Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dear Music

***The following is an open letter to every label rep, manager, booker, talent buyer, producer, inducer, dealer, hustler, director, pusher, executive, or generic suit in the business of music...

Dear Honcho,

You don’t know me, without having spent some formative years in the blue hills of Southwestern Virginia, or an unhealthy dose of time in Southwestern Tennessee (better known as Memphis, better known as the Capital of North Mississippi and the Crown Jewel of East Arkansas), or at least familiarized yourself in the past several years with Nashville, Middle Tennessee, or other coordinates lying therein. Also, I went to public school.

Which is to say, I’m a particular nobody (and subsequent somebody) from Nashville, by way of Memphis, by way of Blacksburg, Virginia, by way of a belly. I’m here because me likey music. More specifically, me play music. Me play rill purty.

(That’s how people from here talk, as you know from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.)

I don't know if you market, manage, produce, engineer, buy, sell, publish, market, promote, book, or generally pimp music. I'd first like to congratulate you on gaining an office job in a hemorraging industry. I'd also like to provide insight as to why the business of music is currently in such bad shape. Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with Napster. Get the legal hounds off the bloodtrail of 13 year-olds in Akron.

I recognize, of course, that you like to make money. To many of you, that's the point. Money good, lack of money bad. I get it. But it seems to me that people invest the most in things they care the most about. Married couples invest more time in their marriages because those matter most. Runners invest more energy training for marathons because that's an important achievement. And die hard music fans spend every hard-earned buck buying rare Japanese b-sides because that band is one they care the most about.

So, in a green-eyed profit-making scheme, let's set out after music that people care about. As long as you're turning a quick buck on the Pussycat Dolls (who, by the way, ask one of the most pressing questions of our time: "Don't you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?"), even you must know that nobody, anywhere, could possibly care about them. The Black Eyed Peas currently have thought-retardant thirteen year-olds everywhere plaintively asking "What you gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside that trunk," but even you must know that none of this ad-jingle-pop-swill stands an outside chance at resonating with anyone. It is background music for while your girlfriend holds your hair back. It is modeling to a beat. It is what you throw other disposable things into. And while it might make a quick dime over a few months, it's digging a deeper hole in the long-term. It's the reason Bob Dylan is still around 40 years later and the guys from LFO just brought me a pizza in under 30 minutes. One A&R rep signed Winger and one signed Nirvana...guess which one is still working.

But you already know this, right? Right?

It might also help if we slowly, gradually, ever-so-gently weened ourselves off the groping nepotism that governs your industry. If you want to sign Jessica Simpson, that's your call. In the future, though, let's avoid draining millions into her wholly untalented (and unattractive) sister. Let's also avoid draining millions into the wholly untalented boys her wholly untalented sister is currently sleeping with. Because you know, as I do, that these aren't measured investments made on bright artists--these are cash favors. And don't nobody in America actually care about the byproducts of your favors.

Instead, there are these people whom you might look at instead. They sing their own songs, and they've actually mastered their instruments. When they write songs, they actually have something to say. They're experts, and they're driven, and they're hungry. I don't mean hungry in the figurative sense, although it may apply. I mean they've eaten three meals this week. They haven't eaten lunch this year. They get haircuts just so they can double-grab the lollipop bowl on the way out. These "artist" types have typically given you your top earnings in the past. They've also given you your best music, if that's an added incentive.

A quick caveat: you won't know these unbroken piggybanks from the "Lucrative Artist" branding on their forehead. You won't know them by the makeup they have on (because many boys these days do). You won't know them by the make and model of their jeans. You won't even know them by their haircut, although you might find Dum-Dum wrappers still in their pockets. Your best bet to find them is to go to local venues where music is played and--here's the catch--actually listen. I know, I's a pain. On the bright side, these "artists" are all over the place. They're literally everywhere. The other bonus, of course, is the fact that you actually like listening to music, which makes the screening, investing, recording, promoting, and selling process easy. Because you like music...right? Right?


A particular nobody, subsequent somebody, just like everybody,

Chris Milam
(rather than “Mill-OMM”)
(or “Mee-LOMM”)
(cause it’s not so much French)
(I’ll quit before this looks too much like e.e. cummings)


Michael said...

Amen. A-friggin'-men.

You're so Fergalicious.

Elizabeth said...

here is my non-witty comment, per your request.

Holly Capote said...


when I lived in Boston, I passed street performers everywhere and I often thought, "That voice is velvet."

And then there are those who garner airplay because they have silicon slid behind their nipples and dance like Jerry Lewis on meth. So many consumers, because they're blinded by celebrity rather than listening for something fine, settle for so little. Madonna is an interesting dancer and the quintessential provocateur, but remove the moves and the provocation and you're left with a teeny-tiny, tinny voice.

Ross K. led me to you and I'm grateful for that.

Chris Milam said...

I'm grateful to Ross, too! Thankks for reading, Holly...and keep listening to the good stuff.

All the best,

P.S. I'm not convinced that Jerry Lewis HIMSELF isn't on meth. Another time, perhaps...

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