Sad State of [the] Art

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After 35 years as a recording artist John Cougar Mellencamp felt compelled to reflect on today’s art.

People remember when music existed as an art that motivated social movements.  Artists and their music flourished in back alleys, taverns and barns until, in some cases, a popular groundswell propelled it far and wide. These days, that possibility no longer seems to exist.[1]

Distinctions can easily be drawn between calls to action like Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” and calls to complacency like John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change.”  As Mellencamp points out, music is in a sad state.  Furthermore Barlow suggests “[c]reative people may have to renew their acquaintance with humility.”[2] Artists should write songs because they need to, not because they fit in shrink-wrap and generate revenue.

Pitchfork, an uber-respected music-criticism site, playfully rated “Music“ a 6.8 out of 10.[3] According to the review, authored by Pitchfork editor in chief Ryan Schreiber, the popular medium that predates the written word shows promise but nonetheless “leaves the listener wanting more.”[4] While obviously created in jest, there certainly exists some truth behind this point.  Perhaps this young generation of technology embracing pirates are nothing more than the product of the vacuous state of today’s content.  If the record industry provided goods that had intangible social value, as music purportedly used to have, their concerns of declining perceived value would be instantly alleviated.

Relationships Are Paramount

While the debate for the most economically efficient business models and distribution channels will continue, artists need to be reminded of their most valuable contribution to the equilibrium of the industry.  This entire industry ought to be based upon the intimate relationship of artist to listener.  Everything always has, and will, come back to that core relationship.  Anyone who has ever experienced goosebumps at a concert understands this visceral concept.  In support of that notion, Barlow opines “[i]nformation economics, in the absence of objects, will be based more on relationship than possession.”[5]

If a single songwriter today could write a track with momentum great enough to spark a social movement, as Mellencamp reminisced, this war between content and technology would seem trite and inconsequential.  To waste one of the most powerful conduits for social change, the marriage of message and music, for the want of maximum profitability, is repugnant to the very definition of a true artist.  Make talent matter again.  Artists, stop pointing your fingers and write.

[Photo by Rusty Boxcars @Flickr]

[1] John Mellencamp, On My Mind: The State of the Music Business, Hufington Post (2009). Available at (last visited 4/28/2009).

[2] Barlow, supra note 11 at 10.

[3] Onion, Pitchfork Gives Music 6.8 (2007).  Available at (last visited 4/28/2009).

[4] Id.

[5] Barlow, supra note 11 at 16.

*Ian Gibson, Esq. is an attorney licensed to practice in the state of California. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Visiting does not create an attorney-client relationship. This material may be considered advertising under applicable state laws. Copyright © 2012-2013 Ian Gibson, Esq.

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