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The Artist's Dilemma
To Jazz Business People: Record Labels, Managers, Booking Agents, Festival Organizers.

The world of music business has tragically divorced from the world of music, and now they run on two completely different sets of values. In one sentence, true success in music is an authorized certificate from the muse, and emotional satisfaction is shared with people under the parameters of the artist's own beliefs, which cannot be altered, because personality cannot be changed.

The music business goes after hype -- colorful and often inaccurate descriptions of music -- and "a good story", more than the source, the music. Hype is fine, when it boosts really good music. But very often it leads buyers to artists, who are far from the truly creative.

So who is to say, what is really good music? The musicians know, and real sensitiveproducers (musicians specialized in having sensitive and eclectic ears) know. Good music is really hard to put in words, but it's always recognizable. Once you have experienced it, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

It is not a conscious decision by the business people to promote less than the best musicians. Very often they have no idea and no real, sensitive ears to determine what good music is. But still they make artistic decisions, which should be left for musicians and real producers (musicians who are specilized in producing).

Now instead, business people are making artistic decisions, while many musicians are marketing their music. See the paradox here?

If an artist says to a music business professional: "I can and want to play; help me sell it", nobody listens "because even if he's great, he doesn't sell". In the early 21st century, a musician has to be equipped with many completely non-musical skills in order to get his musical message out, and concentrate his efforts on things that really should be handled by the business people and not by the musician. The business should merely be the one serving the existing real music community. The business people should not be our employers. We, the musicians should be THEIR employers!

So, hype and "the story", when discussed between business people -- most of the time by those who have a partisan interest in gaining something (in $$) from selling that particular artist -- is the only time when the business people really listen.

A manager once asked me "give me three good sales points for you?" Now, what kind of question is that to a musician? I was expecting more a question like "how are you going to use your time, while I'm selling you?"

So how should great music be chosen? The business people should be there ahead finding out what's happening in the field, at the clubs. Currently they are way behind by following charts, listening to recent major label releases, and observing their own world. Many people aren't even aware of that really valuable music has developed quite a bit since 1980, but only a few percent have come on the surface. And most if not all of those few percent will be forgotten in 100 years. I'm mainly talking about the young carbon copies of the yesterday's musical styles.

Also, there needs to be trust for real art, for documenting and presenting art, because the art is happening now. Those values cannot be measured in lost or gained $$.

If the business people were more creative, the listeners would in the long run turn to be more adventurous, too, and that would create a better and stronger music community. It's often said, that "this has been tried, and we lost a lot of money." Yes, that is true, but reason was lack a real patience, not the music itself. Look at ECM Records: Manfred Eicher had a sound in his mind from the very beginning. I'm not saying that I like his music all the time, but at least he is true to his own beliefs, and that is what matters. He lost a lot of money in the 70's, and see where is he now? Because he believes in his music and direction. This is true music business artistry.

Many business people today have no patience and ultimately no faith in what they are doing, as long as it doesn't show up in $$, since that is the only barometer for their work. And if the $$ don't show up in the first three months, they lose their interest, while in fact, just by continuing with exactly what they believe in would make them happier and more successful! Now, of course, you have to have belief and sensitivity for music on a broad scale...

The general audience of today are showing their disappointment and boredom by staying away from new cds. (Isn't that strange?!) It's because somewhere deep they feel the same lack of artistry in these new carbon copy cds. The truth unfortunately is that the business people don't have the ears to choose where the music is and where it is going and developing. That usually reveals itself much later. Coltrane, Dolphy, Lennie Tristano are just few examples of that. And J.S. Bach for that matter!

The good thing is that the truth doesn't burn even in a fire. It always comes to the limelight at some point; usually too late from many perspectives, but the unfortunate timing is just another paradox of life, and at least I have no problem with that fact, since justice is happening at some point anyway.

Now, am I acting here for myself as a musician? I really don't have a part deciding about it, because I can only do what I do, musically speaking. If it turns out to be something valuable now or later, will be revealed now -- or later. If it isn't worth it, it won't be revealed at all, and that's fair, too. So I believe in the ultimate justice, whatever it is. Many times the creators of the music aren't there to witness the outcome.

Thank you.

Mika Pohjola

Visit Mika Pohjola's website

Sat Nov 24 2001 (7:16:40 PM)


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