“April Showers bring…Random PROG thoughts”
Jerry Lucky Commentary April 2018
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2018 All Rights Reserved
You’ll see on the home page I’ve just reviewed the new book by Jerry Ewing entitled Wonderous Stories: A Journey through the Landscape of Progressive Rock and clearly it’s a book I would recommend to prog fans young and old. While it’s not by any stretch a detailed treatise on what is or isn’t Prog it does features some nicely comprehensive descriptions of genres, bands, and albums that I found very enjoyable to read. As kind of an added bonus it reads really quickly as there are over thirty chapters and none of them overly long.
In one of the chapters there’s a quote from, I believe Martin Orford. At least I think it’s him. Orford was the long-time keyboardist with IQ and he’s become quite an outspoken individual on a number of music-related issues. The text where he’s quoted is referencing Prog’s lack-luster relationship to the music industry and major recording label’s specifically. From day one there has always been the push for Prog band’s to produce a radio friendly single. This was true for YES in the seventies, it was true for Marillion in the Eighties and it was true for Echolyn in the nineties. The music industry is obsessed with singles. So here in Wonderous Stories Orford, with no thought of irony aims his comment directly to the major labels and says – “You knew we were a Prog band when you signed us, right?” And that kind of says it all.
All, and I mean ALL of the prog bands who were ever signed to ill-fated recording contracts had originally, pre-signing made their name, built their fan base and reputation on being, not a “singles” band but a Prog band. That is typically long and rambling songs that you could never dance to. It is utter stupidity that would cause an A&R record rep to call for such a band to produce a single. Makes me wonder if they’ve even listened to the band’s repertoire.
There is an old cliché about marriage that is no doubt politically incorrect these days, as so many things seem to be, that goes like this: “When a woman marries a man, she hopes that he’ll eventually change. When a man marries a woman, he hopes she’ll never change.” Both views are wrong in many senses, but it’s similar to the view of the record companies who sign a Prog band and then hope they’ll change. What kind of lunacy is that?
It’s actually a brand of lunacy that’s detailed in another book I just read written by Hank Bordowitz called, Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business: Why so Much Music You Hear Sucks. Yeah I know…what’s with these long titles? Still this was a very informative book that actually gets to heart of why the record business people would even think of asking a Prog band to produce a single. In brief it’s because they don’t know anything else. For the major labels it’s just about maintaining control of the product. That’s a slight over simplification but the book goes into great detail about every aspect of the business including recording, retail, internet, downloading, copyrights, publishing and much, much more to explain why and how this is so. Bordowitz, having actually worked in virtually every aspect of the music business comes at the whole industry with a view from the inside and his experiences are not at all comforting. In fact my recommendation to any aspiring musical artists who may be approached my major labels with a view to signing a contract would be to – RUN AWAY!
So what’s to be done? Well that brings us back to Ewing’s book Wonderous Stories because he has a chapter devoted to the surge in independent music labels. The great thing about these labels is that they all tend to be extremely internet savvy which means they have no sense of getting an artist to produce a single. Instead they allow the artist, as Peter Gabriel once said, to produce the music and then the label people use their skill-set to market the music. There is no thought to having the artist change their music to make it easier to sell. Ewing references a few times how the major labels were never able to really grasp how to market Prog so they were always trying to get the band to change. A situation of, in my view, the tail wagging the dog.
In many respects, after reading these two books, I came away thinking, if you are a Prog musician or just a fan this is a very good time to be alive. All those independent labels make it a whole lot easier for a band or artist to create their music and get it out there. Then there’s the internet and all those independent promotion companies who are there to expose the music to the fan base. All the while the fans can hear and purchase music, skipping the whole mainstream record business entirely. I think that’s a very good thing. So what do you think?