The first picture on the Wikipedia page of Britney Spears is of her standing in the middle of two rings, garbed as a circus ringleader and toting a whip. The picture fills me with bitter laughter. Not so much at the (inadvertent?) admission that she belongs in a circus, which is true, but that she thinks she leads that circus, which is very far from the truth.
Now, nobody really believes this, but she said this about the creation of Circus:
“I’m writing every day, right here at the piano in this living room… This is my best work ever.”
Get a load of the actual authors of her songs:
Nikesha Briscoe, Rafael Akinyemi, Lukasz Gottwald, Claude Kelly, Benjamin Levin, Shelly Peiken, Arnthor Birgisson, Wayne Hector, Nathaniel Hills, James Washington, Luke Boyd, Marcella Araica, Max Martin, Shellback, Savan Kotecha, Alexander Kronlund, Christian Karlsson, Pontus Winnberg, Henrik Jonback, Kasia Livingston, Stacy Barthe, Henry Walter, Adrien Gough, Peter-John Kerr, Nicole Morier, Harvey Mason, Jr., Rob Knox, James Fauntleroy II, Frankie Storm, Ronnie Jackson, Guy Sigsworth, and finally, Britney Spears, herself, who co-authors three of the twelve tracks.
And the producer list:
Teresa LaBarbera Whites and Larry Rudolph (executive), Bloodshy & Avant, Benny Blanco, The Clutch, Nate “Danja” Hills, Dr. Luke, Fernando Garibay, Greg Kurstin, Guy Sigsworth, Jim Beanz, Claude Kelly, Let’s Go To War, Max Martin, Nicole Morier, The Outsyders, Harvey Mason, Jr., and Rob Knox
All told, there are fifty people responsible for the production and songwriting of Spears’ new album.
If her record company has that many people on the hook for songwriting and production, just think of how many more they employ in promoting, touring, roadying, sound-checking, rehearsing, lip-syncing, video-recording, photographing and otherwise selling this garbage.
Then it hit me: This album is run off an assembly line like a Model-T or a Mauser (Excuse the dramatic comparisons—they were the first to enter my mind.). Just look at all those nameless names. They are factory workers, utterly detached from the product at the end of the line. And most of them are good and honest people, just like you or I.
And there Britney is, she the painted figurehead hanging from the bowsprit of a giant trireme, and there are a legion of galley slaves propelling her forward. But she does not steer the ship. She is too busy running from paparazzi, running from her rabid fans, running from the sex symbol she became ten years ago only to race back to it when she feels too ugly.
This is common practice for the Big 5, and has been. None of my retching will change that.
The record industry now sweats over peer-to-peer sharing. However, illegal downloading is not the only technology that has caused a contusion in their bloated cartel.
In recent years, digital recording has become relatively affordable, and there are now countless musicians making amazing, cheap albums on laptops in their basements. Anymore, a musician does not need to drum up the massive amount of capital it once required to make a professional sounding album.
Beyond production, the Internet itself provides countless outlets for independent artists to sell, promote, and gig themselves. And these artists do it by themselves.
The record companies must surely see the big picture here.
This change is not an upheaval of the norm. It is a return to a stasis—albeit one rebuilt with this new-fangled technology—in which the artist has control over the art and bears the responsibility for its success or failure. But more importantly, the artist bears the definition of their success or failure. If an artist’s music never makes it past his front porch and the ears of those who gather on it—and he’s cool with that—then that is success, right? My friends and neighbors always appreciated my music the most.
Ketch Secor, of Old Crow Medicine Show, had a profound insight:
“It’s such a pivotal part of American music making, the sound that was created in the 1920s, before the radios, before bluegrass, before record sales were nearly as important–back in the old days when people thought that maybe they shouldn’t make records, like making records was a way that other bands would steal their live shows. That’s the way a lot of guys felt about it back then. They were very mistrusting of the A & R thing.”
Consider Robert Johnson or Charley Patton. Doubtless, they had their qualms over recording and plagiarism. And rightly so—but neither knew the influence they would have. Nobody exploited them. They exploited themselves—although, I don’t think you can call something someone enjoys exploitation. Not like being locked in a room with the instructions, here, go write seven surf-rock songs or ten teenie-bopper tunes by Friday.
What a diarrhea of bad music the record industry has created with their defined roles and focus groups! I say, let them sink billions of dollars into suing and prosecuting downloaders. Let them own songs that other people wrote. Let them keep screwing the few decent artists they have left. They have turned music-making into a peopled machine, which, like the American car industry, will become bankrupt and irrelevant.
Time for another puncture in the equilibrium. Now everybody—