Mainstream musicians don’t profit from making music

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In her Nov. 12 article “Celebrities favor self-promotion over music production,” Rachael Clemmons takes issue with musicians who use clothes, perfume lines, and shoes, rather than good music, to get their names out.

As a musician (and hot-headed critic), I agree with Rachael’s argument that it is frustrating to see one-time musical innovators — Diddy, J.Lo — putting out clothes and beverages impossibly hipper than their music.

But why is the quality of mainstream music diminishing? Is it the artists’ fault? With a massive increase in illegal downloading and a massive decrease in CD sales, there’s less money to be made on records in 2007 than there was in 1997, when Puff Daddy and The Family’s No Way Out was released. Popular ’90s artists, though, were business-minded: They just realized that, at the time, the music industry was a profitable market to tap into.

Today, people are spending more money on clothes than on records (have you ever illegally downloaded underwear off the Internet?). In recognizing this, “musicians” are turning their attention away from music and toward more profitable sources. In terms of “time is money,” why would Diddy spend time on a record if the quality of his music barely impacted his album sales and the circulation of his name? Even it if “isn’t all about the money” as Rachael believes, Diddy already changed rap music once, successfully delivering it to a white, mainstream audience (i.e., to MTV); why should he care to do anything more?

Celebrities are “putting their name on everything that sells” as they struggle to find effective means of self-promotion. As business moguls, they need to market their brand. Music is no longer centralized on MTV and VH1; people pay attention to online music publications like Pitchfork Media and music blogs like Stereogum. These sources are where today’s innovators are discovered (there was massive worldwide buzz after Pitchfork gave Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s first record a 9 out of 10). And, since this is all free, bands don’t need the support of major labels for distribution and marketing, and their name reaches just as many — if not more — consumers.

Radiohead’s recent release of its album In Rainbows illuminated this decentralized culture. Here was a band on a major label for years, which just released its album for free on its website (though the album will come out in CD form next year). And it worked: Every newspaper, blog, TV, and radio station is talking nonstop about Radiohead. The free release of its work is a testament to just how anachronistic and unprofitable the standard music industry infrastructure seems to be (as the release contrasts the shameless self-promotion of many mainstream “musicians”).

As long as today’s “musicians’ ” intentions are to make money and not to make quality music, don’t expect to get musical innovation from your Jessica Simpsons and Gwen Stefanis. You’ll have to use your mouse and keyboard to find that.