Admittedly, I was a little late getting to the music movie of the year, but I saw “Ray” last night. If you, like me, have been putting it off…don’t. It’s better than your average music movie and manages to tell the story pretty straight.
And the soundtrack is a bitch.
I was struck by a strange notion as I watched the life and times of Ray Charles. Here was a Black, blind man from the South who managed to make history with his music. Here was the story of a man who wouldn’t accept “no” for an answer…a man who played in the shadows for years before breaking out with his own sound.
The strange notion? Ray would have never made it today.
The record industry has become a corporate, tepid pool of middle managers who try harder to make no mistakes rather than to make history. With very few exceptions, the gene pool has shrunk the DNA to a level none would be proud to claim. The record business once encompassed the best and the brightest. Today, too many are survivors. Unfortunately, survival often means compromising.
The music industry is a perfect example.
With a few notable exceptions, is there a record executive today who would take a chance on a blind, Black man whose music couldn’t be identified by format?
Once a thriving place for the exception…exceptions now are the exception. The record business built itself on artist development. Funny, many labels are still existing on what they no longer practice. Repackaging aging artists to pay the bills seems to be the norm.
What will the next group of record executives do to survive?
And what would this commentary be without a little irony? Independent record labels are the only companies practicing artist development. Small labels are investing in the little things, including tour and personal appearance support, that build an audience for an artist for years to come. So, those that can least afford it are doing it.
Is that the irony? No. That would be much too simple for the record industry. The irony is that larger labels are gobbling up independent labels like an Atkins flipper at a bread factory. The independent labels are successful because they practice artist development and are being purchased by major labels that don’t practice artist development.
Ironic. And ignorant.
It’s nice that one thing hasn’t changed. It doesn’t have to make sense to make music.
For that, we can all be thankful.