Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The "Clique-kening" - A Theory On Why Musicians (& Everyone Else) Are Struggling Now More Than Ever

Trent Reznor, NIN (photo: Wikipedia)You've heard it a bunch of times by a plethora of different musicians. Trent Reznor has been quoted as saying something to the effect of "The days of musicians striking it big are dead" and you'll hear "It's tough out there for new bands" from both new and vetted musicians.

We all know that there are too many bands and fans are spread too thin. We all know that the pop music industry is hogging all the attention and keeping better, more talented bands out of the limelight. We all know that economically, times are tough for everyone. These are all reasons that the music industry isn't what it was, but what if there was a bigger reason behind all this? What if there has been a change over the years, one that's been happening so gradually we've barely even noticed it until now, that has driven everyone not willing to sell their soul for a higher profit margin into the underground?

A short while ago, during Halloween week, I was flipping channels and stopped on the movie Queen of the Damned, based off the awesome book by the incredible Anne Rice and starring the great Aaliyah as Akasha. (Hey, I may listen to mostly metal, but that woman was awesome. She had so much potential, and I daresay that the hip-hop/rap industry would be very different and even listenable had she not died tragically in her early twenties.)

Well, as you may know, the movie also featured vocals (included as part of the storyline) that were supplied by Jonathan Davis of Korn to be dubbed over the scenes where Lestat was singing onstage with his vampire band. (Side note: The scene where he threw the concert in the desert must have inspired Dethklok in some way, as the stages/atmosphere look undeniably similar in both the movie and the show - both of which ended in many of the attendees getting killed/maimed in ridiculous ways.)

DETHKLOK (photo: Metality)

Whether it was Warner Brothers or director Michael Rymer, someone in charge of the movie's production actually went out and sought Jonathan Davis to commission him to write, perform and record lyrics relevant to the scenes the music would be in. Say what you will about Korn, but their early work drew a lot of us over to metal and it wasn't half bad. Couldn't say the same about their more recent work, but I still respect them for giving us a few heavy tracks in their time.

This movie was much more than just a collaboration with Davis, however. The soundtrack of the movie featured songs from a damn decent selection of goth rock and metal bands at the time, and all of those songs were commissioned and written exclusively for the movie or the soundtrack. Godhead, Deftones, Disturbed, Static X, and Papa Roach were among the bands that contributed to the soundtrack of this movie and everyone benefit from it - both the director/producers, the bands who participated, the fans of those bands and the people who were first introduced to these bands through the movie (as undoubtedly, many who saw it had never had the privilege of hearing Deftones or anything before.

Sure, you can argue that most of them weren't exactly metal bands. Except that, in reality, metal would not be nearly as big as it is today without them. That isn't to say that legends like Dio, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest or Iron Maiden didn't do their fair share of shaping metal into what it is now. They did. They were the pioneers, ambassadors (if you will) for the genre and did well to expand the scene into large-enough-to-be-noticed proportions.

The truth of the matter is that the bands who mostly made up the "nu-metal" movement around the 90's ended up served the metal community almost as well as the generation before them, at least in that they brought in so many new, different faces and minds into the metal world, along with different ideas and a whole realm of possibility. Whether or not many of them hit the mark of a masterpiece (they didn't), they still helped to drive forward the ones that would (even if it was only because they knew they could do better), and even proposed some interesting approaches, techniques and additions to metal - many of which have been adopted across the genre board.

You might even say that 90's nu-metal was the reason the "American" metal movement became so widespread. Whether that's for the best or not, it's fact. I can't say that I like it myself - rather, I do not like where it has gone since the early days of Korn and bands of that ilk. After all, nothing that gave spawn to the existence of (and I literally cringe as I say these names) Blood on the Dance Floor, Asking Alexandria, Bring Me The Horizon, Rise Against and Emmure.

Notice that I didn't embolden any of the names of those bands. It's because they fucking suck.

Moving on, and back to the point. Though several of those "darker" 90's breeds were on the outskirts of metal and into the neighboring territory of industrial or goth rock, the point is that they were not only instrumental to the success of the movie, but also the movie was instrumental to the success of those bands and brought a whole new sound out of the background and into the limelight - one many might not have discovered otherwise.

You see, there is a very high percentage of the world's population that simply don't know how to find good music. This percentage believes all the music that exists can only be heard through radio, and public radio nowadays caters only to has the most money to pay them for plays and is no way an indicator of talent. There are plenty of people who don't even know metal still exists, or even ever existed for that matter.

It didn't always used to be this way. There was a time when all genres were given a fair chance at exposure. Rock and metal were side-by-side with your standard non-threatening pop stars and boy bands on Top 40 charts. Even further, these rock and metal bands would be called upon to collaborate with filmmakers, marketers tasked with making commercials, and other such projects that promised a wide reach. All genres were once equals.

Now, not so much.

Some would argue that you don't see much of metal on soundtracks anymore because either a) most movies with metal on the soundtrack are shite, or b) a high-production movie demands an orchestral score.

There aren't a whole lot of movies out there that are both done well and integrate metal, yet, there easily could be. It's just rare that we are ever called upon to actually contribute. A big-budget flick doesn't need to sacrifice an orchestral overtone to include metal AT ALL. In fact, most of the albums I know have the potential to both inspire a screenplay of their own as well as serve as its' own soundtrack. Most metal bands already do incorporate orchestral music in some of their tracks, if not all of them (ahem, symphonic metal)

It doesn't even matter what movie genre you're looking at - there is a metal song for every feeling, every atmosphere you could possibly think up.

