What I’m Doing About It Now Redux

Ok- back again. I’ve been incommunicado from blog-writing because I’ve chosen instead to write a book which addresses everything I began to address in blog form, but in greater detail. In the meantime, I’ve been developing a more ethical approach to record production. As this has progressed, I’ve completely revamped my entire approach to working creatively with artists.

Along the way, I’ve had many amazing insights into this work, into the work other people do and how to continually improve and build on the result of creative collaboration. It’s been a remarkable process of education and evolution and I feel incredibly fortunate to be on this path.

As wonderful as this has been, it’s not enough. I’m onto something that needs to be shared with other people- certainly with artists who need development and mentoring. I’ve shared my endeavors with individuals at several record companies and while they think it’s brilliant, they are too fearful to implement it.

Wow. Record companies don’t want help developing their artists from people who have years of experience doing it. On top of everything else, I offered to work with their artists for free. It’s as if they’d prefer to continue failing the same old way they’ve been failing- and with such flair- instead of taking a calculated risk on something that could at very least help their artists be far better at what they do. Just because the old way is so familiar and less scary.

Conformity is a survival skill. Keep your head down and it probably won’t get smacked by whoever pays your salary. Don’t make waves. Meanwhile, the world keeps on turning, time is wasting and everything that has blighted popular music is only metastasizing further.

It’s impossible to deny that the music business is on its last legs. Apart from the unmitigated rubbish that record companies release sans remittance, it is a harsh age indeed when an artist can lead the Billboard album chart with an album that sells in the quintuple digits.

And yes, there are pockets of success (as defined by monetary gain), but they are so few and far between, they almost don’t matter. Kind of like oases in a huge desert.

But opportunistic people are everywhere and are still trying to hitch a ride on the money train. They play in clubs with their bands, go to seminars, learn about how to build their brands and how to get endorsement deals once they’ve made it in music.

I recently made an important discovery, which was somewhat upsetting. Much to my chagrin, I realized there are very, very, very few individuals in the world who are truly gifted- certainly, to the point that they deserve to be heard by anyone else- let alone by millions. In spite of this, the field is clogged daily with more poor devils who just know they can strike it rich doing something in music.

Everyone has free will. You have free will. You can believe whatever you want and do whatever you want. You can follow the rules, invest in yourself (as a former manager put it when he was trying to justify my own profligacy to me) and keep chasing the carrot you dangle in your own face (when someone else isn’t doing it for you). Eventually, reality- and fatigue and disillusionment- will set in.

These days, popular music that wasn’t constructed (for constructed, it is) to appeal to the absolute lowest common denominator in the human gene pool is based exclusively on one thing- a cool idea. Unfortunately, cool ideas are interesting in and of themselves- they generally don’t make people interested in an artist. Truth, raw emotions, expression, communication- those are the things in an artist’s work that matter most. And so very few people who make music are really, truly artists who can express themselves with feeling and meaning- and without sounding like they’re whining, rutting or having a temper tantrum.

Choose your side- choose what you serve, because choose you must and choose you will. We all have to choose and if we don’t, the choice will be made for us by someone else.

What will you serve? Will it be your ethics, your gullibility or your gluttony?

In this world, people who make music are less familiar with how to express themselves honestly through their modality of expression than they are with how to operate Pro Tools or manage their “brand” through their website or on Twitter. The audience that hears their musical end product are far more interested in the mode of delivery with which they encounter it than whether or not it connects with them on a visceral level.

It doesn’t matter to me in the least if other people call this “reality”. In most cases, reality is nothing more than a state of perception someone with power tries to get a bunch of other people to believe. Kool Aid by any other name is still Kool Aid and I’m not drinking it.

The fact is, I haven’t made a large budget recording in years- all my recent work has been with artists who have little or no money with which to make a recording. A lot of this work falls under the category of artist development. This isn’t the kind of artist development where a record company executive packs an artist up into a van, tells him to play shows for the next two years and build a following so he can come back and drop a fully-formed money-making machine into the record company executive’s lap. I’m referring to artist development where a very experienced mentor (who has nothing to do with a record company) sits with an artist, takes time with him, works with his songs, his approach and everything that is essential to what the artist actually does.

Ever hear of this before? It actually works and there isn’t a record company under the sun that provides it for their artists.

I stopped trying to make money at this years ago. I’m doing it because I desperately need to hear some truly amazing music in the world. I’m also doing it because there are few things I love more than the utter joy of creative collaboration with a real bona fide artist.

