Dear Progarchists, as always, a huge thanks to all who read us, all who write for us, and all who make the incredible music we all enjoy.
2016 has already been a really interesting year for Prog even if we’re not quite halfway done with it. The market for Prog releases is higher than at any other time in my 48-year old adult memory. In the meantime, we see more and more complaints and fears that the market is dead or near dead. These cries of woe and despair began about a year ago, but now we see it becoming complacent in the music press. Folks such as those who made huge money in the 70s and 80s now argue that they would never make an album now, as they’d find no support from labels. I’m sure this is true, as the music market is radically decentralized from what it was in, say, 1985.
For someone listening to the music, however, all of these complains and fears seem like an incredible disconnect. After all, the type of music I enjoy is now being produced and created at a rate I’ve not seen since my childhood. I am not, however, looking at the market as a producer, merely a consumer.
Let me offer another disconnect–as incredible as CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, or 2112 are and were–much of the music coming out now is every bit as good in terms of innovation and writing, but especially in musicianship. Just this year, I can think of great releases from [headspace], iammorning, and Big Big Train that in every way rival the best of what came thirty or forty years ago, but with different sensibilities. As one example, listen to “Salisbury Giant” on Big Big Train’s FOLKLORE. And, without making it an either/or, just compare the keyboard playing of Danny Manners with that of Tony Banks. I love Banks, and I admire so much of what he wrote. Indeed, I’m a huge fan. But, be objective. Manners is not only better trained as a musician, he also brings not only innovation but a professional sensibility that Banks simply never possessed. What Banks did in 1973 is incredible, to be sure, but it’s good to know that keyboardist out there have learned from him and progressed. No real parents wants to see their children do poorly or more poorly than we did. Wouldn’t we expect a Manners to be better than Banks? And, wouldn’t we expect Big Big Train to have learned from Genesis and moved on?
If the most beloved man in my life–my maternal grandfather who passed away in the early 1980s–looks down on me, I very much hope he thinks: “I’m am so proud to see so much of myself in Brad. I’m even happier to see so much of Brad in Brad.” The same is true with my students. I’m so honored when I see my influence in a student, but I’m so much more honored when I see that student has taken what little I’ve given and made it his or her own. In other words, as much as I love my student, Hannah, I would rather see a better Hannah than a mini-Brad. Shouldn’t the same be true with our music loves?
All of this takes me back to the beginning of this somewhat rambling editorial. Yes, the market is radically different from what it was in 1985. To my mind, it’s neither better nor worse. The Internet has allowed us–as listeners–to have far more access to good music. We’re not fundamentally delimited and restrained by labels, PR folks, and radio play. Some guy in the Canary Islands now has the ability to get his album out to an audience in ways that he never could have in 1985.
And, please don’t think me insensitive. I hear all the time in these complaints, “But musicians can hardly make a living.” I don’t want to sound Darwinist, but this has almost always been true of any artist. I’ve written and published a number of books. While I’m no Stephen King, I have sold relatively well. Indeed, among authors and sales, I’ve probably done relatively as well as most moderately successful (not at the Steven Wilson) Prog artists. But, even if I made nothing from my books, I would still keep writing. I love writing, and I love the art of writing. Isn’t the same true of musicians? All artists suffer. It’s simply part of the process. Some of us make it big, but the vast majority of us make enough to keep going.
Believe me, there’s not a single Progarchist who would not do everything to make the artists we love wealthy. I’d be more than happy to see Greg Spawton and Andy Tillison and Steve Babb roll in the money! But, this lamenting that the market no longer allows the artist to make a living is really frustring for those of us out here who do what little we can to promote what we love. It’s time to reevaluate the music market. Just as music has become decentralized, so, too, has the music press.
Rant over. Let me just state: we progarchists love truth, beauty, and goodness, and we want this to continue. We wouldn’t exist otherwise. Gratitude demands that we honor those who came before us. Reality demands that we reconsider and accept the current norms of the market.
[P.S. Please forgive any typos. I’m at a conference, typing this on my iPad.]