Where has all the talent gone?
In the early 20th century, Big Bands created the music industry as a business. The Giants like Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey were amongst the first to get paid “Millions” in royalties. They received nothing by today’s standards (Or yesterday’s) but compared to their Vaudeville predecessors, they kicked down the door of the entertainment industry.
Radio and Television had given birth to media. Technology created the Rock Star and the Movie Star. Eventually Technology would kill the Rock Star and the Media. The Bugles who launched MTV with the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” didn’t realize that eventually the Video Star would kill the real musician. An engineer took geological survey equipment and took the software used to map the contour of the subterranean structures. This same technology was used to create a piece of software that would map ones voice and contour it to the proper key of the song. So all a person needed was a set of vocal cords and not necessarily a great voice. The device is called auto-tune. Hollywood, with its’ 60 year old formula was in heaven. It could take a male or female super-model and make them sound like Smokey Robinson or Barbara Streisand.
In fact, in 1985, Todd Rundgren, an artist who does not need an auto-tune device, made a mockery out of the Music industry by releasing an album called “A Cappella”. Its’ working title was: “Me and my big mouth”. Todd used a computer keyboard which was famous at the time called an “Emulator” (Today it’s known as a sampler). The Album featured one artist and no instruments. Todd Rundgren. But his voice is synthesized in the emulator to sound like a drum set, a bass, a horn section and a Hammond B-3 organ. Yet there are no instruments on the album. NONE! He actually had a hit with this experiment.
If you combine this new monster with the morals of Hollywood, you can easily see how the Millie Vanillie scandal could work. But this could only work as long as the gate keepers and key masters existed in Hollywood. Without the so called “Artist & Repertoire agents running the show (And sometimes the mob) you would have Chaos. Auto-tune brought an end to the careers of great yet unattractive artists like Joe Jackson. They for all intents and purposes will never see the cover of a Rock poster again.
Enter the PC/Internet in the 1990s.
Although all of my albums were recorded in a studio with analogue/digital machines and real musicians,(The old school way) the program “Pro-tools” came out and anyone with a slight bit of computer savvy, a touch of engineering skills and a garage band could release an album. What the now “digital artist” lacked was the promotional financial backing. I got in just as promoters and agents started asking for booking fees. In other words, an artist needed a financial backer to split the cost of the signs, newspaper articles and even the band’s bar tab.
As Joe so eloquently said; there’s no longer any money in records for the pure artist. With today’s technology you can spend 10,000 dollars making an album, have one person from Asia buy it and it’s on download sites all over the world that you or your music company haven’t contracted with. Does anyone remember “Napster”?
So musicians are back to the pre-Big Band days. You will only make money if you can create a business, gain a following and sell merchandise. The music is just a loss leader (as they say in business). Yet as I write this, there are garage bands that are legends in their mom’s garage and somewhere at this very moment, some band is making $200.00 a night, playing Mustang Sally and Brick house. Will there ever be another “Frampton Comes Alive” album? No. Will there ever be another outdoor Coliseum tour again? No! Will there ever be another hit song as big as the “Macarena”? Hell No.
TELEVISION WAS NOT EXEMPT EITHER
Enter “REALITY” TV. It started (Ironically) about the same time the music industry took a hit. In the mid-eighties, Sony came out with the “Camcorder”. It was a portable analogue (or semi-portable at the time) Home movie camera designed to create a video you could play on the new invention called the “Video Cassette Recorder”. Again, technology became more advanced and video cameras became a toy everyone could play with. Some took the use of the video camera past the purpose of vacations and little Johnny’s first steps and started making silly videos of people hurting themselves (Jack Ass). Reality TV was born.
Reality TV had always existed in the form of game shows, court shows (Divorce court) and talk shows. Phil Donohue and Oprah were two of the more successful pioneers which eventually lead to The Jerry Springer show where violence was expected. In the late 1990s, everyone had a talk show. It became a competition to see who could get the closest to the edge. Jenny Jones went over the edge and ended up on the witness stand. Her episode on secret lovers united a gay waiter with a homophobic guest. The guest felt nationally humiliated and took the waiter’s life with a shot gun after the show. This event weeded out a lot of the talk show hosts whom no one can remember.
What Hollywood producers found was a simple principle. People enjoyed watching talentless people. Reality TV as a genre was born in the 90s with “The Real World”. Then an amazing phenomenon occurred in 2000, “Survivor “ aired and received huge ratings. The reality genre killed the prime time drama show as we knew it. Reality TV gave the audience a chance to “interact” with the show and use their computers to vote. Thus we saw mega hits like American Idol, and eventually, Duck Dynasty.
Think about it. Producers no longer had to pay actors. They no longer had to pay writers on their staff. And the worst part, reality TV is everywhere. In fact, just as Napster and new recording technology killed the music Industry, Reality TV and YouTube did away with police dramas, variety shows, Action dramas like Law and Order and 24 and pretty much TV scheduling as we knew it. Why? How? The answer is and has always been the bottom line. It’s much cheaper to produce a reality show.
I don’t think the degradation of talent will stop until we start televising gladiators actually killing each other or being eaten by lions during prime time. (News at eleven)
BTW, in the late 1980s and predominantly in 2002, legal drug labs started creating anabolic steroids which are now known as PEBs or Performance Enhancing Drugs. Again, it’s Ironic that as technology was taking down entertainment talent, Sport talent was no exception. Steroids have disappointed sports fans for the last 25 years. Pretty much the same time the VCR came out.