it seems like just yesterday that Steve Leon called me on
the phone. “We just had an editorial staff meeting,” Steve
said, “and we’re wondering if you’d like to do a column about
what you do.” My first thought was, does Metroland
really want a regular column about binge drinking and masturbating
like a monkey? Then I realized that perhaps they wanted regular
contributions about my so-called professional life—stuff
about the business and law of music and art and privacy and
this Internet thing all the kids are so crazy about.
OK, I can do that. But what to call it? That was tough. My
whole life, I’d resisted exploiting any of the obvious stupid
double entendres using my last name, but I was stuck. My first
list of possible column names included: Crock of Legals,
Art Carnal, The Corpulent Hitter, and F.
Lee Harvey’s Straight Poop. See? Sure, some of these are
good for a giggle, by I was looking for something that would
be durable, just in case my column stuck around for a while.
Something that wouldn’t be an enduring source of embarassment,
like, oh, say, a really goofy stage name.
So, Rapp on This it was. And it’s worked out OK over
the past four years. I discovered after, like, a year that
the column’s initials were ROT. Bonus! And this is ROT number
100. I’ve enjoyed writing these things. I’ve enjoyed all the
comments (even the rude ones after I teed off on Hillary a
year ago). I’ve enjoyed posting the columns with odd, handpicked,
stolen illustrations on my blog rappon this.blogspot.com.
So, I’ll keep going.
Last week at the Columbia Arts Team’s Songwriter’s Festival
in Hudson, I was on a great panel with the topic of something
like “Is Technology Killing Music?” I started, setting up
a discussion of digital vs. analog, but that’s not what the
rest of the panel wanted to talk about.
Henry Hirsch, seated to my right, took the bull by the horns.
Henry is a recording engineer and producer who’s worked with
the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Madonna, Mick Jagger and Vanessa
Paradis. Henry just opened a world-class, major-league recording
studio in a beautiful old church in downtown Hudson. He’s
perspicacious and opinionated, like any great studio guy ought
to be. Henry’s beef—what he wanted to talk about—was that
technology has reached a point where actual music performance,
either in the studio or on stage, is no longer necessary.
That’s where the panel went, and it was fascinating. Henry
was joined by pianist/composer/label chief Lincoln Mayorga,
who’s been doing almost everything one can do in the music
biz since the ’50s, has weathered at least four major technological
revolutions, and had a whole lot to say on the topic, too.
When guys like this start talking, I shut the hell up, sit
back and listen.
Mulling it over since Saturday, I’m thinking that all the
talk about the evolution of music recording and how it has
slowly moved the performer out of the picture was interesting
enough, but it also raises the question, so what? I saw Bonnie
Raitt probably six times in college; her band was down and
dirty, as was she. Then I saw her at SPAC after she hit paydirt
with that John Hiatt song. The old band was gone, replaced
by a bunch of hired guns with blow-dried hair. The show sounded
just like the record, clean as a whistle. I was stunned and
pissed. I imagine every show on the tour was virtually identical,
right down to the solos.
Were the musicians actually playing? Probably. Would it have
made any difference if they weren’t? Nope.
Ever since then I’ve approached most arena shows for what
they are: pure entertainment, like a big Hollywood movie.
Do we care that a lot of the movies we watch are largely products
of CGI and green-screens? Nope. Should it surprise us that
much of what hits our eardrums at big concerts isn’t coming
off the stage? Nope. When I review these shows, I rarely talk
about the music, which is a given, largely banal, and devoid
Is all this “destroying music?” Only, I think, at corporate
levels. As the mainstream music biz has become increasingly
corporate, perfection is demanded to remove a variable that
might negatively affect the quarterly earnings report to shareholders.
So, technology supplies a pitch-perfect, beat-perfect product,
matched with good-looking, market-tested delivery systems,
formerly known as major-label artists.
It’s a race to the bottom, and another reason why the mainstream
music biz is falling apart. There’s precious little music
being made there anymore. Which is why God made clubs, basements,
Garage Band, MySpace, and YouTube, where real music is still
being made. More than ever before.