Somewhere amongst the hundreds of quandaries that float around my noggin on a daily basis is this: ‘why don’t musicians function more like actors?‘
Let me clarify.
Actors are basically professional bachelors. Their allegiances are strictly to the best roles, scripts and paychecks. None of them are tied down to having to work with the same set of collective people movie-in-movie-out [although the Depp/Burton working relationship comes close..]. This kind-of same director / same cast approach would be considered repetitive and boring in the movie world after a few mundane outings and we would stop backing it with our pennies and popcorn sales; so why is it the absolute norm in the music world?
In the music world, we start our bands with a handful of friends/people and we tend to stick with this cast throughout our entire creative musical life. This ain’t no bachelor life though; this is a fully-fledged sexless marriage from day one. The cast remains the same with subtle variables such as producers, studios and instruments – but for the most part, the career trajectory is going to be defined by a brigade of similar minds given that 99% of bands get together based on common genre adoration, personal common ground and musical ideals. Put it this way: if your creative ensemble consisted of four Ridley Scott’s, you’re unlikely to end up with a Romantic Comedy or a Western, you know?
Why then, hasn’t an industry sprung up based around a musician marketplace? One in which talented musicians have no solid allegiance to any single band, but are simply employed by other musical curators and producers for projects, albums and tours that are set within a predefined period of operational time. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time, but i definitely think it’d be an interesting avenue to at least explore. This model would drastically improve the quality of the music world due to the sheer competition for roles vs. the current safety and comfortability of being the presidents of our own little musical universes – we would all have to up our game in order to stand a chance of even getting an ‘audition’ for one of these big projects. Likewise, the diversity of these projects and the potential for new genres to perpetually pop up is a very real scenario – especially if your project comprises a metalhead singer, jazz drummer, DJ, blues guitarist and funk bassist.
I know that the money available in the movie industry absolutely dwarves that of the music industry, so let’s start with an example of popular musicians who would very likely generate a hefty financial return using this idea …
Rob Cavallo[Super Producer of Green Day and Paramore] has gotten a generous budget from a willing [and able] record label for a new Album and Tour project. Himself and the participants are getting a very generous paycheck and % of sales, concert revenue and merchandising. He’s calling the project ‘Rocketship‘and he has managed to hire:
Billie-Joe from Green day on Vocals/Guitar Hayley from Paramore on Vocals Slash from Guns ‘n Roses on Lead Guitar Flea from RHCP on Bass Travis Barker from Blink182 on Drums
Now, doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to see and hear even out of sheer curiosity? It’s a simple one year, one album, one world-tour commitment and after it’s done they’ll all go back to their regular bands and/or start working on the next project with a fresh set of faces. Not only does it make the project super unique, but the subsequent tour will likely be the only time this ensemble will grace the stage as a single creative powerhouse – a surefire way to drive ticket sales, especially when it will be appealing to the fans of multiple bands represented by individuals in the lineup. One point i’ll be driving home a few times in this post is that i’m not suggesting that this idea will replace the standard band lineup, for one thing, there would be no commercial value in any of the five people listed above if it weren’t for their traditional bands. No, i’m suggesting that this ought to be an avenue that runs parallel to standard bands. In my mind, i can envision the world and i love the sound of it.
I know i’m shooting big with this fictitious lineup, but it’s just to make my point as clear as i can manage with the tiny amount of coffee my day has blessed me with thus far. It would bring a real excitement back to the music industry because suddenly we’d be constantly hearing of new projects popping up with incredibly gifted and diverse folks. The rumour mill alone would breed a tangible air of excitement because you’d never know the audio combinations that are currently formulating projects behind closed doors. Seeing Steven Tyler, Ryan Adams and Madonna having lunch in LA would suddenly take on a new meaning. Can you imagine if this kind of universe had already been implemented ages ago and some producer hired Bob Dylan / Bruce Springsteen & Kurt Cobain to write songs together? How incredible would that be? The thought of these kinds of unlikely universes colliding is insane.
I know that supergroups and hired-guns have always existed, but they are usually one-off and scarce. I also know session musicians have always existed, and whilst that’s definitely a core component of this imagining; it’s definitely not the same. I’m trying to envisage a world in which musicians don’t anchor down to one band, preferring instead to pop-up in all different guises throughout their career arc – ending up with an incredibly eclectic portfolio of work upon eventual retirement, just like an actor usually does. As a musician myself, i’d be thrilled to have an arc that allowed me to sharpen my musical wit alongside folks from completely different worlds . Rockers tend to write variants of rock albums their entire lives, Singer/Songwriters tend to write variants of acoustic songs their entire lives .. and so on. I’m positive there’s thousands of writers out there pedalling away in a certain genre that’d work 100x better in a different genre – this would be their opportunity to do so.
I don’t want to just keep comparing this on an international scale though, because i think it could work at a local level as well. When i was in my teens and in a band, getting advice and experience from older musicians in my town was pivotal to my growth. Imagine the possibilities for younger musicians to be integrated into ‘projects‘ like i’ve mentioned before in a lesser role than the musical leaders. It’d supply them with a notch on their artistic CV but most importantly; practical experience with seasoned professionals – something that’s pretty much impossible in the current industry save for one-off guesting. It’d be like a musical apprenticeship and would see the start of ‘musical resumes’.
Most musicians these days spend more time promoting themselves than they do actually bettering themselves as a musician and writing their music – isn’t that weird? You don’t see up-and-coming actors doing any of that. That’s because from the get-go they have some form of agent that does all this for them, leaving them to focus on becoming a better actor/actress and attending numerous rehearsals for work. With this new model, musicians could have someone actively finding great musical projects on their behalf whilst they spend all their time improving as a musician, learning their craft and generally improving their overall stock. One thing i see all the time with actors [and something i love] is that they know pretty much every classic film ever made inside and out. They can reference character names, nail accent impressions, cite year of release and more – this is because they have someone else doing their admin work, leaving them free to focus on their craft and the history of the craft. Now, with all due respect, i’m not sure many people could even cite the tracklisting for Nirvana’s classic ‘Nevermind’ album or cite the year that the Beatles broke up – this is because we’re not scholars of our industry when it comes to music because we all have to juggle 1,000 little jobs to even stand a chance of getting ‘out there’. With this idea of a music marketplace, we’d actively have people working on our behalf, leaving us free to concentrate on becoming the best we could be. I’m not suggesting we’d all jump straight into the arms of a powerful agency to look after us, but if an idea like this ever took off, small-time agencies would pop up everywhere.
I’m completely aware that bands form with an ‘us against the world’ kind of gang-mentality – an attitude of ‘let’s work hard as a collective to try and get to the top’ – i’ve been there and felt those emotions myself. This comes from the insatiable human desire to do things socially and in packs, musically speaking though, this kind of friend/gang-based musical outfit will always reign supreme and it always should. However, that doesn’t nullify the potential of what i’m putting forward here because we could co-exist and even compliment each other. I’m also aware that most actors don’t write their own works, whereas musicians do – so they are dependent on a kind-of movie marketplace to exist for them to have any job at all – however, to me, this just seems to be one of those things that have always been the way and are therefore accepted as the way things should be – every industry is being disrupted right now and i think it’s high time there was a meteoric shift in the stale music industry – whether it’s this or something else.
I honestly predict a shift to something similiar to this in the next 10/15 years. If someone else doesn’t try and implement it soon, i will!
Any thoughts? Leave them in the [facebook] comments below.
I originally wrote this post in September 2015 and posted it here – it has been revised for this post.