Why then are metallers rarely called upon by the omnivorously wealthy film industry? I call it the "clique-kening", which is the moniker I've given to the new trend we now see permeating every industry, affecting every life that walks the Goddess' green Earth.

It is the strategy and processes of the true "evil" that exists in arts and entertainment; where the ones who hold the majority of wealth and resources siphon off our accessibility to any of it by rejecting traditional measurements of talent and instead weigh all artists based on their net worth, the amount of profit they can generate, or by how malleable they are. Industry execs will offer favor to those who serve them, flatter them or befriend them, in a vain attempt to surround themselves by people who will feed their self-admiration and blindly agree to whatever backhanded subliminal tactics it takes to shake out the most cash from the pockets of fans. They want to go with the safe bets, the sure things, and keep the pool of fortune small and among friends so their access to it remains unimpeded.

This kind of clique-ishness is being played out in more than just the entertainment industry. It's everywhere, from retail to government, and it's been happening forever. It is a part of human nature to want to help your friends when it is within your power, yes, but it's happening on so grand a scale now that it might lead to our ruin.

That said, it brings us to the question of whether we have an ability to change the atmosphere of favoritism that has been "the way the world works" since the earliest days of civilization. If it is inherent in our nature, then theoretically the cycle will continue no matter who has the greatest amount of power over influence.

Unless of course we even out the balance of power, perhaps?

There is a possibility that we could - or even are already - evolve into a society that gives everyone a platform to be judged fairly upon. So many of us who have the drive, but perhaps not the means, now have the ability to put our work in places that are accessible worldwide, though most of those outlets require cash up front before they consider leavening the playing field of impressions and views. Still, they are there, hidden among the millions of submissions ranging from the tantamount to the terrible, only needing to give a heads-up to the right people at the right time to be given the time of day.

With all this unbridled talent everywhere, why do filmmakers not turn to independent/underrated musicians, artists, or bands and commission work from them for use in movies - like they used to do not so very long ago?

It may have just been a stroke of bad luck. It could have been a few movies in a row that utilized the music industry and didn't fare as well as expected, turning them off to the idea permanently. Perhaps they like the idea of only working with a single, "safe" or widely-known composer on all aspects of a film's ambiance and soundtrack.

Whatever the reason, don't try to convince me that they lack the means or the money to seek out bands that could contribute to these projects. They don't.

It's the same thing we've been seeing for decades now, and it runs absolutely parallel to the type of closed-circle back door dealings that currently run rampant in small businesses, large corporations and even politics. These people who control the greatest percentage of resources (chiefly, money) are investing in themselves and their own personal gain time and time again as opposed to investing into things, ideas, people and projects that are in far more desperate need for just a fraction of what the top-tier elite might make for themselves in a year.

In government, that means that there are unseen people and committees ensuring that no political move is in any way controlled by the voting public, with lobbyists ensuring that only the needs of the wealthy are attended, instead of making true progress by enacting more productive laws, reigning in the amount of revenue they generate from our paychecks, or take lower salaries so that public works and programs don't have to struggle to stay afloat.

In the land of corporations, this means CEO's buying back their stocks to sell them at a higher rate instead of giving their employees higher salary, better benefits, or lower prices to consumers.

In the world of the arts, film, and music, this means that the big labels control who the huddled masses have easy access to by inundating every major broadcast platform with people who can guarantee them exorbitant profit margins with every act, appearance and showing (if you've ever wondered why garbage like Icki Minaj and Iggy Magnolia gets constant airplay while more talented musicians are kept "underground", this is why). It means these labels and their bottom bitch "artists" only grant portions of their most precious of resources (in this case, sickeningly abundant flowings of cash) to those with connections to these artists or the label executives - friends, lovers, relatives, children, close bonds with other sickeningly rich individuals - and judge not who deserves more play by how good the music is, but by how many people you know and how many dollars in your bank account (or your potential to amass a great many of them).

With film, anyone can direct a blockbuster hit - given that they have enough money or fame. There are movies made these days that are utter rubbish and still gross millions because the producers/directors/companies behind them have the money to burn on so much advertising that everyone in the world will have seen the preview for it every day for 6 months before it opens, and yet there are wonderfully written, superbly acted and brilliantly directed films that go unnoticed because they didn't have billions of expendable dollars to pull from.

So, are you seeing the trend here? This is way, way bigger than just music. This is a society in the process of becoming a Corporatocracy. A society that is in the process of becoming enslaved to a select few who not only can't bear to part with their fortune, but never seem to deem it large enough and always seek to add to it.

How does one go about changing something like that? What is most depressing is that we cannot. It is up to the ones with wealth to show pity on us now, and we've made it that way. We've let it happen.

I don't have the answers. Obviously, if things swayed back a bit to the way they were, when music was an open market and all were included from all corners of the arts. Back when all of us gathered together to tackle a project, bringing with us our unique skills, talents and viewpoints, it made the projects so much richer in the end.

It still happens sometimes, but not nearly as often as it did. Maybe if it started happening a little more, in all facets of industry and government, things would improve for everyone.

All I know is, it'll certainly be a task to convince the richest in the world to start giving back to it, lest they end up without one really worth living in.

Author: Samantha Pierson

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