Responsible Musicians

Last night I had an epiphany. I was reading an article on Courtney Love in the latest Spin and it occurred to me that there is the not the same sort of “trash the hotel room” mystique bands used to have. I’m sure plenty of bands are still living hard and doing their share of trashing rooms, but I’d say generally bands are more responsible, at least in terms of their image.

What changed was the web. The web opened the door to real time updates for everything and that includes the day to day lives of musicians. Back in the day (whenever that actually was), a band could make a stink and it would last for a year or more. It became a oral legend passed around between friends and most likely blown slightly out of proportion. Now, when an artist trashes a hotel room, there was probably a cleaning person at the hotel that got pictures on their cell phone and can tweet that they really just left out their uneaten dinner on the table.

In some ways it is too bad we’ve lost the mystique. The silent tortured artist is gone forever. Fans know it is all an act and they don’t really care. The fact the fans have changed is what interests me.

When I was a kid there was always a concern about selling out. As I’ve gotten older and had more responsibility, it became clear that selling out was extremely relative. Unless we bring in money, we can’t make as much music. Something has to be sold. As a kid, if I heard a band on a commercial or even on the radio, that band had sold out, period. Now, no one cares. Part of me is glad since we could use the money and most of the time licensing music is a great way to bring in income. At the same time, I wonder why kids don’t care anymore that the musicians they love are so easily selling their music to commercial entities.

My theory is that fans are smarter now. In addition to having constant up to the minute updates on their favorite artists, they also have a constant stream of music industry content. It is difficult not to see articles and blogs discussing the state of the music industry and what is happening. When an artist says to their fans they don’t make any money, fans believe them and give them money. They may still pirate the music, but then they make sure to buy a t-shirt and donate on Kickstarter. Others have pointed out the importance of super fans, but I think it is quickly becoming the norm. Fans see the real struggles of musicians such that accepting money is not selling out, but simply part of the job. A band can be respected for touring like crazy, putting out a ton of music, and creating relationships with fans. Selling out is no longer a function money, but of time.

If you can’t tell, this is really exciting. The prospects of doing everything yourself never looked so good. Fans on a large scale are realizing they need to support artists and that doesn’t mean buying a record. Support is a different from the economics of selling records. It costs more for all the parties involve, but it pays more dividends. In the DIY punk scene bands used to tour based on letters they received from kids who said they could put a show on. Now, instead of the 50 kids putting on shows, you have a website with a forum, twitter and a blog to talk to thousands of people and create similar relationships.

None of this is easy, but it really never was. I’m really excited because it is apparent that there is a new generation approaching that will appreciate integrity. Not only that, integrity won’t be defined by a lack of money, but relationships. Ian MacKaye always did this for me. I saw him play in The Evens and bought a record afterward to support him. He said thank you in the most honest of ways and shook my hand, staring me straight in the eye and smiled. That guy has and probably always will define punk for me. It is about community and relationships. It is about working hard and having control over your life. There is a new era of punk as an ideal on the horizon.