Whitney

Why can’t we just let it be? Why do we have to dig, and ask, and stalk, and uncover the private and potentially even more heartbreaking details about the death of an icon? What is it in us that must be satiated?

I realize knowing the full story is important for us to move on, to put it to rest, but in this very sad and untimely instance of Whitney Houston’s death, I find myself simply hoping for people to leave the “rest of the story” alone.

We know she was having a hard time. We know life with Bobby wasn’t roses. We know that a superstar among superstars lives a life that 99.99% of earth’s population will never remotely understand.

Yet we can’t leave it alone. We pry. We check TMZ. We watch Nancy Grace-type “news” coverage, that, if we stop and think about it, should make us all sick during moments such as this. Look, I was just watching HLN’s coverage about Whitney, so I’m in this like the rest of us. But I continue to grow tired of it.

A good story is a good story, and the death of a musical legend in her Beverly Hills hotel room literally 24 hours before the GRAMMY Awards is a captivating story. Yes, of course. But since 99.99% or more of us cannot and will not ever understand what it was like to live Whitney’s life, I sincerely hope we can focus on the good times: her good times, and the good times she brought every single one of us.

Whitney Houston was a beautiful part of creation. She obviously had one of the best singing voices ever. Let us all pause and consider her wonderful contributions to our world. Let’s focus on the good times.

How do you want to be remembered?

Why a book?

As I’m nearing completion of my first book, I’m starting to be asked, why this book? Why this topic? Why am I so passionate about an idea such as the music industry doesn’t have to kill you?

There are many reasons, but as I consider these questions more, I’m realizing it’s mostly because I know what it feels like to be an underdog, and I know what it feels like to be treated like I’m not good enough.

The decision to actually write a book came about after months of realizing how much I loved writing, researching, and interviewing people via my music blog, Clore Chronicles. One day I was listening to C.C. Chapman talk about goals and accountability and just going for it, and one of the specific things he mentioned was writing a book. I thought, “Why the heck not? I am going to do that. I have passionate beliefs and ideas. Let’s do this.” That was in May 2010. I didn’t quite reach my initial publish goal of June 1, 2011, but I’m really close. And in this case, I view the follow-through as more important than my self-imposed deadline.

I also was getting really tired of constantly working to push out more information, via my blog, in an information-saturated world. You could say I retreated for a bit to put all of my efforts towards one huge goal: creating a book.

When I first started, I thought I could just pull together some of my better, already written essays, and have enough for a book. Nope. Not even close. By the way, there have been many highs and lows and near give-up moments in this process. I have often thought myself a complete idiot for making it known that I was going to write a book. What in the world was I thinking? I will say though, making it known has often been my motivation to keep going – I knew I would not be able to move forward after having shouted such an empty promise from the mountaintop.

As for my personal experiences which turned into motivation to create a book titled The Music Industry Doesn’t Have To Kill You, I have experienced some things in my life that have helped me identify, and pursue, what really matters. I have worked with artists that no one cares about, artists that don’t get your phone calls answered. I have seen firsthand what happens to personal relationships when the glitz and glam becomes more important than treating people with respect and dignity. I have worked with artists that “used to be” really popular and wanted, but now are struggling to find their identity and are adjusting to being treated like they don’t matter. I experienced a marriage that did not work out. That last one was huge. I went from working on the “Country music” side of Nashville to the “Christian music” side, and received some pretty hurtful comments and questions in the process.

I can’t tell you how many people around this fickle town have treated me like I’m not good enough, for multiple reasons. AND, far more important than that, I can’t tell you how many people around this town I’ve seen treated like a nobody. It is sickening.

There is nothing else I want to spend my life doing other than working in and around the music industry, but I am not going to lose my soul in the process, or treat people like they don’t count, or leave my precious child sitting and waiting for me in his playroom.

The music industry is not going to kill me. It is not going to rob my life of the people and experiences that will matter once every last light has dimmed, and the crowd has all gone home.

I am here to tell you that this is a dark, fickle and unforgiving industry. Artists will come, and artists will go, but don’t ever forget that each and every single one of them is a human being, with thoughts, feelings and emotions. Do your best not to toss them to the side when they’re not on your precious little chart any longer.

The music industry does not have to kill you, but settle in, it’s going to be a fight.

An Anti-Piracy Rant

The more time goes by, the more frustrated I get on the piracy issue. I have tried again and again to “be cool” about it and tell myself that it will be okay, it’s just part of the “new school” way of doing things and it will all work out.

But it’s not. Not even close.

