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The Wild West of the Music Industry

Written by [Anthony Dean-Harris]

A friend of mine interviewed Lalah Hathaway yesterday. It was a rather exciting moment for him and I was really proud of him for pulling off that task. When he finished the interview, he emailed me the recording of the interview (through the glory that is Google Voice), and I marveled not just in the shout out he gave me (in referencing [Joe Sample Day] and how I remembered Joe’s birthday but Lalah Hathaway who recorded 1999’s The Song Lives On with Sample needed that reminder) but also in his poignant question on the uprising of independence in the music industry. Hathaway ultimately answered [Donovan Ramsey]’s question with the powerful sentence, “There is a revolution happening.”

The music industry is most certainly going through a revolution in which new tastes are being defined, criticism is shifting in importance, and the indelible spirit that guides art is taking new form. As technology advances, the ability to create art simplifies. Just as I can write something in this instance and it is published on the internet for the world to see moments later, the mp3 has changed the way we think about music production and publication. Broadband connections have made connectivity faster than ever and artistic digestion as exciting as it can be occasionally cumbersome.

Yet with the industry becoming this Brave New World, said world has garnered aspects reminiscent of the Wild West. Smaller, (seemingly) independent artists are rising above the fray through the missives of an internet echo chamber of [critics all following the beat of a hipster drummer]. The (almost anachronistic) mainstream music industry is steadily losing touch with the general populace and [even its stalwarts]. Specialties are [getting lost] in this shifting tide.

(I just gave you a lot of hyperlinks in there, you may want to take your time with a bunch of those. They’re good pieces and you really should read them. Don’t worry; I’ll wait. Actually, this is text. It’s not going anywhere. It waits by nature.)

With this shifting of the music industry, in creation, consumption, and criticism, the need for direction is growing steadily more apparent. True, it’s great to have a wide, open plain to traverse, but it still helps to abide by the advice to “go west, young man.” Sites like Nextbop or [Destination: OUT] that focus mostly on getting interesting music out to the public and turning on newcomers to this crazy little genre called jazz may need to mull over advertising costs or donations. Music critics will have to diversify their tastes [without always following one publication’s lead], whether or not it’s a veritable 800 lb. gorilla.

Most importantly, music should continue in its independently minded direction while staying cognizant of its sustainability and overall importance. In this ever shifting cultural movement, as we continue to question what makes the popular popular and what really is the meaning behind [our definitions] (definitely take the time to read that link), we must remember that art is still art. It can be classified, it can provide a message, it can support an artist or a record label (both seemingly just barely nowadays), but it still must reach the public, solicit an emotion, and be found of value.

As it relates to jazz, whether you’re in the Marsalis camp with its regimented rules, the Matthew Shipp camp of making way for the new guard, or the Seb and Justin camp of listen to everything and anything that’s effing sick, music should be loved and appreciated. Our genre will get back in the public limelight when we can show others why we love what we love. There is a need for a middle ground between all these respective camps wherein we just know what we like and say why we like it to others. There are clearly the musicians out there of varying types who continue to make music we all love. There are more than enough critics and fans out there to make the gesture with a little bit of organization. All things being equal, that doesn’t seem like too hard of a swatch to cut out of this grand new frontier.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect].