I’ve written a lot here about what I feel to be the future of the music industry and the future of radio. I don’t wish to say anymore about that at present, except that I’m growing in understanding of how the two are completely separate from each other, and yet intrinsically tied to each other as well. There are people who play music because of some burning passion and fire within them that they have to let out. They can make a million dollars doing it or not earn a dime and the fire is still there. I love listening to music from people like this. Their art is honest, truly reflective, and in some ways more beautiful than something done to be marketed and sold to the masses. At times, it’s also less polished. Polished music is good in a sense because the quality aspect. But I’ve been doing this long enough to appreciate honest artistic expression over polished marketable stuff.
Case in point are some good friends of mine, Charles Johnston and Bethany Defambaugh. I’ve known Charles for a long time, we had a band when we were in grade school a decade ago and wrote and produced some great music together. Charles is a fantastic songwriter. He pieces words and lyrics with music in a way few people do. But he’s not on a label, and to the best of my knowledge isn’t pursuing music as a career (I think he’s a CPA or something now). I have some old recordings he did a few years ago and I still play on The Appetizer from time to time (you might recall the song 33 Miles). There’s something in him and his songs that isn’t driven by the desire to sell a million albums. My other friend Bethany has that same fire. It’s beautiful. She writes amazing songs and has a remarkable voice. I’m trying to get her to record somewhere so I can play her music. It’s really outstanding.
Since I don’t spend any time in the pop culture end of music, I don’t know the names of some of the big new stars. I’m actually pretty proud of that. I hadn’t heard of the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana until they’d been big stars for several years. I still don’t think they sound that great, but then again I’m not a teenage girl, so what do I know about that stuff. I just checked Billboard to see who’s on top of their list. It’s Rihanna, Nelly, Bruno Mars, Pink, Ke$ha and some otheres. I honestly have never heard a Rihanna song all the way through. She played on SNL this season and I changed the channel because it was too ridiculous and silly. As for Nelly, he was popular for a song I liked in 11th grade (a long time ago). He’s not a great rapper in my view, but I don’t listen to much of the stuff in the first place (I prefer 2Pac, Mase, Biggie, Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony and Wine-O [formerly Nuwine]). I don’t have a clue about Ke$ha and the last thing I thought I knew about Pink was that she was hooked up with Tommy Lee. I guess that’s over now.
These are polished musicians. So polished in fact, that they’re groomed to sell. But how much of their music comes from some place deep inside of them that only music can express? I’d argue that they could be flashy in their wealth in other ways, flirtatious with someone they’re attracted to or want a one-time encounter with in other ways, or lay a drum beat down and repeat “Silly-silly straws make the cola go round and round” in some way that sells records. I’m not moved by that. Not to say that all music has to be moving for it to be great. I love Pearl Jam. Not all of their music moves me emotionally. But there’s something more to them than the desire to get rich off the music they make.
It’s an interesting partnership, music and business. In some ways they absolutely need each other. In other ways, they could exist without each other and no one would know the difference. Who knows. I’ll keep working on my friend to get her to record so you all can experience the grandness of her art. Until then, we’ll just have to wait.