Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Anti-Simon

Have you ever seen the movie, Jaws? There is a scene where Richard Dreyfuss’ character describes the shark species. To paraphrase, they’re only interested in two things, eating and making baby sharks. In short, they’re like machines—not to be hated, as much as understood and avoided.

Where the shark has two areas of concentration, I’ve decided that Simon Cowell is twice as focused. According to his recent run of interviews, he is simply interested in making money. Through that lens, everything seems to make sense. He is part creator of a hit TV show (American Idol) that feeds over a hundred million dollars worth of talent to a major record label. The controversy he purposely creates, the snide comments, the snotty attitude, the mock war with Paula Abdul—it is all so he and his colleagues can make millions and millions, while the artists themselves receive a very small portion of the pie.

While I don’t hate Simon and his crew for wanting to make money, and I don’t think they’ve done anything illegal, I can’t say what they’re doing is very good for us. Politicians and voters often like to hold their ideas up to scrutiny by saying, “Yeah, but is it good for America?” I’d like to hold the whole American Idol concept up to the question, “Yeah, but is it good for the music business?”

In the short run, American Idol creates entertainment, makes us laugh, and gives a few people a shot at a record deal—a dubious goal, at best. But in the long run, it reinforces what is wrong with the record business, and what is bad for us consumers. Simon has a very narrow definition of who should be a star. He is tasked with picking the hits over, and over again. He is not particularly open to widening that definition, allowing more inventive and less mainstream ideas in.

Every time the Next Big Thing has happened in the music business, it’s been an anomaly; something outside the mainstream. When Rock and Roll first happened in the late 50s and early 60s, it was just “guitar music,” and it supposedly wasn’t going to compete well with the likes of Sinatra, Streisand, and Andy Williams (Andy who?). Disco was reviled and resisted, as was rap. But every time these innovations came on the scene, they ultimately became part of the mainstream. I’ve even heard rap infused into Country Music! Where would these innovations have found footing if the Simons of the world were in control. No one would ever have stepped outside of the box. Even if money making is the goal, safety is the anti-thesis to innovation.

The answer right now is the “indie” music movement. Producing and promoting yourself, managing your own shows, promotion, and bookings. This is what’s leading to new sounds and innovations, so much so that the record companies are nibbling away at the edges by funding a few creative startups, and snatching up some of the better indie acts. Do you want to learn more about having your own artistic and business control as you pursue your music career? Join me on Myspace at http://www.MySpace.com/rmgalloway, or read my educational blogs here and at http://www.wordsplusmusic.blogspot.com. You can also subscribe to my eZine at http://www.GigsterClinics.com.

Be in touch. We’re going to change the world (of music, anyway).

P.S. My new book, Hits and Heartbreakers—Songwriting Fundamentals for Love or Money, is now available at http://www.GigsterClinics.com/merch.htm.