Music as a Human Need and Professionalism/The Music Industry

The following is a short letter to my friend, Elijah; a part of a discussion we were having about the up-cropping of services like PMP Worldwide []* that allow producers to sell/license beats online.  The beats go for as little as $25 US!  In my opinion, the popular notion of rockstardom; that a very fortunate [very]* few can ‘make it’ and become wealthy by slapping together some samples and synths and/or by buying said beats and vocalizing along with them; is threatened by this commodification of music production.  And whether I’m correct or not, it is an interesting topic for discussion.


My opinion is that [much of the time,]* music, ultimately, is [and in many cases should be]* a commodity**, and that very successful musicians are [usually]* overpaid***… And people should be able to, more or less, make a living doing what they enjoy, even if it’s making beats that aren’t that remarkable… And when the dream of becoming a superstar is dead, many people who are making art for the “wrong reasons”**** will stop making it. So ultimately it will be a good thing because there will be less crap and a higher proportion of creators who are actually driven to do it by inspiration, rather than doing it solely for fame and fortune.

Wedding/Cover Bands and DJ’s are evidence of how regional and/or less substantial talent is adequate for many of the purposes that music is used for (the popularity of Karaoke is interesting in this respect too). [In most cases,]* these are musicians***** who make a blue-collar salary or less doing what they do, so it’s likely that many of them do it because they enjoy it.

And I’m in the camp that music belongs to everyone, and isn’t something that should be only ‘left to the professionals…’ In the old days (pre-record-industry), music was something people did together in their homes with their families, at social events, and at church Etc… And this has largely gone away… We need it back because making music, especially as a group, fulfills some sort of deep-seeded human need. I suspect that singing, chanting, harmonizing and/or making rhythm with others has always been a spiritual experience for humans.

Actually, some research suggests that music originates as long as 60,000 years ago, along with visual art and religion.

I feel like the disappearance of participatory music from our culture, largely because of the existence of capitalist industry, is probably a very bad thing for us. And I also feel like, in general, creating art, as an individual or as a group, whether it’s journal-keeping***** or wood-carving*****, graphic design*****, or a church choir*****, is a basic human need.  I believe it makes us healthier people in many ways: Execution and mastery, introspection, meditation, as well as social benefits and [probably many more benefits that I’m not able to pull out of my ass at the moment]*.


*The brackets [ … ] are just where I made some basic edits to my original letter.  Don’t let it get to you.  It’s not a sign from Yahweh or anything.

**By ‘commodity,’ I mean that in most cases, music serves a utilitarian purpose.  People that want to dance, will dance to just about any dance music that fits into their idea of what is “danceable.” Music is often used to set a mood in a room, and in this way, it could be compared to lighting (the particular lamp doesn’t matter, as long as the desired effect is achieved).  I realize that this a slightly controversial idea, especially to people who make music and consider themselves artists.  But I’d argue that in most cases, artistic merit is not required for music to serve its purpose.  Churches don’t usually kick out the bad singers from their fellowship.  I can think of a lot of music that I’d consider highly creative or artistic that I don’t want to listen to while driving. And I can think of a lot of music I consider very artistic that I don’t want to listen to at all, ever.  Also, there’s a lot of ‘dumb’ music that’s enjoyable or fun.  And besides, what is considered artistically significant to a listener is subjective and probably largely the result of the listener’s cultural influences. For instance, I don’t suppose many white, english-speaking people who’ve grown up in the USA are able to discern the relative artistic merit of various mariachi bands.  So let’s not let ‘artistic merit’ get in the way.  Most of the time, music is a commodity.  

***Overpaid?  Says who?  OK, well let’s just get it out of the way that I’m probably a Socialist.  Whether or not someone can be overpaid is something that we can argue about later.  If you find that idea completely offensive, then I probably don’t want to be your friend, and I think you should give all your money to the poor.

****The ‘Wrong Reasons’ for making music or other art is something we can argue about later.  ‘Wrong’ is probably the wrong word to use.  Most people, I think, will understand what I mean by this and agree that there are ‘wrong reasons’ even if it sounds silly to suggest that people shouldn’t just make music, or paint, or write, or whatever, for whatever reasons they have.  It might be easier to think about this in terms of food.  Is there a wrong reason to make food?  Maybe it’d be better to say ‘for reasons that doom the outcome to failure.’  Imagine cooking, only for the sake of using up a gallon-sized can of Nutmeg. Is that a horrible analogy?  I don’t know.  I’m sorry for saying ‘wrong reasons.’  I was in a hurry and I was having a hard time thinking of a more elegant, less naive-sounding way of wording what it is I’m getting at by using the phrase.  Help?

***** I’m really not in the mood to argue with anyone about whether or not DJs are musicians.  And I’m also not in the mood to argue about the difference between art and craft, or ‘fine art’ vs. folk art.  For the sake of moving on with our lives, let’s just lump it all in together, at least for today.  OK?


Monkey Puzzle Tree on McHenry Avenue in Modesto (Araucaria Araucana)

In the late Eighties and early Nineties when my family lived in Modesto, CA, my best friend and I used to regularly ride our mountainbikes up and down Modesto’s McHenry Ave (the main drag of that town), and there used to be this giant tree, which I later learned is called a Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana).  It looked like Madusa.  And this was a very well manicured tree, having the approximate size and shape of an old Oak Tree.

I recently went on google street view and tried to find the tree, but it appears to have been removed.  Ugh!  One of the only good things about Modesto is gone.

I searched and searched online for any evidence that this tree once existed, and found nothing.  There’s no one talking about it.

I’m writing this so anyone else who is wondering about that tree might at least find this.  Yes, it was there.  No, I don’t have any pictures and as far as I know, there aren’t any anywhere online.

It may have been in the ‘McHenry Village’ shopping center (strip mall), but I’m not sure.

Please comment if you know where it was, or if you have anything else to say about it.

These trees can live to be a thousand or more years old.  They are considered ‘living fossils,’ since they have been around since dinosaur times.  They are only native to small regions of Latin America, and they are Chile’s ‘National Tree.’