I am all about sharing my stuff and passing my interests off on others, but it never crosses my mind to copy all of my crap and let them have it, music or otherwise. And they should not feel entitled to it.

Piracy is nothing new, let’s be honest about that. Not even in the music industry. But its deep, deep impact is now being felt in a way it never has. Ten years into the digital age, I see evidence all of the time that the industry I love is drastically changing. I realize many apart from the industry love that. They are “sticking it to the man” and “getting what is owed them after buying all of those terrible songs packaged with the one good one.” Trust me, I get that sentiment. But goodness gracious, at what cost?

It baffles me that people thieve music (and other digital data) at far too many corners and carry on with life thinking it will all keep coming like it always has.

Let me be clear: music will continue to be written and recorded no matter how much the music industry of the past 40 years continues to devolve. I am not naive enough to think the mass of society cares about said devolvement, but in more ways than most want to acknowledge, it will affect what music they ever become aware of.

I have plenty of issues with the whole of the music industry of which I currently make my living. It is not perfect. Not even close. One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I am one of those who really and truly loves music so deeply that I am not in Nashville to strive for filthy riches. There is truly no other industry that remotely interests me. For a while I thought I would try and work for an MLB team someday, but I realized I don’t love that industry enough to simultaneously work in it, deal with the problems, politics and injustices, and remain a true fan. I am not here to work for free, but I assure you my passion for music will sustain many a lack of ideal salary.

The Internet is the new radio. The thing is, it is far more powerful and with many more tools. Either way, it is a tremendous marketing vehicle where we learn about all sorts of new things, including music. As I write this, I am listening to a free download sampler from SPIN Magazine. Hopefully there will be a song or two that will really grab my attention, then I will very likely engage and transact with that act on some level (buying a CD, t-shirt, concert ticket, telling my friends, etc.), but for the rest that do not grab my attention, at least I was exposed to them.

Yes, one must get a product out into the marketplace through sampling, etc., but at some point free has to run out. You may get a free sample at Costco, but if you want to take more home, you have to give them your money.

Just because a transfer of (any) information can take place on the Internet, that does not mean it should be free. What is the deal with people thinking Internet actually equals free? Few things bewilder me more. I am not saying every single product in all of creation should cost something, but the bulk of products and services are not free.

I realize music needs to get better in a lot of ways, but there are plenty of absolutely amazing songs and artists coming out every year. (Have you heard The National, MGMT, The Band Perry, Kopecky Family Band, The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams, Fitz & The Tantrums, Mumford & Sons, Foxy Shazam, Marc Scibilia, etc., etc., etc.?)

If you’re getting off on sending a statement to the “evil music industry,” fine. If you don’t even realize that stealing music is wrong, get a freaking clue. Either way, keep in mind that the very artists that provide the soundtrack to your life are, and will continue to be, impacted if you never send any of your money their way.

Please consider not being paid for your work. Trust me, it sucks.

My Dolph Ramseur Interview (The Avett Brothers’ Manager)

I am a big fan of The Avett Brothers, but there’s this amazing behind-their-scenes dude that deserves significant attention. His name is Dolph Ramseur and he manages The Avett Brothers. I assure you you would want Dolph on your team if you could have him.

Dolph manages five artists, including The Avett Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops and the everybodyfields. He is the founder of Ramseur Records.

Recently I had the privilege of catching up with one of the nicest, and most effective, guys in the music industry.

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Clore: Your genuine, honest and true love and passion for music is evident in all you do. How do you maintain that spirit when you’re actually part of the music industry?

Ramseur: First and foremost I am just a fan of music. My love of music is always the first thing I take into consideration. So if you love something you try to take care of it and treat it with respect. I try and always treat music like a lady. I also don’t even think I am in the music industry. I just represent music that I have a passion for, but at Ramseur Records, we do things totally different than the norm.

Clore: Can you give us a brief history and overview of your company, Ramseur Records?

Ramseur: I started Ramseur Records in the year 2000. I started helping English singer-songwriter Martin Stephenson. He was my guide. I learned from him what to do and what not to do. From that relationship I discovered that I could start a label and management company.

Clore: How did you originally connect with The Avett Brothers, and what were some early stages of determining you would work together? What did you see in The Avetts that drew you to them?

Ramseur: My mother told me about them first. She read an article in the local paper. The Brothers and I are from the same town. I contacted the guys and they invited me out to a show. Since we are from the same town, we connected on lots of levels. We both came from blue collar families, so hard work was just something that came naturally to us. It was expected, not something we strived for. I saw in the Brothers a lot of talent as artists, performers and songwriters. From day one I thought they were one of the best bands in the world.