I recently heard some of Adele’s record in passing. I’d heard it before, but I paid more attention this time. It’s just fine- it really is.

No, it’s not. This record has sold upward of twenty million records worldwide, has been universally lauded from every rooftop, hilltop, minaret and steel girded skyscraper the whole world over. And it’s really just ok.

Actually, it’s a towering paragon of great, meaningful virtuous brilliance- for this era. However, if it had been released ten- even fifteen years ago , it would have been lost in the shuffle. Because, compared with everything else (even the crap) that was being made at a time when people did know how to be expressive, it would have been a middling mediocrity. It wouldn’t have mattered. And to further illustrate the terminal stupidity which paralyzes the music business, those record company chieftains, regally enshrouded in their perennial myopia are all hot in pursuit of another full-figured, English white girl. O tempora, o mores.

In spite of this, it’s probably never been easier than right now to be a diamond in the rough. There is a path- a great vista laid open many miles wide that you could drive a fleet of Mack trucks through- a path that just sits there, waiting for any artist who has the stones to make a recording and be raw, be real and have the talent to communicate all of it in vivid relief. And this path grows wider by the moment because however talented any artist might be, no one is actually communicating anything.

This is also the one thing that Adele did properly and made her deserving of her many millions sold. She told the world- all of us- about herself. She was vulnerable. She communicated.

I sometimes liken the confluence of events and circumstance which swirl together and conspire to create a high caliber artist to the development of a serial killer.

Statistically, a large portion of the population (something like two- ten percent) have sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies. Most people are raised in loving homes and aren’t exposed to the specific elements which can take a relatively harmless garden variety sociopath and develop him into something far more savage. Interestingly enough, one potential indicator of this personality is excessive risk-taking. This is one reason why (combined with their magnetic charm and callous disregard for others) quite a few psychopaths apparently wind up and are highly successful on Wall Street.

Only a miniscule handful of people with psychopathic tendencies are exposed to the specific events in life which can lead them down the path to becoming serial killers.

This is (relatively) the same for artists. There are individuals who are born with artistic talent, but come into families where there is no support or appreciation for the arts and the idea is literally or figuratively, beaten out of them. Often, people like these are born into a specific role and are expected to do something more substantial with their life. Someone like this doesn’t even have a chance.

Then, there are those with talent, whose artistic aspirations are supported by their families, by educators, by their community- but their talent is just not quite formidable enough and they don’t have the stomach for it. Most people, no matter how far they come on this path will eventually give up. In some cases, people like these will make exceptional teachers.

But there is always a tiny, tiny handful of extraordinary people who have the resilience, the ambition, the creativity, the talent and most important- the unadulterated ability to use their chosen modality to express themselves flawlessly.

These are the ones who both nature and nurture have adorned with greatness in great, heaping excess. These are the ones who toil not for money- but because they have absolutely no choice in the matter and were nothing more than wise enough to accept their fate instead of continuing to fight the inevitable. These are the ones who are the mirror images of their equally wise comrades in-arms who gave up the same struggle for the exact same reasons.

If your efforts have taken you this far, I am addressing you. I have committed myself to developing and working with artists who possess this level of talent- this degree of depth and brilliance. If you can move me with your greatness, I will work with you (in a manner we mutually agree upon) for no monetary compensation of any kind (which can be revised in a manner mutually agreeable to all participants only if the work we do together generates income).

Years ago, I was paid a king’s ransom for my work. All I desire now is to hear music that can move me once more. My standard for judging artists has not waned- in fact it is more intense than ever- but I pledge to give my all if you can demonstrate your talent to me and I believe I can help you improve on it.

I am open to mentoring people who are serious, highly intelligent and capable in this way and regarding music production. It is apparent to me that the pool of up and coming producers, engineers, etc is growing smaller and dimmer by day. I would like to establish a network of individuals with real talent who live by their ideals instead of viewing a career in popular music as some kind of get-rich-quick scam.

I can’t stand by idly and do nothing. I can’t watch this current state of affairs become the status quo and know that I could have done something to change it, or affected one other person’s life for the good, even if only for a solitary instant.

I am proposing to be part of the solution. I am proposing to help and this is how. This is what I’m doing about it now.

