Featured Music: Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Sound Off - Extended Web Version

We asked some local scenesters about the shifting state of the music industry — here are their replies.


Sound Off

We asked some local scenesters about the shifting state of the music industry — here are their replies.


o doubt, the music industry, it is a-changin’. As the four mega-labels slouch ever closer to becoming one gi-normous monolith, the grassroots keep on growing like weeds. While no one’s sure exactly what the situation’s gonna look like a year, two years, five years from now, most local musicians have the symptoms of seamen in a squall — anxious, excited, and scared, all at the same time. I e-mailed a few of them some questions. Here are the responses.

Well, the ones fit for print.

What is the nature of the change, and what do you think led to it?

“The change began in the late ’70s, when the major labels in general started putting profit above product,” writes Quinn Peacock, guitarist for old-school metalists Legends of the South. “What we have today is the end result of generations of sugar-coated bullshit tunes, leaving most non-music enthusiasts to think these bands and sounds are actually good.”

“The industry changes a little each time we progress from one medium of listening to music to the next, such as from vinyl to cassette tapes to c.d.’s and now MP3’s,” writes pop singer-songwriter Jesci. “This has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the greatest advantages of today’s popular medium is distribution. More people are more likely to hear new artists and be exposed to artists’ new works by way of the internet. The main disadvantage is that there are so many different genres and plenty of, maybe too much, competition. The marketplace has certainly grown, but so has the number of artists out there.”

“The ‘industry’ has done nothing but stifle creativity in music since the beginning,” writes Jon Teague, drummer for the defunct legendary prog-metal band Yeti and now keyboardist for psychedelic punks The Chimeneas. “Its very nature is contrary to art. Unless you are willing to be a mass-marketable product, they have no interest in your music or, more importantly, your image. With the internet, cheap media reproduction, and access to high-quality home studios, musicians finally have the tools to take control. It’s a dream that is still being realized.”

“I think people want to get the most bang for the buck, so they get cheap, or free, music online,” writes Scott Blakewell, singer-songwriter and long-time scenester. “They burn c.d.’s — which I’m guilty of, but at least I purchase the original c.d. that I burn for others — and they don’t want to pay $20 for a c.d. for one good song, which is usually the song that is getting spun 90 times a day on Mix 102.9 [KDMX/102.9-FM] or [KDGE/102.1-FM] The Edge. ... The change was bound to happen — technology, big business, and the needs of the consumer have forced these changes.”

“The roles of distribution and promotion used to be strongholds of established labels, major and otherwise,” writes Tom Urquhart, host of “The Good Show” (Sundays at 9 p.m. on KTCU/88.7-FM) and Weekly scribe. “That, combined with the infamous hack-and-slave tactics of many labels in the 1990s, makes it more attractive for bands to find smaller labels or simply start their own à la Aimee Mann. What led to this? Corporate ownership leading to homogenized radio and, eventually, homogenized concert promotion. Deregulation legislation in 1996 pretty much opened the floodgates, allowing corporations to Wal-Martize, if you will, the American radioscape, thus reducing competition. ... The cancer of corporate ownership has forced artists, especially those not lucky or pretty enough to make the major label’s/radio’s hot lists, to find additional means of earning livings.

“The internet has been a godsend,” he continues. “Not just for those in the porn industry but also for bands, though some might argue they’re interchangeable.”

“Yes, there are obvious changes in the music industry, but, basically, it’s still the same, whether it’s 1956 or 2006,” writes guitarist and dobro player Darrin Kobetich, co-founder of the stormin’ bluegrass group the Electric Mountain Rotten Apple Gang and former member of the heavy metal outfit A Million Pounds. “Commercialism (dumbing down for simple minds) will always be around to see to that.”

Do you think this change will make things better or worse or merely maintain the status quo? In other words, if you think that file sharing and MySpace have allowed great lesser-known bands to reach more potential fans, what about all the crappy music in cyberspace? Would you say that we need gatekeepers, companies (or computer programs) to filter the crap? If MySpace Records is a candidate, who’s to say the company won’t become the next Universal/Sony/Virgin and why/why not?

“MySpace is like anything else,” writes Kobetich. “I think it is useful for artists to spread their music around, though fans have to wade through the shit to find good music, just like in the ‘real’ world. Overall, I do think the internet in general is a great vehicle for independent musicians. People who love innovative music will always know where to find it, while the rest are content with turning on the radio or tv and wallowing in the crap being fed to them, accepting it as the ‘style’ of the day. If I seem a little bitter, forgive me: I’m sitting here at my desk at my day job being subjected — yet again — to mother-fucking ‘Dream On’ and much of the same mindless sludge that spills out of my co-workers’ radio tuned to classic rock.”

“I think it is great to have all these new resources for indie and no-label bands to get their music out there,” writes Janice McCall, host of “Sputnik” (Saturdays at noon on KTCU/88.7-FM). “Even if you have to sift through a few crappy [bands]. I’m not saying that some sort of ‘filter’ wouldn’t be good — it would help me find even more gems to air — but who would oversee this or choose what is good versus what is crap? Hmmm.”