Clore: It has taken years of work, furniture moving jobs and countless miles on the road to get to where you all are now. What has kept you going through it all?

Ramseur: Just believing in the artists I work for is a big inspiration. Wanting to share them with the rest of the world – my love for their music. Kind of the philosophy of them being a mix tape I am making for the rest of the world.

Clore: It is nearly impossible to put The Avetts in a single, musical category (a good thing). How have you dealt with this in your years of introducing the band to everyone you meet?

Ramseur: This has been a tough thing. I am at the point where I just call them Rock-n-Roll. We have had folk rock, rock, grass in every possible way (punkgrass, grungegrass, etc….). The guys can take music so many places.

Clore: How important are core fans to The Avetts? How do you all interact with, and reward, them?

Ramseur: Very important. Besides the songs and the performances the fans have helped make the band what they are today. We try and give them the old Nascar approach. When I was a kid, Richard Petty would sign autographs until nobody wanted one. So we went with that kind of approach. We try out best to treat the fans with the respect they deserve.

Clore: What is your favorite moment/highlight during your years with The Avett Brothers, and/or your career in general?

Ramseur: With The Avett Brothers, seeing the joy they bring to the fans. I have had so many great moments like that it would be hard to single one out. With my career in general…seeing how much my kids have been exposed to music and the arts. They are only 7 and 10, but are way beyond their years with music and art knowledge. That is something you cannot put a price tag on.

For further reading on Dolph, read Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen’s industry profile of the man.

*Originally published on July 28, 2010

Remaining a fan

I am a huge fan of music. Rarely do I lose the passion I have felt for it since I was very young.

Life has afforded me the amazing opportunity to pay my bills by spending my days marketing music. I am very grateful for this. Very.

My challenge is remaining in-tune with this original love despite the cynicism that surrounds me. I am not claiming to not be cynical, but I do claim to fight it.

I moved to Nashville in 2001 to finish my (music) business degree at Belmont University. I came from a small town in Illinois where, relatively speaking, I knew a decent amount about music. At Belmont that no longer mattered as the place was full of people like me, plenty of them far superior to me in both talent and knowledge.

Either way, we all thought we had it figured out. We would graduate as executives at big music companies.

Hardly.

During this time in my life I became an asshole about music. I hate that this happened, but I am now aware of it.

I continue to learn how much I don’t know about this industry I love.

Comps and promo copies

If you’re part of the music industry, you’re likely privy to free stuff: concert tickets, CDs, downloads, merch. That’s great, and enjoy it while you can.

But, how does it impact your view of the very product/artist you are selling?

I read Seth Godin’s blog post “Watch the money” yesterday and was reminded of just how important not-free is.

If you are in the music industry, you hopefully actually love the music first and there was (likely) a time in your life when you had to part with your own money for access to the show, access to the music that has accompanied your life, etc.

When is the last time you purchased what you sell? Not your product specifically, but that of an artist you have no ties to. A new album you couldn’t grab from the product closet, or e-mail your friend across town for. A concert ticket(s) that you actually had to order and pay for, then go sit with the real people.

If you don’t have at least one artist that you will put down your own money for, please find one.

It’s easily one of the most important things you can do to make you better at your job.

Deeper on Woodstock: Politics

Especially for those of us who weren’t alive or there, the original Woodstock festival continues to take on a mythologized utopianism. Forty years later, it’s as strong as ever, and due to where its arrival fits in the continuum of time, it may be set for good.

It’s almost in and from this odd, time immemorial phase of the music industry as it’s become known today.

No, 1969 is not technically that long ago, but there were a lot of drugs used back then; and let’s face it, a lot of the people that fit the “target market” of the Woodstock of 1969 can only tell us how good it all was. Therefore, studying Woodstock is not going to get any easier. So as we live in this fortieth anniversary year of the original event, I’m reminded to learn more about August 15-18, 1969 on Max Yasgur’s Farm in New York State. That combined time-frame and location clearly changed the music industry for all of us.

To me, it’s tough to separate Woodstock and politics. There is something special about the way you can still hear culture’s voice from that era through the (thankfully) recorded music we have access to.

From his book Remembering Woodstock, by Andy Bennett.

