Michele Thomas

Jazz • Music • Connection

One Woman Mission...A Music Industry That's Actually For Musicians

My elation over Esperanza Spalding's Grammy win is evident in my multiple posts (Facebook) - but they actually reveal a deep-seeded agenda of mine....

I'm sure that it's obvious that many of my posts over the past year have an underlying theme about the independent artist movement within the music industry. Moreover, my desire to see an ultimate change in the music industry has to do with bringing balance to what has otherwise become a commercial monarchy - where fame rules all leaving a wide disparity between the professional "haves" and "have nots". Or where the major record labels and entertainment conglomerates represent the monopolizing corporate machine and the independent music industry is "small business". (Definitely in need of some government subsidizing!)

I could be over-exaggerating my metaphor here, but it's really hard for me not to see the similarities.

What I have experienced over the lifetime of my career are the crippling affects of this kind of industry model. Pursuing a music career is hard enough as it is. Not many other professional pursuits are viewed with such skepticism and ambiguity as that of the performing arts. (Neck and neck to the visual and graphic arts...) Generations of parents have discouraged their children from chasing dreams of their artistic ambitions because the idea of creating a livelihood out of their talent was inconceivable, or at the very best, a wager with impoverishment...

And then you've got the so called "business" side of a music career. One of my brothers always used to tell me, "The music business is 95% business and 5% music!" Sounded insightful, until I realized that most of the "business" that's made nearly always resulted from the exploitation of the artist and not in direct partnership with the artist. Moreover, the "business" of music remains largely ambiguous to the musical and general public alike! I wish there was a clear path on how to get "promoted" in my career, with a list of attainable little tips like, "stay a little later at the office!", or "do some extra projects to score points with the boss!". (Sorry, more metaphors!) Sadly, tangible conventions such as this don't exist for the music professional. Viable business models for individual music professionals never seem as clear as for those working in the most prevalent career fields.

All this to say that - with the perception of a "career in the music" having been an oxymoron for so long, coupled with the brutal dichotomy between fame and obscurity that are the pillars of the entertainment industry, but have little to do with artistry, skill or craft...where is the middle ground?

I don't have to be Donald Trump in order to be successful in real estate, yet I'm expected to be the next Beyonce or Lady Gaga in order to ever have a solid career in music!

Esperanza's win presented more than just a lesson about popularity vs. substance. I really think it can be a teachable moment to the world and an opportunity for dialogue about what quantifies true professionalism in the music community. Notice I didn't say "what quantifies true talent" because there's got to be something more than that involved. Talent by itself is left up to far too much subjectivity - leaving all those who have the slightest modicum of musical aptitude to get by with just that and a slick haircut. No....let's stop the madness and help foster an actual marketplace for music professionals where fame and celebrity are not the single aspects that drive the industry!

So what's my plan? I've got Esperanza in my Google Alerts and with every great article I find, I'm going to post it along with a quote from the article that I deem discussion worthy. Your comments are welcome, but even more so, spread the discussion by posting to your pages as well. And this is not limited to my music colleagues either. This discourse is just as significant, if not more so, to the fans of music because you are not only consumers, but your support determines who and what is represented in the industry. Just think about it...