and the musicians. The union once provided us with pensions, a credit union, and protection from shady promoters and venues. Now they have vanished, leaving us with keyboard sequences, drum loops, and blithering poetry and trivial lyrics. Three-chords are all it takes to compose; forget about choruses and bridges. The standard of musicianship is low, so low that few have developed anything to say on an instrument.
The music has officially left the music business.
Some of the old timers have succumbed to this scenario and have involved themselves in production, arrangement, programming and recording. Others have simply packed it in and found other ways to vent their creative frustrations.
I have had enough and I am unable to stay quiet any longer. There are far too many musical incompetents poisoning my industry.
So, what could we possibly do about this quandry? Well, for starters:
- Stop playing for less than a liveable wage. If we were to express solidarity as musicians, we could bring this business back on its feet;
- Speak the truth about the fools who inundate our industry.
- Stop sharing musical and technical knowledge with imbeciles; let them figure it out as we had to. Sharing is great but we’ve aided to the problem wherein the public can’t distinguish between real musicians, real engineers and weekend wonders.
- Bring back our union with its contracts and implicit performance standards. When they protected us, they enhanced our value and our worth in society.
- Boycott venues that refuse to cooperate. Bankrupt them with indifference.
I believe that the human spirit is such that it needs creative talent and art in all forms and eventually things will turn around for the better. Let’s plan to be around for that one!
For now, I’m going back to where I started. I’m going to compose and perform music for live audiences. I’m selling most of my studio gear and retaining only enough to record my own material. God knows there are enough studios out there should I need one! I’m hitting the road with a fist full of CDs and a repertoire of joyous tunes.
The industry may be hell-bent-for-destruction but I have found peace in the knowledge of where I belong. My band is known as the XrAYZ. We’ll be passing through your town.
So let’s strap on our best ears, pack our suitcases, and have fun. See ya out there!