In the original 1969 Woodstock, rock music rode on the back of the politics and not vice versa. The event was envisioned as participatory, non-commercial and counter-cultural, with music being the cultural prism for already existing social movements. Abbie Hoffman, notorious political activist of that period, saw it as epitomizing a part of an ongoing social revolution which was ‘not something fixed in ideology, nor is it something fashioned to a particular decade. It is a perpetual process embedded in the human spirit.’ Yet, of course, there were issues specific to the period: at that time, ‘the civil rights and anti-war movements engaged millions of people in the politics of direct action primarily on the strength of the issues themselves.’ In turn, the politics influenced the style and form of the music itself.

The Scapegoat

Oh, record label.

It seems to be all your fault. All your fault that we are where we are. You royally screwed it up for us, way back, and now we are left to deal with your ruin. Our industry is hurting, reeling actually, and if only you had made some different moves back in the day. If only you hadn’t invested that money, that time, those resources. If only you hadn’t done such things, we all would be way better off now.

Why were you trying to make a profit? Why were you trying to run a business? Couldn’t you see that the day would come when we wouldn’t need you anymore? When your money and services would lose their value? It would have been so much better if you had just stopped while you were ahead.

But you kept going. Artists kept coming to you. The rest of the industry continued to put their eggs in your basket, often paralyzed if you weren’t at the party.

And what was it all for? Did you really think your popularity would survive?

Did you think we would really need you in 2009?

Yes, I work at a record label. Yes, I am being extremely sarcastic. Yes, I may have somewhat of a slanted view. Yes, you may think I am crazy, old-fashioned, leaving out lots of dirty details and altogether misrepresenting history.

But, especially if you work in the industry, look me in the eyes and tell me the record labels have not played a huge role in building any sort of industry out of this crazy mess. Tell me your job is nary a result of one, or many, record labels that were in-motion far before you ever came around. Tell me about your superstar that never had label-backing.

Yeah, I know things are pretty f’d up right now, but so goes the world. Yes, I know record labels do things wrong. Keep in mind though, you don’t.

Remember, all of your decisions have been made with the purest of intent; never for money, never for career advancement, never for personal gain or fame.

As we all attempt to figure out the future, try to have some semblance of respect for a part of the equation that is still sought after, but rarely credited.

The Value of Intellectual Property

We now have an entire generation that doesn’t view intellectual property as something to be purchased. They see it as having value, because they want it. But apparently it’s no longer something they should have to give money in exchange for. Music is the primary topic here, but film, books, etc. also fall under this category.

It’s time to either keep forcing wholly ineffective lawsuits, or begin to view it all very differently. Of course the latter is no fun for the overall industry (yes, everyone), and it is going to hurt, bad. But if we continue with the former, the latter becomes increasingly more inevitable.

No question that the technology of late has really changed the game, but technology at other points in time brought the same fears, questions and uncertainties.

I would argue that the overall industry has a lot of PR repair work to do with its consumer-base. The lawsuits did nothing but hurt. To the generation that grew up seeing the post-Napster efforts of the RIAA, it’s no wonder the record labels are hated (the rest of the industry is not off the hook). 

Do I think it’s right to steal music? Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, however, we are now faced with a situation where access to thievery is so stupid easy that attempts to scare potential disc-buyers through lawsuits is completely in vain.

Dr. E. Michael Harrington, an expert witness in copyright infringement cases, copyright law professor and guy with far too many other accolades to list here (I’m working on a post specifically about him), shared the following in a 9/1/09 piece in American Songwriter called “Inside Publishing.”

“…You get the content creators always standing in the way. They’re always fighting technology. The RIAA, if they had their way, there wouldn’t be an iPod. I think I’m always going to be on the other person’s side because all these technologies have been sued – VCR, radio, TV. Everything was the end of the world as we knew it. New technology threatens business, and then later on it becomes business.”

The two following must-see videos are parts 1 and 2 from a 1979 edition of 60 Minutes, where they cover the issue of piracy in the film industry. Keep in mind, this is 30 years ago; you may find yourself laughing at multiple points. As/if you do that, consider how we will be laughed at come 2039.

Artists are at the Center

Without a performing artist, the rest of us could just stay home. The artist is truly at the center of it all. If the music industry were a wheel, the artist would be the hub and the rest of us are spokes.

In the never-ending jockeying for power among music industry types, one thing ultimately matters – what the artist wants to do. One could argue that no-name artists have no power, and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. But artists with any clout at all, and remember there are endless niches of which to exert authority, have the final say. The rest of us are along for the ride.

Sometimes a successful artist will be with the same booking agent, publicist, manager, record label (etc.) for its entire career. Sometimes no one is safe in the equation. 

If you’re not an artist, and you work (or want to work) in the music industry, one of the most important things you must do is gain the respect and trust of the artists you have the privilege to come in contact with.

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