Michele Thomas

Jazz • Music • Connection

The economy of super-stardom

I always knew that I wanted to perform. From the time I was little I daydreamed of performing before crowds. Pretty cliche, right? What was not so cliche, is that I also realized as a youth that I did not want to become famous. Famous to me meant high profile celebrity, which I was sure I could not handle! Namely because of the whole "you gotta have a thick skin" and "you'll face a lot of rejection" business. Just the thought of it gave me stress..

When I look back on that that time, I remember wondering if my aversion to fame was due to my lack of self esteem and/or actual ambition. True, I guess there was some some evidence of that. But after going to a fine arts high school, singing in numerous choirs, studying at a music conservatory and getting a degree in music - I figured the ambition argument could probably be heavily disputed. And the self-esteem thing...much of that would improve upon with just growing up and maturing. Plus it's not as if fame was ever contingent upon one's self-esteem or lack thereof. In fact, I guess one could argue that lack of it can often motivate one's ambition to be famous...

The thing is, until just a few years ago, I was working on my career with the premise that fame was the end game. It had to be. Otherwise how do you make a living at performing music? So I swallowed my discomfort with the whole fame thing and just started to deal with it. I put myself out there. I auditioned. I went to open mics. I networked in hopes of meeting the manager or producer who would discover me and propel my career into stardom.

But then I discovered a couple of things. One, I took a Myers-Briggs Personality test for the first time in my life and found out that I had strong introverted tendencies. Two, I had just begun to find out what the term "independent musician" meant and why it was becoming more and more of a movement. The first discovery put into perspective my earlier aversions to celebrity. My second discovery made me question the music industry and the business model that I had learned thus far. Was success in the music business exclusively defined by fame, or were there other options? I finally figured out there was room for people such as myself in the business.

And then being brought up in a strong gospel music heritage - and later devoting much of my young adult years pursuing a jazz career, I had pretty much been a child of the "indie" culture for years without even realizing it - considering the niche genres I was performing in.

But now, the meaning of "independent musician" is more significant than ever considering how the entertainment market has taken over the industry of making music and created an economy of co-dependence on stardom. The last thing that huge record labels, entertainment moguls and corporate sponsors want us to think is that we do not need them for a thriving marketplace - which appears to be their MO. But is it time to dismantle this structure? Has it really served the music industry all the well? When it's revealed that even the most famous musical "artists" don't make a percentage of a cent on the music they record and sell, but instead make all their income off of "everything else but" - when does this model become absurd enough to question? And how does that current model affect the rest of music marketplace?

Don't get me wrong, if in a moment of pure poetic justice, I were to be plucked from obscurity by winning a Grammy over a superstar pop sensation - I would by no means snub the chance at wider exposure and acceptance. But I would hope to continue to "guard my heart" as it pertains to my creative independence.