So I get this press release this morning that was saying how the LiveTunes iOS app is one of the top-ten music apps in Japan. LiveTunes is an interesting concept in that it adds crowd and reverb effects to simulate a song being played in a variety of venues such as a club or even a stadium. Whatever floats yer boat…
Interestingly enough, the press release tickled the cynic in me, and I started thinking about American Idol, and what it has done to/for music. Before I get into that, my cynicism was sparked by the thought that now even mediocre musicians and singers can create music, then at the touch of a button create a crowd to give themselves yet another way to keep themselves in denial that they still need work to do to EARN those crowds.
Circling back to American Idol, while the ‘Idol folks paint a picture that they’re providing a place for people to realize their dreams, and that ANYONE with a modicum of talent could become a star in just a matter of weeks (as long as they get the votes, but it’s well known that it’s fixed), I think that what it really has done is create and perpetuate a culture where people think they can somehow shortcut the path to success, similar to the get-rich-quick schemes you see on TV at 2am.
It has also emboldened thousands of people into thinking they actually have the talent to make it as a performer in the business. I’ve seen lots of evidence of this at the restaurant at which I’ve been working, now going on thirteen years. Especially when I’m playing inside at the piano, I get people who come to the piano and want to sing. Luckily, we have a policy that only employees are allowed to sing, but sometimes there are situations where they somehow are able to get on the mic. That happened last week when a server allowed the daughter of a customer to sing. I let her sing after doing a quick audition, but let the server know he had totally crossed the line.
The reason he let her sing was because she quite boldly stated that she could out-sing him after he completed one of his tunes. So, taking up the challenge, he brought her to the piano. I was a bit cornered as her entire family was looking on, so I gave her a quick audition and then let her sing. Now, she wasn’t bad, but she certainly wasn’t anything special. Thank goodness she could reasonably hold a tune. As for her being able to out-sing the server, while he’s still young and developing, the answer to that is an emphatic, “NOT!”
After she finished, I thought to myself that this is what American Idol has brought us: A bunch of people with little to mediocre talent who somehow think they have what it takes to make it. Before Idol existed, I never had people come up and ask to sing. But once it got established, it has been a fairly regular occurrence.
Now don’t get me wrong, for the winners, it’s a dream come true for sure, and I would never take that away from them. But let’s be realistic. Except for Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson who do you remember? You could argue that Clay Aiken became a success because of Idol, but really now, how many do you actually remember? Here’s one: Whatever happened to Reuben – the guy who beat Clay Aiken? Talk about a single-dimensional singer who couldn’t break out of his Teddy Pendergrass persona. Where is he?
I hope you’re beginning to see my point about all this: In the music business, as in life, for the most part, there’s no such thing as a shortcut. Some lucky ones squeak through, but most who take the shortcut are quickly forgotten, or worse, aren’t really doing much with respect to their “dream,” which is a real tragedy. And that’s my problem with American Idol. It’s a facade that gives people this false sense that they can shortcut the path to success. But real success comes from earning it. Real success comes from working at what you’re doing day in and day out perfecting your craft; giving up a lot of things that would otherwise distract you from your goals.
I look at my own little corner of the world. I’ve been performing in the area for 30 years; most regularly for the past 15. I’ve worked up enough of a following and notoriety where if I wanted, I could be gigging every night of the week. I only gig up to four nights a week, but the point to this is that I’ve earned it. My only goal musically has been to be able to have the freedom to gig as much as I can. If it’s at a local level that’s fine. If it breaks into something bigger, that would be awesome. But I have a family to support, so I’ve made certain choices about how far I actually want to take it. But for what I can put into it, I’m enjoying a very certain and very real amount of success, and to underscore what I’ve been talking about in this article, it has literally taken me years to get to where I’m at now.
Other working musicians who read this will know what I mean. They know that something truly earned is far more valuable than something won.