“It comes from here” said my very good friend Kevin, tapping the teacher’s chest on the left side, over the heart. The teacher had just asked where the sound comes from on a saxophone. Kevin was just trying not to let on that he really didn’t know the answer, but in fact he really did. He nailed something very important, the imperative of which tends to get forgotten about, sidelined and all but left behind entirely over the course of The Process a musician (or in Kevin’s case a recording engineer, and a good one at that) goes through in order to ‘become’.
We all know that music begins in the heart of the writer, goes through what can be a homerically long odyssey of sketching, arranging, pre-production, production, mixing, mastering and finally manufacturing and distribution, until, at long last—IF it has survived The Odyssey and IF it hasn’t been shelved by the record company for not being commercial enough, or because the president’s wife decides that the company should jettison the entire roster of artists and pending releases so they can focus on karaoke (you might recognize the voice of experience here)—finally, at the other end of the line, the music winds up connecting to the heart of the listener.
All well and good.
But our decades of musical training focuses on things technical—and necessarily so—and then once out of school and working in The Industry, in most areas of musical endeavor every pressure is on to make money, the soulful credo being “Art schmart, get the money and get on to the next job!”
Jazz (a VERY big word in my book, encompassing everything not ‘pop’, ranging from the lush orchestral work of Duke Ellington to modern orchestral explorations to Bella Fleck to Miles to Steve Vai) has always been immune to these forces, being an area of non-commercial music where recordings don’t just repeat a hook until John Q. Public is brainwashed into buying the thing; an area where looks aren’t more important than substance and form isn’t held in higher regard than function; an area which, in short, mainstream and Main Street America just doesn’t get. Occupying such a high place on the creative totem pole and such a low place on the financial, Jazz attracts purists afflicted with the true, spiritual connection to music that makes them choose the career path despite the probability of lifelong poverty.
By the same token, the soulless nature of the recording industry has always alienated those among us who really connect with music on a spiritual level. Those of us who can maintain that connection in the face of corporate forces, while swimming through The Industry’s great, vaunted cesspool on high, have done okay; those who can’t have had to figure out ways to make their careers work without tearing out their soul.
But now things have changed.
The demise of the record industry is bemoaned and mourned by many; I celebrate it as a great liberation. No longer subservient to the corporate bottom line, We The Indie Artists and our music—of every genre—are now free to express. We can still make it about making money, if we choose to believe that an album of any type is going to generate sufficiently meaningful income to buy a house, plan a retirement or even live on, but the underlying, irrefutable truth is that now we’re free to elevate and liberate ourselves and our art from that whole Big Lie.
All of us.
Free to do that which we were born to do, free to create the kind of music that we felt inside, in our chests and our breasts, when we chose this dubious career path.
We’re free to express.