Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On Music

First of all, please remember that music is marketed in the same basic process as any other product. What you see on the CD labels, commercials, advertisements and programs is designed to appeal to a specific audience. If the packaging appeals to a specific audience-if the marketing succeeds-then everyone involved in the production of the music wins. They make money, which is a good thing.

But, many times you will read a music critic blast a musician for "selling out", by which the critic usually means the musician has written music that appeals to a large number of people. This is "pop music", and a sure fire way to tell if someone's a sell out,  as if the musician were a greedy charlatan instead of a true artist. 

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, my peers and I referred to certain pop music as "commercial"-a label of dripping scorn when applied to any form of art. An artist, you see, is not supposed to be motivated by money. Artists are supposed to exist solely for the joys of creating, and if they have to pay rent and buy food, well, they're supposed to be starving, (and apparently, homeless as well). In other words, you're a whore if you try to get rich off your musical talents, as if a person who sells his or her body for another's sexual pleasure is equivalent to the musician who sells his work for another's listening pleasure. What's the difference between the two? A lot! I'm not sure that calling commercially-minded pop musicians "whores" has any real sting to it. The implication, however, is that certain things are off limits to sale, by virtue of their being sacred, inviolate, or perhaps simply illegal. But it is not immoral for a person to sell his labor, or to have a broker sell it for him (as do the labor pools and temporary agencies). It is immoral to sell the person himself, because that is slavery, and no man should own another man, for any number of reasons. But like any craftsman, a musician builds, creates, makes a product. He is selling a song, not his body, his soul,  nor rights to his body and soul. Why should he not then be successful at it, and make a ton of money? Many musicians realize this and cheerfully go right ahead and do what they love to do, and get paid handsomely for it. But the critics and pimply faced adolescents tell us the way to judge music is not if we like it, but on how much it fails commercially.

I'll tell you what I think music is: music is a trade between the listener and the performer: the performer gets to indulge in self-expression, and the listener gets to indulge in whatever emotional pictures the music invokes. The hallmark of great music is really only one very specific thing: if you like it. The reason why we like music is because it invokes emotion, and in some cases, memories. Just because some musician-hating critic tells you that Shmuckatelli wrote his symphony in the 17th century with the plight of the European serfs in mind doesn't mean the music is fun, pleasant to listen to, or just plain likable. Classical music is a good example of critic snootiness: for the most part, the critics ravaged Maurice Ravel's Bolero as pop trash, symphonic music for the masses. But my! It's such a grand, spectacular experience to listen to!

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