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Respect the Suits, Bring Back the Gatekeepers!

2967724704_0b05e82d88[1]There are some in publishing who lament about how terrible it is that anyone can publish a book now. Chuck Wendig, for example, coined the term shit volcano earlier this year to express his opinion of other authors, and his attitude is shared by more than just those in publishing.

On Sunday the NYTimes published a screed by a former record store owner who wishes he could turn back the clock to the time when the major record labels were still the gatekeepers of the music industry, a time when not just anyone could record a song and share it online:

I was — and am — a music junkie.

We were on top of the world for a while, but as soon as business dropped, we blamed the “suits” at the labels. It was their fault for raising CD prices. It was their fault for reissuing the same music over and over. Now, almost 10 years after we closed the shop doors for good, every last note of recorded music is at my fingertips. No more waiting and anticipating. Just get up, pour some coffee and minutes later, every release is on your hard drive.

Quite frankly, I hate it.

As an ex-indie record shop owner, I never thought I’d say this, but I miss those suits at the major labels calling the shots and deciding what was worthy of release.

And I suppose it is wonderful, in a way, that the music of some 16-year-old kids in Chicago, say, can be heard in Malaysia with one mouse click.

But maybe this music shouldn’t be heard. The Internet has enabled anyone with a computer, a kazoo and an untuned guitar to flood the market, no matter how horrible or simply unready the music is. This devalues the great music that is truly worthy of being heard, promoted and sold. And it is much more than just an endless supply of choices. The Internet has become a forum for all, regardless of talent. Anyone can be a writer. Anyone with GarageBand can make a record.

In short this guy is saying that the mere existence of bad music reduces the value of all music everywhere, for all time.

He must not have listened to too many of the latest pop hits out this year; those pieces don’t need any help to become worthless drivel.

I would never discourage any musician, however green, from making music. But I would strongly discourage most from releasing that music just because they can. It seems like a kick to the faces of the genuinely talented and deserving, all because of a technicality called the Internet. Where are the suits when you need them?

I can answer that.

In publishing, they’re buying Author Solutions so they can scam writers in much the same way Bennett Cerf did 50 years ago.

In publishing, those suits are churning out celebrity bios one after another.

In publishing, the suits that this guy respects recently slapped a Youtube star’s name on a book which she didn’t write.

And these are the suits that are deserving of veneration?

Respect is deserved (actually, earned), in many cases, but veneration to the point of worship?

I don’t see what they’ve done to deserve it.

image by Darren L Carroll

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Daniel Vian December 16, 2014 um 3:11 pm

Good points. At the bottom line it’s capitalism. Promote a culture based on greed and what can one expect from those who control distribution and promotion? There is no fix except to change the culture. Government regulation of the arts is much worse. But the culture will change only following cataclysm–which hurts too many people and should be avoided. So what’s the answer? Just maybe the open gate of technology and the Internet is a longshot that may settle down in the future and have its own mechanism for pushing aside garbage to make room for what is worthwhile. There is no stopping new technology, so all one can do is hope things will self-correct in the future.

Paul December 16, 2014 um 3:30 pm

Part of it is that its becoming harder and harder to find good books by yourself, simply as the volume is so overwhelming. I don’t think we’ve got a good solution to that problem yet in any field (whether books, or scientific papers).

Will Entrekin December 16, 2014 um 3:38 pm

I’ve found the opposite. It’s easier than ever to find good books, because I have access to many more I can sample and then ignore after a few pages.

Thomas December 16, 2014 um 6:20 pm

These would be the same sort of record executives that thought that Duane Allman shouldn’t play guitar on his first band’s album, because it would sound better if studio musicians did that. Riiiight. These guys had such a great track record.

Rob Siders December 16, 2014 um 8:46 pm

Pah. The world this guy pines for hasn’t existed since the very early 80s. And it’s not the Internet that changed it. It’s MTV… which was created by the suits.

Hrafn December 16, 2014 um 10:12 pm

The answer to the screed-writer’s ostensible question is obvious. If you don’t like "the music of some 16-year-old kids in Chicago", then don’t listen to it! (Likewise if you don’t like torrid and turgid fanfic, then don’t read it!)

We can therefore assuming that the hypothetical " Malaysia[n]" audience is listening to it because they want to. So what’s our screed-writer’s problem? Is it that they’re listening to this instead of music that he thinks is in some way 'worthier'? The problem then seems not so much about the music’s quality, so much as the democratisation of what gets listened to. Music is apparently far too important to leave its selection in the hands of (ignorant) listeners.

Kaz Augustin December 17, 2014 um 4:42 am

Hubby and I are huge electronic music fans, in several of its sub-genres. We would never find (and buy) the richness of music now residing on our hard drives if it weren’t for the indie labels and musicians. Rhianna or Salt Tank and H.U.V.A. Network? No effin' choice, imo.

And what Will says. Samples are there for a reason…use them!

Nate Hoffelder December 17, 2014 um 7:29 am

There are whole musical genres which would not exist now if not for the internet, yes. That includes mashups like this:

I would say the good far outweighs the bad.

John Christian Hager December 17, 2014 um 7:45 am

Everybody wants to save time by only getting what they want only when they want it. Me? I’d rather make my own choices than have some gatekeeper do it for me. It takes extra time, but it’s worth it. Have you heard some of this money-printing dreck these people put out with a claim that it’s art? Should be sued for false advertising.

Here’s how it works for me: 1) listen to the song for a minute or read the first 10% of the book, 2) make a decision to keep going, 3) keep going or delete the song/book, 4) move on already, because complaining about having too many choices takes time away from choosing the stuff you like.

Let it go, let it go, let it go, indeed.

Quinton December 17, 2014 um 8:41 am

I think this guy’s rant highlights a major problem in today’s society: we want people to make decisions FOR us rather than thinking for ourselves. As John pointed out, it takes a little bit of extra time to consider and pick your own music, because of the breadth of choice out there. To me, that’s a good thing.

We could fix a lot of problems in the world if we would just stop and think for ourselves for a minute. A TV commercial says Exxon cares about alternative energies? It must be true! (that’s sarcasm) Instead of blindly following crap like that, we should stop and think, "Why would a company that makes its money off of oil be putting out a commercial that makes them look like energy heroes?" Because, if you stop top think about it, the only real reason (if you take 10 minutes to read about how Exxon works) is to give the ILLUSION that they care so you don’t hate them when you’re pumping gas. It’s just a PR campaign, not an actual effort to do something better for the world.

Stop, think, and enjoy the practically endless possibilities the internet offers. More choice is good, not bad.

Mackay Bell December 17, 2014 um 9:30 am

There are still plenty of suits out there trying to tell people what music to like. If you want to listen to them you can.

But there is no reason everyone else should be forced to. We live in a great time.

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