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How do you change the way an entire culture views music?

How do you change the way an entire culture views music?
Photo by Keith Tyler

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Have you ever had a goal so big no one in the world could accomplish it?  I mean a BIG goal like solving world hunger, peace in Palestine, or getting Firefly back on the air?  Well, just because no one’s ever been able to do something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.  Wanna hear my ridiculously big goal?  I want to see music put back on the throne where it belongs in our culture. Everyone we know has a favorite song.  Music is magically transformational.  Yet we see our world wallpapered with assembly line noise that panders to the lowest level of cultural engagement.  Music is simultaneously undervalued and overhyped.  Maybe it’s a little bit like sex in that way; the power of it is undeniable, but it has somehow become almost disposable. 

Artists see the world like no one else can.  It’s our job to take that view of things, chew it up, and feed it to everyone else in digestible chunks like baby birds.  We feed the world with the solutions to its own problems and no one even notices.  Joseph Campbell once said that art LEADS culture.  It’s not the politicians, ruling class, or scholars who point the way forward…but poets, painters, and music makers.  So why are legitimately gifted musicians standing in line for a crappy record deal dangled over their heads by people that will likely violently reject them and who work for an organization whose sole reason for existing is television ratings?

The reason that music is in trouble isn’t because artists believe lies about how successful careers are made, it’s because they believe lies about THEMSELVES.  Artists think they belong in the shadow of someone else’s approval.  They feel grateful for the table scraps of an industry that is as dysfunctional as Wall Street and as deluded as Jersey Shore.  They’re willing to put their creativity aside just for the privilege of playing tired songs to drunk people for wages that have not increased for the same type of gig in 30 years.

So here are some ways to work towards the goal of reversing how our culture values art.  Stop blaming Clive Davis.  Stop blaming Clear Channel.  Stop blaming club owners.  It’s as futile to fix the system that misuses artists as it is to send a street pimp to prison.  There will be two new pimps waiting to take his place.  You fix things by helping the prostitutes believe they’re worth a damn.

When I produce bands, I don’t focus on the success of the product, I focus on the health of the people in my studio.  I make sure every artist knows they have my respect, support, and gratitude.  I help them to release self doubt and fear.  I encourage them to give themselves permission to be amazing.  I help them believe they’re worth a damn.  How do you change the way an entire culture views music?  One rock band at a time.