It’s been swift in more ways than one- the rise and rise of fabulously popular and successful singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, 25, who’s gone from being almost a serial “dumpee” whose queue of short-lived romances have led to a series of Big Hurt songs, to now being hailed as something like the Joan Of Arc of the music industry for taking on Apple and winning.

Whether this has been all her doing- and she has to be a very smart young lady- or savvy management is beside the point. At a time when the music industry needed someone, or something to shake things up- the visual of Ms Swift’s dancing on “Shake It Up” just popped into my head, which is not good for the psyche- Taylor Swift has come along and taken ownership of this preoccupation with the streaming of music and created some big waves. It’s made her bigger than Jay Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West and Jurassic World, combined.

Cynics might call it opportunist, and even a planned move by Apple and Taylor Swift to pave the way for a marriage of convenience to be unveiled by both sides in the next few months, whereas I sit back and think, What about the music? Where’s it all gone, and did I prefer it when Taylor Swift was writing and recording her Fuck you songs to everyone from John Mayer to Joe Jonas and Harry Styles?

The music media landscape today has changed so much that it’s non-existent. Rock writers like Greil Marcus, the amazing Lester Bangs, Dave Marsh, and those exclusive interviews conducted by Cameron Crowe, Ben Fong-Torres and Jon Landau etc brought us closer to the artists.

It was intelligent, creative, knowledgable, personal writing that inspired us as much as reading liner notes by Nat Hentoff or Ralph Gleason. They gave the music they wrote about greater validity because they knew the artists.

These writers were confidantes to Dylan, to Lennon, to all the bands that were happening. They wrote from first-hand knowledge through hanging out with rock gods and demons. It’s what still makes “Almost Famous”, Cameron Crowe’s reflections as the youngest writer for Rolling Stone and his tight relationship with Led Zeppelin, so damn believable. He was there in the Then and Zen.

They were not dweebs like Perez Hilton and those sycophants on E! who rely on manufactured gossip that’s then unloaded these days to a gullible public happy to lap it all up like dogs in heat and in the throes of absorbing everything and nothing until they’re bloated with vapid puffery.

Through those iconic Rock writers- and the good Dr Hunter S Thompson must be included- we became part of the music created which, whether good or bad, meant the startup of music companies, many, thankfully, led by visionaries like Ahmet Ertegun, Chris Blackwell, Berry Gordy Jr- though he screwed many a musician- and Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, and, with it, a MUSIC business.

Today, the music is just another business reported on by business writers. There is no heart or soul to it, something reflected in most of the new music out there, which is why those of us who need that fix of words that rhyme and melodies that bind and take us to places where darkness shines through the outskirts of town like thundering hooves galloping through our restless hearts and minds often have us being time travellers to a much more simple time.

We didn’t need google or Wikipedia to lead us there. It happened through what we heard, what we saw, and, mostly, through what we felt. And then we shared all this good stuff by actually lending someone a record.

Remember vinyl? Remember lending records never to see them again? Remember selling your classic vinyl record collection for a few bucks ‘cos the girlfriend or wife said they were taking up too much room? It’s the only time I wish there was an Amazon- the online site and not Xena.

Sometimes, too much “sharing” on social media reduces many things to nothing more than overkill. Being “niche” or “exclusive” has its time and space as its part of that excitement of being the first to discover an artist and then try and find out all about them through their music- their experiences put into words and which made them wonderful troubadours and storytellers.

Today, the whole world discovers everything and everyone together. We move from one thing to the other as if at a hotel buffet that’s about to close. As we think it’s about to close, we quickly gorge on as much as possible and then forget what was inhaled an hour later as there is dinner to think about. No matter how many fitness centres we visit and no matter how many green coffee bean diets we go through, often we are mental gluttons. Or just Mental As Anything- a good band, by the way.

Are we fulfilled? Really? Or have we been conditioned to Instagram everything while leading faked out Facebook lives, where the bad and the ugly is never shown as it’s all about keeping up pretences- phoney lifestyles, phoney relationships and phoney “likes”. It’s often an online gathering place for lemmings.

As for the great Taylor Swift/Apple debate- and the “win” for artists to be paid a token fee by Apple for the streaming rights to their music, is this really a first step towards something better, or is it a step that should have been taken years ago by the entire music industry against those pimping it today for their own financial gains while holding all the cards?

Why are they holding all the cards? No one in the music industry were being good gatekeepers. They rolled out the red carpet for the Trojan horse, Pandora’s Box was opened and music companies became slaves and running dogs and bitches to technology and technology has become the idea- the idea and starting point for everything. The tail is wagging the dog furiously.

Why hasn’t U2 made a decent record since “Joshua Tree”? They’re now creepy old businessmen rolling in the deep with Apple.

Why hasn’t an amazing producer and engineer like Jimmy Iovine stopped making music? Because with Dr Dre, he knows there’s more money in the corporate worlds of Beatz and-again- Apple.

Why is Pharrell Williams so damn happy? Always the entrepreneur and a savvy music marketer as opposed to being a brilliant musician, his empire grows as he, too, is given a bite of that Apple to make his garden of Eden grow.

 

 

Nothing wrong with any of this as businesses will always be marriages of convenience. Ironically, however, those who don’t have a say or role in any of all this purported “progress” reported by a business media- not a music media as this died long ago- are the music fans- the consumers who keep all these mega artists becoming more mega and being saps for apps and, yes slaves to everything technology throws their way.

The right to pick and choose what’s really needed as opposed to often being force-fed the totally unnecessary escapes us way too easily.

We have become used to being mesmerised by bullshit- in politics, in sports and in music by ageing musicians and others in the entertainment industry once held in high regard. Sadly, many have become charlatans, and this entire “Swift Apple” game of publicity has achieved nothing for the new artist out there making music in the hope!that it will be heard without having to put aside all pride and go with the flow of performing for free at “music conferences” attended by the usual lineup of wankers, or saying, to hell with it, and joining one of those television karaoke competitions where people vote on music based on what someone looks like. Dylan, Lennon, Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder wouldn’t have even made it past the auditions.

As Taylor Swift and her management realise, Apple is here to stay and is the most powerful platform for musicians- and from everything seen in recent years- mega artiste. Sure, that’s just good business sense: Partner with the biggest names with the largest fan bases to sell to the most number of consumers. An Apple a day…

As, however, a company that grew from humble beginnings to what it is today, Apple has absolutely nothing to lose by creating an exciting new delivery platform, where a form of “filtering” will give new musicians out there another “voice” so they, too, can rethink their business strategies to make money from their art.


While Apple continues to reinvent itself, do today’s musicians?

There is a need for this “voice” so that it can be heard over the clutter and cluster of streaming, which, to me, has devalued music along with the art of creating videos for this music, and the lost forest that is iTunes where everything might be “available for downloading”- but who’s to know?

Some things very simple have been allowed to become unnecessarily complicated, whereas there’s something very hollow about what some seem to read about and believe are “victories”.

Hans Ebert
Founder, Racingb*tch
Chairman and CEO
We-Enhance Inc, Fast Track Global Ltd
www.fasttrack.hk

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