Trying To Get To You

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Of Dreams And Chasing Pavements

In August of 1987, I was in Washington state, spending the month mountain climbing. I was sixteen, a music fanatic and an indifferent student (at best). I didn't fit in socially in high school, and it was beginning to dawn on me that whatever the "normal" path was for most upper middle class suburban kids, I wasn't really going to enjoy "normal" too much.

The month of mountain climbing was broken up into two trips; the first trip was a ten day backpacking trip and the second was a 9 day climb of Mt. Baker, a 10,000+ foot peak in Northern Washington. We finished the first trip and had a three day layover to shower, get resupplied and do laundry. I picked up a copy of Rolling Stone (the cover was "The Best 100 Albums Of The Past 20 Years" - they were celebrating an anniversary; can you believe it?) and in the front of the magazine was an obituary for the legendary A&R man John Hammond, who through the course of his 50+ year career, had signed (among others) Bessie Smith, Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. I read the long obituary and was completely inspired. I looked up, looked back down again at the magazine and declared, "That's exactly what I want to do."

Since that day, my entire professional life has been in the pursuit of that goal and I've been fortunate enough to actually live my dream out. I've worked at several labels, done A&R and signed a couple of terrific artists who made albums that I am very proud to have worked on. More importantly, I've met some incredible people and have made lifetime friendships in the process. It's been a great ride.

I got let go from my job doing A&R at Island Def Jam in the summer of 2006. I wasn't that upset about it - I had ceased to feel like I belonged there. But what I wasn't prepared for, and only now have really begun to come to terms with, is that the job I dreamed of is dying as a possibility. Who I dreamed of being - the A&R guy discovering, shaping and promoting great musicians and then having it impact peoples lives and popular culture in a significant way, the way Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Aretha, James Brown, Dylan and Springsteen did; well, that is simply going by the wayside (especially in a rock context). It's not dead yet, but it has been diminished substantially. We live in a Long Tail world and in an era of audience fragmentation. Artists don't need the "yes" of a music executive to produce, promote and release music. Consumers have far more choice in how (or if) they purchase music. Overall, I'd say those things are good developments. But it has decimated my livelihood for the time being, and the livelihoods of a lot of people.

I'm writing this because I'm at a crossroads in my life. I still make money from music, although nothing even in comparison to what I made a couple of years ago. And I'm still just as committed to music; my passion is perhaps even greater now than it was when I was a teen. This blog is a reflection of that. I will never be cynical about music and what it can be for people. I was a very lonely child, and music took away much of that loneliness and made me know that there was a world out there for me to discover and find my place with.

But I want to make a living. A real living. Now. And I honestly don't know if the music business is the right place for me to do it anymore. I don't know if it isn't, but I don't know if it is. So I am in a place of major uncertainty as I write, and that place keeps having me hear Adele's "Chasing Pavements" in my head. It's a song by a new British artist who is emerging in the wake of Amy Winehouse. Adele is far sweeter and seemingly more innocent. But "Chasing Pavements" is hitting home the way that for me, only a song can. There's a sadness and a weariness in the song, along with a steely determination to keep going, all the while wondering whether the chase is worth it. Today, I can really relate.


Simone said...

This is really well-written. A lot of us can identify... I have found a small, good place in the industry, but it may not last, and if it fell through, I'd be at a loss.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to my world, friend. After more than 25 years in this thing we used to have, as Hesh used to say, I get sad thinking there's no place for me in it any longer. Fortunately, I have found a way to make a living albeit that it's far afield and the money is punk, to say the least but I still get a huge buzz finding and hearing new music. My sense is that the next couple of years are going to shape how the future will look and hopefully there will be a 'long tail' of potential employment for the likes of people like you and me. This is great writing Ben and I encourage to stay in the pocket with it.
Your brother in arms,

Mandyleigh Storm said...

Great and insightful post. I hope you can find your way through the quagmire that is the current music industry, as you seem to be one of the rare ones that actually cares about the music.

Anonymous said...

Again you've inspired me to write beyond what can be contained here; I've posted at Fusion 45. (I gotta stop reading you during business hours.) Godspeed in your search and to your exploration of the true meaning of soul, I say "namaste".

Anonymous said...

odd how just scanning the web for the word soul..i came across your page deep in google pages..and this article.. many of us in a similar place of uncertainty ..and with it contemplation ..someone said to me recently , your talent will find space for you..whether thats in a job as we have been used to ..or as a hobby on our blogs ..the soul flame will remain..(using my blog as music/business card)..but not posting to keep purity of post