The Arts section of yesterday’s Tribune tackled a valuable premise—“When everybody is an artist, what happens to the art?” Unfortunately, the music coverage blew it. The Internet has obviously changed the music business in a big way, providing unprecedented access and opportunity for the eager musician, but is that necessarily a good thing, the feature asked. Howard Reich’s column on the absence of “dabblers” in jazz, while essentially accurate, was superfluous. With the exception of some fresh-scrubbed singers, image doesn’t go far in jazz; if you can’t play or don’t have strong ideas, no one’s gonna care.
Greg Kot’s bit on pop music mentions that there’s been a deluge of junk getting in the way of the good stuff, but then he gets wide-eyed about audience involvement—whether it’s getting the chance to remix a Nine Inch Nails track (oh boy!) or shooting footage for a Beastie Boys concert documentary (remember that one?). And it’s not as if the rise of the Internet is entirely responsible for this barrage of shitty music–recording and manufacturing costs dropped radically years ago, thanks to the ubiquity of personal computers. Kot concludes his piece with, “Only the most dedicated artists will be able to translate their talents into a career.” This touches on a point that’s rubbed me the wrong way for years. Why does everyone who knows how to play a guitar need to have a music career? What happened to the idea of playing music for the sheer pleasure of the act?
It’s telling that classical critic John von Rhein is the only contributor to make that point. The reason so much music sounds exactly the same is because most of the people making all this assembly-line crap have no business foisting it on an uncaring public. It’s become the exception to the rule for a band to focus on playing gigs before they think about making an album, and the Internet has only made it worse. I love the Internet for the access it’s given me to all sorts of great music from all over the world, but there’s no question in my mind that it’s cheapening music as an art. Hell, it’s cheapening people as people—we’re all becoming products.