I saw this article this morning on Jezebel.

Desperate R&B Singers Are Taking Over Public Transit

Clover Hope  7/14/15 9:30am

 

 

 

"Why are R&B singers hijacking our commutes with their public displays for attention? Three troubling incidents are listed below for your consideration...."   [the article goes on to describe a series of successful r&b singers trying to drum up audiences by way of rando singing on subways and whatnot. Quick read. Take a moment and then come back to me.]

We're back? Ok.
/rant on/

In the comments section of thispiece, there is much snark about the formerly quite-famous Brandy being not recognized, and the full range of snickering directed at the spectacle that is the failing efforts of these earnest souls.

But.  I read this and think, Hell’s bells, now it’s the kids’ music too?  People --  professionals with resumes, by the way -- who are providing some of the most heavily and regularly consumed music in our current cultural landscape, are reduced to this irritating bullshit?

Setting aside the always super enjoyable schadenfreude, it’s simply a fact that this culture has thrown away the journeyman artist, which is what these people are. These particular folks are not my cuppa, but that’s neither here nor there.  These are competent, entertaining, experienced singers who need an audience and a forum.  And we need them. We just don’t seem to know it anymore.

There’s less and less going out to consume art, particularly art which we haven’t been told to consume by the PR machines.  In olden times, y'know, people who wanted to nom their preferred art form had to walk out of their damn house and see what Chance happened to be offering tonight.  A person could be a musician for a living without necessarily chasing super widespread name-recognition, because every town filled its live theaters, its opera house and its concert halls, with locals and people of very small fame passing through.  The famous visitors were a special treat, of course, but there were plenty of slots to hand out, because that's what there was. If you wanted to hear music in a restaurant or other public place, you had humans come provide it or you were out of luck. Now public places prefer to provide reproductions of music -- no muss, no fuss, practically no cost -- and individuals mainly consume art in their homes in reproduced form (or in huge gathering places meant to deliver a single performance to multiple audiences, which amounts to the same thing as reproduction).  Putting enough butts in the seats to pay your rent if nobody's 'heard of you'? Forget it.

(And no, a restaurant clearing three tables out of the way
and allowing musicians
the grand favor
of working at a financial deficit? Doesn’t count.)

The local "scene" is so reductive as to consist virtually entirely of repetitive (to the point of mind-numbing banality) dissemination of a handful of machine-made stars’ work, and there’s very damned few of them allowed in the echo chamber.

Opera is on her deathbed from this disease.  Excepting the prohibitively expensive, rarefied atmosphere of what too often feels like a wax-museum, quality examples of opera (the sort for every-day audiences) are increasingly unavailable.  It’s a handful of A houses or nothing, unless you’re willing to sit in an acoustical joke of a room with no tech, and pretend it sounds and looks like it should. Pretend you're witnessing something that isn't the straight up abuse of 300+ years' artistic blood sweat and tears. There are exceptions, of course; there are a few saintly and hardy figures who produce quality in spite of crushing cultural disregard and at a staggering financial loss, but. Let's face it.

If you want the real thing and have the cash, you can watch the same 20 singers season after season -- past a certain level, attrition is Redwood slow, amirite?  And hey, if you're short on cash but proximity-advantaged, you can see it on a jumbotron.  This is not to say I don’t enjoy our international stars. They’re a big deal for good reason.  But a living in the arts has become a zero-sum game, and it wasn’t always that way.

And here’s the real issue:

As audiences stay home to watch America's Voice Has The X Factor or whatever the actual fuck that's called (and imagine they're seeing something genuine and not some fucked up musical Hunger Games); as artistic product is scattered all over the internet like so many xeroxed leaflets and paywalls be damned; as the list of artists worth gathering and forking over money for gets shorter and shorter, well. Singers even at the highest levels are facing shorter seasons, fewer performances, and are competing for fewer and fewer real gigs at which to earn their mortgages.  This means that they’re willing to step down a level and work regionally, to fill their calendars.  They're filling their calendars, by the way, at fewer and fewer surviving regional houses, each offering fewer and fewer performances.  So the regional singers are edged out (the B company is thrilled to discover that Giant Star X is free and willing, my god who wouldn't be).  So Regional Singer then steps down a level to work at C and D houses, which omg. 

That gets upsetting fast, because the upshot is that the folks out of college are left without their first really professional forum, where they should be making a living and working on their craft.  When I was first out of college, there were gigs you could get. You got paid enough to live, you worked with reasonable production values, nice little orchestras, etc. You had a place in the world, and audiences in little theaters got a product.  Now, grown-ass singers compete for gigs that don’t pay, lining up to try to sing in dumpy little boxes with no values. Professionals are doing what amount to internship-level jobs.

When people keen and wail about the imminent demise of the opera (and my god, do they keen and wail), they always talk about the wrong shit.  Here's the deal: All of this reductive bullshit and the related stepping down of singers professionally, means that we’re looking at a lost generation of singers. When the current crop is at the age to debut at the Met, they’ll have had damned little time on real boards. They’ll be inexperienced in key ways, and audiences will bitch about the quality of their work. And they’ll be right.  Who wants to pay that kind of money to hear someone who's still a functional amateur? Aaaand cue the vicious circle. The generation after them? Well.

I can sort of handle it with opera; maybe her day has just...come. I've mostly accepted that 'opera' in the next few generations will probably evolve (I'd say devolve, but that's the Old talking) into what I'd call a 'quasi-operatic form'.  Six serious theaters world-wide, Baz Luhrmann, body mics, click tracks eventually, 15 full-time practitioners and jumbotrons and whatever.  Ok. No god lives forever and Time, she marches on. Can't stop progress, yada.  But holy shit, from this article, it sounds like our most popular, accessible musical form is on the chopping block too.  Sigh.  

The answer to my first question, "People --  professionals with resumes, by the way -- who are providing some of the most heavily and regularly consumed music in our current cultural landscape, are reduced to this irritating bullshit?" is, "Yup."

This is probably a trivial, in the grand scheme of things, example of why our culture is doomed, but one that depresses me nevertheless.

In closing, get off my lawn. And go see some goddamned live music. See someone Warner Music Group didn't tell you to like yet. Anyone. Any music. Even if I hate it and it's crap.  And while you're at it, pay money -- to someone who is not a multi-national corporation, please -- for the privilege.  And then get off my lawn again; if you're anything like me, you're drunk by now.

/rant off/

 

Kathryn Allyn

Jazz singer, political junkie, cautionary tale and nights'n'weekends Stig, on the Island of Misfit Toys.