“I think we, the people, are filter enough,” writes popster Jesci. “Who’s to say what is good and what is bad, anyway? People have different tastes. What I like to digest might disgust someone else and vice-versa. Bring computer programs and gatekeepers into the picture, and I think we would be talking censorship.”

“Who is to say what crap is?” writes drummer Teague. “If I want to listen to crap, it should be my prerogative. Internet media providers will inevitably become more powerful and regulatory, but I believe file sharing will remain out of the grasp of regulation for a while.”

“I hate change because I can’t keep up,” writes Blakewell. “One of the things I like about MySpace is that I can hear about new bands if I want to, though I usually don’t. As far as drowning in the crap: I think that the individual can decide whether or not they want to get bombarded with MySpace Friend requests.”

So where does all this leave bands/clubs/managers in Fort Worth/Denton/Dallas as opposed to their counterparts in other regions?

“Places like the Bay Area, New York City, and Atlanta have centralized cultural areas where people know something will be happening — not so in Fort Worth-Dallas,” writes Teague. “Bands, clubs, and promoters now have a direct line of communication unaffected by the urban sprawl here. It’s a hell of a lot easier to promote a show online and reach the entire area as opposed to driving all over town and putting up fliers that may or may not be seen. Most people check e-mail and message boards eagerly. It’s helped a ton.”

LOTS’ Peacock agrees but thinks clubs can help out, too. “I don’t feel that MySpace/the internet is affecting local clubs as much as the fact that most clubs depend way too much on the bands themselves to get the word out (advertising, fliers, promotion, etc.),” he writes. “[My bandmates and I] run into this problem frequently because we live two hours from most of the places we play in Fort Worth-Dallas, so we have little time to be passing out fliers on a workday. I bet many local musicians can relate to this. ... Any other type of business does not expect the customers to promote it. As a metal-head, I have noticed that the only clubs that promote well around here are country venues, and, as we all know, they’re all doing very well. Fort Worth-Dallas is not like Austin or other music cities where most clubs are in a central location, making it easy for musicians to promote themselves. Clubs here are too spread out, making it hard for local musicians to create any kind of scene to speak of. Now that Deep Ellum is dying, I fear that this problem will only get worse.”

“I think sites like MySpace, PureVolume, and others are a great way for artists to promote themselves, especially for the ones that are trying to do everything themselves,” writes Jesci. “It’s a great way to share information, and since it can be used to monitor popularity, it’s also an excellent tool for promoters, public relations people, labels, club-owners, and the like to gauge fan interest. What easier way to market an unsigned act or present a band’s music and profile to a record exec? I think we are living in challenging but exciting times when it comes to the music industry. Seems like anything is possible.”

“As far as club owners and bands are concerned, I still think Fort Worth has a great music scene, all its own,” writes Kobetich. “As long as there are people like Marcus Lawyer, Brian Forella, Lee Allen, and bands like Confusatron, Sleeplab, and A-Hummin’ Acoustical Acupuncture, among others, to keep things fresh, I’d say this town’s scene rivals any other in the country — period.”

The music industry is obviously changing. Please describe for me the nature of the change and what you think led to it.

Steve Steward, bassist for party-rockers Darth Vato and Weekly scribe: “The obvious answer is the rise of the MP3, which has allowed more people to make and easily distribute their music. Ten years ago, people were still doing mail order and going to shows to buy indie label comps. Now all bands need to make themselves legitimate is someone who knows how to work ProTools or whatever and a MySpace account. But this is all theoretical, because record labels should have keeled over in all of this but are still around making people listen to Nickelback and Audioslave. And slick promotion still matters more than anything else. I would have never listened to a band like Faktion, but when I saw their featured spot on MySpace, I clinked on their link, anyway.”

John Muzyka, host/producer of “Ranch Roadhouse” (Sundays at 6 p.m. on KFWR/95.9-FM The Ranch) and producer of the Brazos River Music Fest: “I think the changes have had mostly a positive effect for music. They give the general public a wider range to listen to and decide for themselves what they like, as opposed to record execs telling them what they think should be good. For the younger crowd, it’s actually become more acceptable for folks to say, ‘Hey, check out this cool stuff (that nobody else is listening to)’ rather than those same people who years ago would try to conform to what’s widely popular and call the other stuff ‘weird.’ And it has also made the industry open its eyes and almost be afraid of this independent stuff taking over. So they start opening their doors to more independent artists with broader styles of music and even production styles.”

Jayson Hamilton from rockers the cut*off: “There is a flood of music and bands. Any 15-year-old with teen angst, a computer, and a guitar can make some pretty polished recordings in his/her bedroom and then post them on a web site. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, but 10 years ago that was not possible. With the recording industry signing it’s next American Idol from a tv competition and then trying to find the next single song hero of the week, it seems like there is no interest of artist development or longevity.”

