The Entertainment-Industrial Complex
First off, let me say that I am not, and never was, a conspiracy theorist, except as a hobby on those long, cold winter nights. I never imagined, even a week ago, that I would be writing this. But this idea occurred to me a day or so ago, and as I did more research, I really started to wonder about it.
You see, I own a music teaching business, and I run into a lot of misguided information out there, such as a belief that people have to have "talent" to succeed in the music industry. Now, the music industry is a huge business, worth billions of dollars each year, and larger than the pharmaceutical industry. And yet, it seems there are very few actual musicians in it, and those musicians that are in the music industry have fewer and fewer actual musical skills as time goes on (most musicians cannot read music any more, whereas, years or decades ago, almost all musicians did).
And then I ran across parents, who desperately want their child to have some involvement in music, but do not want them to succeed in it. Either the parents choose teachers almost guaranteed to ensure that their children do not succeed, or by accident they choose a teacher with a high success rate, and then either sabotage their children's lessons by not showing up, or not allowing their children to practice, or enrolling them in too many other activities, or they find some excuse either not to show up to their children's lessons at all, or quit lessons the minute the child starts showing success. It's almost as if parents wish their children to be "exposed" to music in the same way they want their children to be "exposed" to chicken pox--so they won't get infected later in life, when it might be more serious!
What is the Entertainment-Industrial Complex?
And then I got to thinking, what is it about the culture of the United States that idolizes only a very few performers, and mostly those without significant musical skill, while at the same time discouraging ordinary folks from taking music lessons seriously? After all, music is one of the first programs to be cut from school budgets at every level, and even though 1 in 6 people in the United States work in the music industry, in some capacity, everyone who takes music lessons is discouraged from thinking of it as a career. And finally, I asked myself the age-old question: Cui bono?
Who benefits, indeed? A handful of record companies. The television networks. The radio stations. In a word, the entertainment-industrial complex.
Apologies to President Dwight David Eisenhower
It was President Eisenhower who first informed us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, some few years after I was born. I have grown up with the thought of that behemoth all my life. And this past week, it occurred to me that corporations would be interested in the profits of the multi-billion dollar music industry, and these corporations would benefit by keeping ordinary people ignorant of what almost anyone can learn to do.
But the event that suddenly crystallized the thought in my mind was the Occupy Wall Street protests. I've been several times to my local Occupy protest, and suddenly the corruption in the entertainment industry was evident to me--and that was when I dubbed the phenomenon the "entertainment-industrial complex."
What If there were No Entertainment-Industrial Complex?
Ask yourself: what would the United States be like, if 95% of the population was at least a competent musician? As for me, I have lived in countries where music was encouraged, and what I saw in those countries was a huge proliferation of local entertainment groups: small opera companies with ten to fifteen singers and a twenty-piece orchestra; hundreds of chamber music groups, string quartets, madrigal groups, and all kinds of music being performed; a thriving independent recording industry; and a cultural awareness in the population at large, including a real appreciation for those musicians who were interested enough that they decided to stick it out and make a career of music. There was an astonishing lack of envy among all the musicians, because, hey, if this opportunity didn't materialize, there was another opportunity lined up right after it.
There were so many independent musicians that anyone who wanted to perform could get together a group at any time, and if the musicians got along, they would continue playing together; if not, at least they managed to put out a creditable performance and got paid for it. And there were dozens of performances almost every night that were well-attended, reasonably priced, and of excellent quality, of every kind of music imaginable.
What Benefit Does the Entertainment-Industrial Complex Realize?
There are many benefits to keeping the number of people with a certain skill set very small:
- A small number of people is easier to control than a large number of people.
- By keeping a product (music performances) rare, the product increases in price.
- By their ability to keep this small number of musicians under control, the entertainment companies are able to manipulate the market for their products.
- By keeping the number of performers small, entertainment companies are able to control the quality of the product.
- By keeping skill sets limited to a small subset in the general population, ordinary people are not able to realize that a) the performers have limited skills; and b) the population in general is able to learn these skills, to a far higher degree than many of the current crop of popular performers.
Learn about the Music Business
The Real Truth
Almost anyone can learn to sing or play an instrument well, in a very short period of time. I typically launch singers into their careers in less than two years of study, and most of my piano students are being offered steady work sometime in their fourth year of study. This is union work that pays at least $75.00 per hour, and often up to $100.00 per hour or more. And even if the student does not do well as a performer, there are over 1,000 occupational titles that require a significant knowledge of music as a prerequisite for the job. However, I see that as the current generation of singers are being trained, they are largely taught to sing in a way that damages their voices the more they sing, so instead of fifty-year careers, their voices are used up in twenty years. I see that the piano method books currently being published take so long to develop skills that these methods almost guarantee that students will quit in frustration over their lack of skills and the boring, repetitive nature of the music being used to train these skills. Students are being taught music as a hobby instead of a career choice, and that undercurrent of "only the few will 'make it'" is showing up not only in the teachers' attitudes, but those attitudes are also passed along to the students, who then do not take their lessons seriously.
And the desire for good music is certainly evident in the general population today: just look at the number of "talent" shows on the current television roundup! The entertainment-industrial complex is making billions of dollars off of amateur singers and musicians each year with these shows, and the musicians often get very little, if any, benefit. In addition, the shows are edited to include musicians who are ridiculed, thus subtly propagandizing the audience for these shows to not attempt a career as a musician, and perpetuating the myth of talent. The "critiques" presented on these shows are not constructive criticism; again, they are designed to artificially inflate the egos of those likely to "win" the competition, making those musicians easier to control, while simultaneously again degrading those musicians less likely to win, thus discouraging more of the audience for these shows to ever try to gain musical skills for fear of destructive criticism.
What Can You Do?
If you're as mad as I am, you'll want to do something!
- First, you can take music lessons, or encourage those around you to take music lessons. Ensure that the teacher you hire has the understanding of how to prevent Repetitive Stress Injury (both for singers and instrumentalists) and that she or he understands the foundations of basic technique for voice or your instrument. Understand how long the process will take, and what materials will be used. If the course seems to take years without actually getting anywhere, look for a different teacher.
- If you can't afford a music teacher, at least educate yourself on the great musicians, especially the classical musicians and opera singers, to see what is possible to be done with any instrument, including the human voice. Learn to tell the difference between great music and mass-produced schlock.
- Learn as much as possible about all the different kinds of music, from the music that survived the medieval era on up to the best music of the twentieth century.
- Support local musical performers as much as possible. If you can't pay for a concert, invite your neighbor's children who are taking piano over for a recital at your house. Show up at your school board meetings and try to get music put back on the curriculum. Encourage your local city council to use public spaces for free or low-cost musical performances.
- And finally, don't buy into the myth of talent. Musical performance is a skill, and almost anyone, with some work, can learn a skill to some degree of proficiency.