Thursday, January 14, 2021

One Further Point to Add to Last Night

This morning, I started looking through emails that come to my freelance writing account and realized there was another point I wanted to make in my previous entry that I totally forgot. I just casually mentioned the idea of starting to hate music, which of course was a strong way of saying that I'm souring on the sheer amount of music that I read about each day, which is sent to me under the naïve idea (clueless?) that it's something that I'd be interested in writing about. 

Several years ago, I wrote for Blurt, which started out as a print magazine that rose from the ashes of Harp, a magazine dedicated to a more progressive/indie rock-plus-more type of music. It was a little closer to Magnet than Alternative Press. Anyhow - Blurt published a few issues and then moved to web-only. It's still alive, and as far as I know, it's helmed at least in part by the great Fred Mills, a writer who seems to have an unending enthusiasm for music, which kept me going during those times when checks or recognition were in short supply. 

I haven't written for Blurt in about five years, not due to any animosity but because it was hard keeping another freelance hustle going. The door was still open as far as I could tell. And, I'm still on their masthead, which leads me to my next point.

I know I'm still on the masthead because I continue to receive emails addressed "Dear Blurt," occasionally. The ones I receive the most often start off with "Hi, Shanley." Don't get me wrong - I'm used to being called by my last name. There are plenty of Mikes out there and if you're not going to call me "Mike Shanley," I'm fine with being addressed by the last name. Having worked at a place where last names don't really exist - or they get switched out for the name of the department in which you work - being called "Shanley" feels like someone knows me a little more and  we've made a few steps  in our friendship. 

However, someone who yanked my contact info must have thought Shanley was my first name, and Writer was my last name. (It's my email address.) They didn't bother to get to know me, or figure out who I am. Overall, not a big deal. It generates an internal chuckle when I see it. Occasionally, I'll write back and tell them my full name, which usually generates a quick apology. Still, that's not enough to raise the hackles and make me start to hate the music industry. 

What kills me is the endless parade of oh-so-personal, trying-to-be-deep stories of artists who have had music save their lives, writing songs about being in a dark place after a relationship fell apart but finally realizing that you need to let go and once you let go, you can fly in the sky and see sunshine and hope. And maybe a unicorn or two, which will take you on a magical ride. The last part was completely made up on my part, but I've seen countless variations on the other themes in a lot of promotional emails. This is not to say that these people haven't suffered through dark times or felt worthless when they were abandoned by a lover, or when things didn't work out as we planned. We have all felt that way at one time or another. Which is exactly my point. These p.r. flacks need to stop peddling these stories like they're unique, and haven't been heard a million times before.

I'm not trying to be heartless and cold. When you have these feelings, life sucks. It's hard to get you back up on your feet again. But somewhere I feel like there is a fleet of p.r. people hustling aspiring performers into paying them all kinds of money with the promise that they will get their song (and it's usually a song, rarely an album, since today's attention span can handle that) out to people and get it a million plays on Spotify. Which means they'll have enough money to order extra toppings on their pizza on Friday, if they're lucky.

During the '90s and early '00s, a lot of independent p.r. companies sprouted up as more and more  bands started releasing material. A lot of them were really good at their jobs, having come to this work out of college radio, indie fanzines and/or their own bands. Their passion came across in their releases and they helped get the word out about bands that deserved greater attention. While working at a couple local alternative press weeklies, I started paying closer attention to mailings from certain companies, figuring that what they sent me must be pretty good, or at least worth a listen, given their roster of artists.

As time goes on, there are more people making music and more people clamoring for attention. And more people see the opportunity to push these young hopefuls. But the quality of the p.r. seems to cater more to Cosmopolitan readers than to readers of Blurt. It's much more generic and less about individuality. Even before COVID made it impossible to go out and perform live, a whole lot more people were doing home recordings before they really had anything to say. Part of me feels like these musicians and singers are being tricked into thinking they're something that they're not.

If you read the previous blog post, you'll see that I admitted that I'm less informed on independent pop/rock music that I am about jazz these days. So maybe I'm off base about this. Or maybe my age is just showing. Or it could be that this general shift toward "My music is powerful because I'm passionate about what I do" has pushed me away from that music in the first place. 

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