“If you could take all the love without giving any back, would you do it?”
The recent announcement by a group of nearly 200 CEOs, who convened to collectively agree about being more mindful about doing what’s right for the company and not necessarily doing everything simply to “maximize shareholder value” was a long time coming. I have seen this kind of shortsighted approach more or less decimate businesses first hand.
This news also got me thinking again about something that has, frankly been brewing it my gut for several years. And where I am about to go is admittedly perhaps triggered by a heightened mortality awareness as many of my youth heroes have — borrowing the words of Richard Thompson — “withered and died.”
Connecting some dots: as a big-time music fan who has a tendency to “go deep” on artists, I appreciate good archival releases and there have been some great reissue series in recent years by big name artists including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen and many others. That is all fine and good and mostly very, very cool.
However I have also noticed a trend of a sort when it comes to non-superstar acts. This is not a recent thing, but something that has been going on for a long, long time, a practice where record labels ride the coattails of a less successful artist’s passing. During their lifetime after a period of initial success, many artists are left to their own devices to keep their star shining brightly. In most cases, that does not happen unless they happen to get some good management direction or someone invests in the artist.
Or sometimes the artist simply finds the spunk to reinvent and self market themselves. Some do this successfully. Some give up and do other things. Teen Idol Bobby Sherman spent much of his adult life away from entertainment as a Paramedic and even a Police officer! But, many a once-famous-and-still-revered artist ends up wallowing in obscurity until they die. And, then… suddenly… as if Harry Potter waved his magic wand, back catalog albums and deep archive studies are released to the universe. But only after the artist has left this mortal coil.
It’s a practice that is arguably one step removed from ambulance chasing.
So taking that mindful concept of “doing what is right” for the long term good of art, perhaps it is time for entertainment companies of all sizes to start stepping up more proactively to support its back catalog artists as well as those young new artists coming up in the ranks today. Perhaps it is time for labels to once again “investment spend” in artists who were on their roster in the past while they are still-living. There are some entities doing this, but not nearly enough (more on that next week).
There is a wonderful tragic-comic scene in the 1975 film Monty Python & The Holy Grail where local town authorities in the time of King Arthur are gathering up bodies of people who had died from Plague. One man brings out an old codger who is still alive proclaiming “I’m not quite dead yet” as the officials discuss what to do with this person who is clearly no longer wanted. It’s a funny scene in the film but it also gives one pause outside of that context when you think about the struggling artist.
Despite what the industry might think, many musicians and artists from the past are indeed not quite dead yet!!
Many artists even of relatively recent vintage still have a legacy and a following but they may have been caught up in bad contractual deals from the past. Why can’t “the industry” proactively reach out to help these artists — who probably can’t afford a good lawyer — out of their virtual jail cell? These are artists who have continued to nurture their followings via social media even while not touring extensively. Its called “direct marketing” folks…
I just can’t help but wonder why it has to be this way to begin with? Business. Economics. Limited budgets. “Who’s gonna pay for this?”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it: “That’s just the way it is, kid”… I hear you.
But that doesn’t mean it is right.
And that won’t squash my idealistic dream for something bigger and better…
Next installment next week…