I've stood and watched guys and girls play (mostly guys, mostly guitar), and wondered what it would be like to make an instrument talk... to connect with a crowd... to say something with lyrics.
But lately, I'm not so sure. Maybe I wouldn't want to be a musician. Maybe just being an obsessed music fan is enough.
Because the way it looks from the fan side of things, it sure is tough to be a rock star these days.
Who Do They Sound Like?
First and foremost, as a creative person myself, I think about the creative aspect of things. And from where I sit, it seems like it's almost impossible to break new ground anymore. After roughly a hundred years of recorded music, and over 60 years of rock and roll, it is to be expected.
It's the first thing that people ask you in a record store when they are curious about a new group: Who do they sound like? After all, they gotta sound like somebody.
Now it's not like any one group sounds exactly like the other, but if you really study music, you can always think of one or two groups. Usually artists that were in the game early on, making up the rules.
My point: You can't cross lyrical boundaries any more than Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell. You can't get weird and push the limits of yourself and your band more than Frank Zappa. You can't extend the limits of on-stage jamming very far past the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers.
It's not that artists can't do anything new, and I'll spend the rest of my life listening to them try, but it's tough to be the grandfather when you're part of the fourth generation.
Check Out My Music, Please.
Second, I don't envy artists today trying to get established in the digital era.
Sure, the internet has provided the best-ever opportunity for all creative people to have a place to showcase their arts...
...but it's also glutted up the landscape and overwhelmed the average listener/reader/fan with so many new options that it's hard to even begin to know where to look and who to trust. I get bombarded with so much information, music and otherwise, that it often makes me want to just shut everything out.
When that happens, I think the disadvantage goes to the new musicians.
Why? Because sometimes it's just as easy to listen and explore to the plethora of artists who have already established themselves during the groundbreaking years (see point one) rather than have to sift through a bunch of new shit in hopes of finding the gems.
So instead of using the time and advanced technology to find a needle in a musical haystack, I'll often find myself using it to further explore the breadth and depth of 8,000 artists who've have already established themselves.
And that's how I feel as a massively experienced fan. My guess is that this feeling amplifies with the average-Joe listener.
Hey Brother, Can You Spare a Musician A Dime?
Last but not least, it seems harder than ever to make money making music.
Now I won't pretend to know anything about the specifics of how artists get paid--but I did own a record store from 1998 to 2012, so I could do a symposium on the dwindling sales of prerecorded music (and the reasons it has happened.)
Don't worry, I won't "sympose" on you. But I will note that while the mainstream media has always done a horrendous job of exploring many of the contributing factors (corporate greed, record label idiocy, inflexible artists, overpriced CDs), the result is still the same huge reality:
These days you can listen to the music you want without paying a dime for it.
Consequently, there's less music money in the pipeline.
Make no doubt--I recognize that for a majority of musicians, making a living has always been a struggle. But it just seems like in today's climate, the overall percentage of that majority will just keep getting bigger and bigger.
And it will continue to make it tough on the wallets of the musicians of tomorrow.
You're a Real Barrel of Musical Laughs, Geek.
I'm not trying to be a bummer, I'm just pointing out that the job seems a lot tougher than it was 30 years ago.
My hopeful side says that these new dynamics will clear out most of the lightweights, and leave us with the most dedicated artists. The ones who practice night after night until they can make that instrument do whatever they want to do. The ones creating music because they can't not create it (I know that's a double negative, but I like it)...because it's there inside them and it needs to come out.
These are the artists who will find a way to break new ground, whatever it takes, no matter how hard it is. There may not be as many out there as there was in the '60s and '70s, but they are out there.
After all, some of the rocking benefits are still there (flexible hours, excellent social gatherings, getting laid), and if you are good enough you can still get famous and create art for a living.
I'll keep watching for those artists.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
I just think I'm finally past wishing I was one of them.