Resnikoff’s Parting Shot: The Music

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The music has to be great.

If there was one kernel of wisdom for aspiring artists at Canadian Music Week, this was it.  And it was a recurring theme.  “First, your music has to be really good.  This is something that’s really difficult to convey to people,” marquee speaker Bob Lefsetz told a crowded room.

Others were ringing a similar bell.  “Knowing the tools is important, but the real emphasis needs to be on nurturing creativity and live performance,” conveyed Craig Hyman, founder of Numinous Music & Productions.  “If people don’t walk out saying, ‘that was freaking great,’ there’s an issue.”

Saunter into another panel, and the same message was being spread.  “If they make good music, they’re bound to make some sort of impact,” said Petri Lunden, executive chairman of Hagenburg Law Media & Management.

And so forth.  But wait: this is earth-shattering information?  Hasn’t the ‘it’s-about-the-music’ advice been bandied about for decades?  Sure it has, but the volume on quality is getting cranked a notch.

But why?  After years of utopian digital thinking, another hangover wave is starting to settle.  Instead of the disruptive euphoria surrounding direct-to-fan platforms, Long Tail niches, recommendation systems, and broader disintermediation, the industry is settling on a new reality.  Sure, there are more tools, platforms, and concepts for directly reaching fans than ever before.  But what is shooting through the pipes?

Somehow, the creative discussion became secondary, while the post-label possibilities took center stage.  But an unoriginal acoustic guitar singer is just as boring in 2010 as he was in 2000, regardless of what digital tools are available.  And, even worse, the 2010 version has millions of competitors, all taking advantage of the same digital production and distribution breakthroughs.

Which begs the deeper question.  Is any of this really helping the artist?  Is the abysmal ratio of obscurity-to-success getting tilted, and resulting in paid, ‘middle class’ artists who can actually eat?

So far, the legions of well-fed artists are waiting to materialize.  And that sounds just like the analog days of old.  “You almost never talk to artists – and by the numbers we’re talking about most artists – who feel that their lives have been dramatically changed for the better or worse by this transition,” said Eric Garland, CEO of BigChampagne.  “Because it’s not really their piece of the business that has been upheaved.”

Perhaps making a living through art will always remains a treacherous endeavor, regardless of the era.  But if great music is timeless, what makes it so good?  Forget about the critics, a snooty class that was somewhat marginalized by the information-friendly, media-rich internet.  Instead, the subjective question is answered by the numbers.  That is, if an artist connects with an audience in a real, sustaining way through their ‘content,’ then the music is ‘good’.  And those fans will spread the word, through a variety of ‘word-of-mouth’ channels – online and off.

It’s a start, and in fact, the only way to start.

Paul Resnikoff, Publisher, in Toronto.