The State of Prog, June 2016

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.]

4 thoughts on “The State of Prog, June 2016

  1. LOVED Reading this Brad!!! Wise-words,from a Wise man!!! Instead of speaking DOWN to your audience,You instead………….speak HONESTLY,from your OWN experiences,and tie that into this post,in a great way!!! Well-done Sir-Brad!!! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Michał

    Indeed, Brad, the same here: I would be making music even if nobody wanted to listen to it. I am trying to make it the best I can, given the limited abilities I possess, but whether anyone would like it is not up to me.

    Money has the advantage of giving you access to possibilities (e.g. recording studios) otherwise unavailable. But I just don’t see myself thinking about music in terms of profit. If I had to write music for money – writing songs that would have to be tailored to fit this goal – well, I could as well make money in any other job – the frustration would be the same.

    It works both ways, I don’t care how much an artist earns as long as the music is good and honest. I would gladly see all my favourite artists rich men and women but there are so many variables that influence popularity and success that it’s just not possible.

    I am glad to see the market decentralized and it’s funny to observe how the major old-time players keep trying to convince us that nothing has changed. Let’s see: people are willing to pay for music distributed for free. Among my favourite bands there are ones that have an audience of next to no-one. There are major artists (a term I use sarcastically in this case) in Poland who sell much fewer CDs despite aggressive mainstream media promotion than completely unknown ones with a dedicated fanbase. Riverside is one of the best-selling bands without mainstream ads. Nothing has changed? They wish!

    Some more time needs to pass for the decentralization to be complete, but the direction is obvious.

    Rant over;)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Frank Urbaniak

    Brad, good post and comments. The issue for many is that the out of pocket spend limits how often and what you can produce. When Spotify weekly streams outnumber total CD sales you know you are fighting a losing battle. Why buy the cow when the milk is free? So to continue many musicians either record completely at home, record less often, spend endless nights on the road (not an option for some bands), distribute digitally only (bands at Rosfest told me they are selling half the physical CDs they sold a few years ago), reduce promotion (even a quarter page magazine add costs $200+ in well read magazines) or all of the above. Just basic promo, physical CD production in limited quantity-say 500, website costs with online purchasing, mailing costs to Europe for US produced product, etc. can cost thousands of $. Without sales or a winning lottery ticket it is a tough sell on the home front for those with family commitments and college bills.

    Bands like Riverside have toured like crazy and built a following over many years. BBT did a lot of things right including having the patience and support team to produce the highest quality sound out there today. I love them both and am thrilled for their success. There are lots of great new bands for sure, but the ease with which you can produce digital music might be diluting the market a bit. The Prog Dr. told me he gets hundreds of CDs a year that are unlistenable.

    But not to whine-the fact is that producing music is a great rush-there is nothing like it. The guitarist for 3RD Degree told me at Rosfest that being a musician is like skydiving. You save up for the thrill, (record and release the CD), jump and land (get the reviews) and immediately start saving for the chance to do it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. carleolson

    Good post, Brad. The same is true, from what I can tell, for most jazz artists. In recent decades there have been many articles declaring the Death of Jazz. And yet the number of albums being produced (many of them directly by artists) continues to grow. I read four jazz magazines a month, plus several sites, and I cannot even begin to keep up with the output, even though I follow jazz like Brad follows prog. Of course, only a small percentage of jazz musicians can support themselves through albums and playing alone; many of them teach in some setting or another. But, for us music lovers (who have zilch musical ability), the menu and quality of the fare is astonishing. And it seems as if the same can be said for prog.

    Liked by 2 people

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