Musicians: The Endangered Species?
By Dendy Jarrett |
Musicians: The Endangered Species?
It’s not just wildlife we need to be worried about …
by Dendy Jarrett
Dear Musician –
Wikipedia defines an endangered species as "a species that has been categorized as likely to become extinct." If you read the clickbait articles on the web—or, in more practical terms, noticed the dramatic decline in live performance venues—you might think musicians are morphing into dinosaurs.
True, funding for the arts in schools has been slashed in many states. True, it’s harder to make a living as a gigging musician. Guitar Hero used to be a big deal, but with hindsight we can see it was a fad. True, the Washington Post even wrote an article about the supposed “death” of the electric guitar. So it’s time to call the funeral home, true?
These “the end of the world is coming” stories get boring after a while. Right now, articles about the end of car culture are popular; millennials aren’t interested in buying cars. Therefore, it’s the end of the car because they decided all they really need is Uber or Lyft. But wait a minute…what do Uber and Lyft drivers use? Bicycles?
When synthesizers came out, there were dire predictions that they would put musicians out of business. Only one problem with that argument: synthesizers are played by…news flash! Musicians.
Or take guitars. Overall, guitar sales are up, thanks to increased acoustic guitar sales and ukuleles becoming the new “starter guitar.” Someone’s playing all those stringed instruments. More guitars are being sold than ever.
What is becoming endangered, however, is the idea of musicians being special. Music has been democratized; there are now more ways to get your music heard than ever before. It used to be that if you were a guitar player in a band, you were a big deal. Now you’re just a…guitar player in a band. And some people think of DJs as “replacement musicians” who do nothing special (even though DJing is not easy).
Is this a bad thing? It remains to be seen, but popular culture is cyclical. Who’s more of a guitar hero—the person who gets a high score in a video game or the music teacher who inspires a student to play an instrument? Who’s more of a star in some kid’s eyes—Slash playing something on TV (assuming they even know who Slash is), or the musician next door who shows the kid it’s not that hard to learn an instrument—and maybe he should take out of the closet the Casio keyboard that Dad didn’t really get into? Who’s more likely to earn a living in music—someone who complains that you can’t make any money streaming from social media or someone who uses social media to promote gigs and sell merch?
Species become endangered for many reasons, but one of the main ones is not being able to adapt to a changing environment. The world is not “same as it ever was.” But with more people listening to music than ever and more people making music than ever, it’s just a matter of time before our musical environment stabilizes and opportunities become available. Meanwhile, you (yes, you) can make those opportunities open up faster.
How? Well, consider this: Music needs ambassadors, so appoint yourself. The next time you meet someone who marvels that you can play a musical instrument, explain that it’s not that hard…and offer to give advice on good starter instruments. Next time you see someone listening to music on a smart phone, point out that there are some pretty cool programs for making music (start with Propellerheads’ Figure). Don’t see DJs as the enemy—see them as primed for learning an instrument.
One definition of an ambassador is “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity.” At Harmony Central, we see ourselves as ambassadors of music (and we’re really happy to see readers of this newsletter getting into the spirit of things by encouraging their friends to sign up to “Make Better Music”). But ultimately, we all want to hear fantastic music, whether made by ourselves or others. Musicians will always make music; it’s in our DNA. Yes, the musical environment is changing—but we can change, too, and bring others into our new musical environment as a way to strengthen it. In doing so, you can keep musicians off the endangered species list. -HC-
Dendy Jarrett is the Publisher and Director of Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.