Do you think this change will make things better or worse or merely maintain the status quo?

Steward: “Record labels have finally caught on that they can make money from online music, and buying music a la carte is basically the logical conclusion of a major’s practice of pumping out singles surrounded by album filler. Beyond that, labels still have the promotional money to buy ads on iTunes or MySpace or anywhere else. If a band appears on the homepage of those types of sites, it’s not there solely on its own merits. Plus, most indie labels are owned or distributed by the majors, so there is still someone’s ledger to answer to. To sum it up, what could be a populist takeover is currently headed down the path of corporate manipulation.”

Muzyka: “I think it has gradually made the general public smarter when it comes to music preferences where they were sheltered in the past. Hopefully, gone will be the day of people’s internal voices saying, ‘Gee, if it’s played on the radio a hundred times a day, it must be good — let’s sing along and go buy it’ like zombies. They are now saying, ‘Man that sucks — why is that even on the radio?’ as they seek out something with more substance, even if it’s on some obscure web site they happen upon. Overall, it increases creativity and acceptability for music as the art form it is, rather than a commercial conduit.”

Hamilton: “We, the cut*off, used MySpace to contact fans/bands/club owners for our last tour. We even stayed at MySpace fans’ apartments on the tour. That was a tremendous help for us. Since the majority of habitual MySpacers are high school age, we will see in the next few years if their enthusiasm for lesser-known bands persists. Right now, a majority of habitual MySpacers cannot get into local clubs due to age limit, curfews by their parents, or the curfew laws that prevent them from staying out late enough to catch headlining acts. We are advocates of MySpace and file sharing because we feel that the more people that hear our music, the better.”

If you think that file sharing and MySpace have allowed lesser-known bands to reach more potential fans, what about all the crap online? Don’t you agree that we’re essentially drowning in it? Would you then say that we need gatekeepers, companies (or computer programs) to filter the crap? If so, who’s to say MySpace Records won’t become the next Universal/Sony/Virgin and why/why not?

Steward: “MySpace isn’t exactly a filter, because if you really want to hear shitty bands, you’re only two or three menus away. It does steer you toward what someone wants you to hear (via its featured music ads), but it’s not a gatekeeper. And though the exposure of shitty bands has multiplied exponentially because of MySpace, they’re easy to avoid by merely denying a friend request or ignoring an invite. For the average local band, MySpace is just another form of a flier that gets tossed in the trash on the way to a band you want to see. On the other hand, with the right marketing, it’s free networking. If you’re a good-looking kid who knows what style of clothing goes good with hardcore these days, then you can potentially have 300 fans without ever having suffered through a New Band Night.”

Hamilton: “There is a lot of ‘crap’ online, but it is the listener’s job to decided what they feel is crap and what is worth supporting. If MySpace Records becomes the next big record company, it will be with the help of the many MySpace users, which would be different from how Universal/Sony/Virgin got to the top. Our only hope would be that MySpace would continue to help, encourage, and support all types of music and lesser-known bands.”

Muzyka: “Yes, there is a lot of crap out there, but I’d rather have the opportunity to sift through the garbage and find a gem than to have a turd shoved down my throat.”

Where does all this leave bands/clubs/managers in Fort Worth/Denton/Dallas as opposed to other parts of the country?

Steward: “I think our scene here is fortunate because, though it’s fragmented, it’s still pretty organic — there isn’t this artificial hype injection like Austin has or Seattle had. In terms of perpetuating that natural growth, things like the Acoustic Mafia, the Wreck Room jams, and the speakeasy after-parties are perfect. They instill participants and fans with a sense of ‘what’s gonna happen next?’ Unfortunately, Fort Worth is not like L.A., where you can have a full house any night of the week. And the clubs tend to be sort of insular. Not only that, but there are only a couple of places high school kids can get into all the time, and that makes a big difference. They’re stuck watching their friends’ bands at the Door or national shows at the Ridglea Theater, but that’s about it. High school kids are integral to expanding the scene here, but they are pretty much ignored.”

Hamilton: “After being on tour, we see what a strong music scene we have here. Between Fort Worth/Dallas/Denton, we have a great foundation of musicians and bands. The Metroplex could be a mecca for independent artists. If one band blows up in a scene, it contributes to the rest of the scenesters. With the help of media/radio/fans, our scene could grow into something that Seattle had and what Silverlake in California is doing now.”

Local Round-Up

First off, happy ninth birthday to the Wreck Room. Just show up there this weekend for the festivities. Secondly, good ol’ J&J’s Texas Roadhouse and Blues Bar now holds the distinction of being the first local joint to make my dreams come true by bringing some zydeco to town. On Friday, the First Lady of Zydeco Rose Ledet will perform, at 937 Woodward St. (817-870-BEER). Showtime is at 10 p.m. sharp.

Contact HearSay at hearsay@fwweekly.com.

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