3 responses to “What I’m Doing About It Now Redux”

  1. Mr. Beinhorn,
    From what I gather, this post is somewhat of an artists’ call to arms. It’s hard to know what to say in response without seeming coincidental or overly-influenced by this form of “musical” propaganda.
    I will openly state my bias towards your work and say that “Superunknown” is absolutely one of my all-time favorite records. It’s ultimately the reason why I wanted to become a musician, with hopes to someday achieve, in my mind, what is the epitome of a great rock album.
    Getting to the point, your post struck a chord with me that I’ve felt since I first began to understand the intermediate workings of pop music/pop culture. At 23 years of age, no doubt have I still much to learn about how exactly the industry works, but I have worked majority of my life finding what essentially is “my voice”. Music runs deep in my family, so I was doomed with the idea of making it a serious career from the get-go. I’ve been told all my life that a musician’s life isn’t reality; those with successes in the business were simply born under the right sun.
    I’ve always disagreed with this simply because of the fact that my favorite music, the music that speaks most to me, is/was performed by people that didn’t appear to have any sort of advantageous quality over myself: normal people. Normal people who worked their ass off to be great at what they do. Why couldn’t I do this? Because it’s hard? Because it’s not likely? I simply couldn’t accept this fate.
    Fast-forward to now, after failings with an independent label, after leaving home and coming back, after searching whatever it was I felt like I was searching for, I decided that what I wanted and what I needed was perhaps with me all along. So, I recorded an album, and I would like to openly invite you to listen to it.
    This is a project I call Noiseheads. The live band consists of me, my brother, and a drummer named Greg, but on the recordings it’s primarily me playing majority of the instruments: vocals, guitar, drums, bass, piano. There is one tune where I split vocal duties with our drummer Greg, and another that features a cello player. I also was responsible for the recording, mixing, mastering, etc. I did this with practically no money nor any real professional expertise other than my ear and some research.
    I’m not sure exactly if this is what you’re looking for, but what I do know is that I desire the same thing you do: great music. Something with energy; something with meaning; something with emotion; something vulnerable. This album is my first real attempt.

    You can listen to the album here: http://bandcamp.com/private/V8FF4UY8

    1. 1994
    2. God Like Wannabe
    3. Expectations
    4. Annie
    5. Unknown
    6. Cherry Red
    7. Nowhere Somewhere
    8. Pretty Hate Song Pt. 2
    9. Dust
    10. With My Halo
    11. This Kind of Life

    Thank you for doing what you do.

  2. Hey Michael. I happened upon your blog yesterday because I was once again scouring the internet for any additional ‘behind-the scenes’ info on Mechanical Animals – my favourite album of all time.

    Firstly, thanks for all the great pieces – I’ve yet to read any other producer blog with this much valuable info! Of all your posts this one struck me the most because my band and I are busy going through a process very similar to what you are describing above. We’ve been at it for 5 years with fairly decent successes in our home territory (South Africa) but absolutely nothing overseas. With each album we did we tried something different, we brought in more gear, we bought more guitars, we hired respected mix engineers, we copied techniques of our favourite artists and producers… the more we did this, the less successful we became! I felt like I wrote the best album of my life last year – but the finished product did way less for us than our first album 5 years ago.

    You get the picture by now… we were relying on everything else BUT getting the basics rights. Problem was we didn’t really know. No one (especially in SA) had the expertise or ear to point out the obvious (but apparently not so obvious). I was almost ready to give up because I felt like I was baring my soul lyrically but no one was getting the message. We were however, very fortunate to meet a producer / songwriter recently, who believed in us and saw what we were getting wrong. She is now working with us to get back to the basics – to get us to communicate with audience. To make music that changes the listeners emotional state when they hear our songs! It’s been the most liberating but also the toughest 6 months of my life. The great thing (for us) is that she’s doing it for free. It’s the greatest opportunity I’ve had so far. I feel like I have the keys to the castle now!

    Having said this, I also realize to get this right is really really tough. Having the opportunity is one thing, but actually making it work is a whole other ball game. So basically, that whole long story was just to say that I am glad there are more people out there that are willing to give back to artists in this way. It’s a fundamental knowledge that seems to be lacking out there, with no one to teach it. Hopefully the work we are doing now will set us on the path to create something as powerful and life-changing as Mechanical Animals was to me!

  3. Yes- there isn’t a whole lot of mentoring going on these days, but it’s good to know there are people who are willing to do it, even if the payoff is somehow deferred. After all, there are more important things in life than money.