The Danger of Democratized Art

Let me tell you why music sucks.

That’s something I’ve been trying to explain for quite a long time, yielding very poor results. Obviously, I still think I’m right, and that modern music is lesser of an art form than that made when my parents were my age, but attempting to tell people why is an almost impossible endeavor. I realize now that where I was going wrong wasn’t my message, but how I was going about getting to it. Instead of explaining why Led Zeppelin is better than Radiohead, I see that the more important thing to do is explain how they were better.

In the old days, being a musician was a pretty simple formula. You picked up and instrument, formed a band, and just played. To be successful, you also had to be at the top 1% of your field in terms of talent, and then just wait to be seen by the right person. It wasn’t a perfect model. The cream rose to the top, but not all of it. Some got left behind for no real reason at all. Take for example, the band Anvil. The 2008 documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil followed around a sad looking group of washed-up rockers from the 1980s that never made it big. They seemed to have just about everything – if not more – than a lot of famous acts of their time, but luck didn’t go their way. It’s what people in the new age like to symbolize as the failing of the music industry mindset. They tell you that in today’s world, if Anvil truly was as good, the people would have known. This just isn’t the case.

The truth of the matter is that in a post-Napster society, nobody gets left out because there are no cracks for artists to fall through. The playing field is even. But the reverse of that is also true: there are no cracks in the ground because there is no ground, just a cloud (recognize that term?) that we all inhabit. Everything is floating around, whether it be greatness, mediocrity or complete shit. In Anvil’s case, they only had to compete with Metallica, Slayer, Ratt, Motley Crue, etc. With today’s culture, their success is (idealistically) dependent on how much they put themselves out there, and if the art is good, people will respond. The problem? Anvil are musicians, not promoters.

I recently watched the documentary PressPausePlay, which asks questions regarding how technology has affected art. In it, the proponents of new media brag about how an artist has total control over his or her art, with no middle-man in the way. This is a highly conceited opinion. These people, like the video production company that shares tasks like editing, directing or sound with each other, believes that every one of them can do anything just as well as everyone else. This, they explain, is different (and better) than old media, which would have separate departments for all of these jobs. They believe that this way brings a more artistic value to their process, since directors would see editing in a whole new light, editors would approach music differently, and so on.

This democratization essentially kills expertise. The reason the old way was to have an Editing Guy, is because Editing Guy knew how to edit better than everyone else. He went to school for it, he has studied it, he knows it better than he knows anything else in the world. That’s the kind of guy I would want editing my movie. To have a small group of people share these jobs means that they have to be able to complete each task, but not necessarily master them. The emphasis is on the artist, not the actual art that comes out; about the idea, not the execution. What this ultimately churns out is a mediocre product, being marketed as “authentic” because nobody touched the initial idea creator’s vision.

It’s this lack of focus on the end result that bothers me. What’s being expressed is that raw creativity is somehow greater than a masterpiece. It doesn’t matter if key components within aren’t as good as they could be. In my opinion, this is flat out wrong.

Take Soundtrack of the Week. Ty and myself do all the editing, all the web work, all the marketing. How big the podcast gets is directly tied to how well we do all of those things. But all great success would do is show that we were good enough at all of those things, which we really aren’t, and why we probably won’t be the next Adam Carollas. We do believe we are good podcasters. However, we can’t give the art of doing our shows the full attention that we need. We have to devote time to everything else. If we had a marketing team, a web team and a producer, only then would the true potential of our art come out. But to do it that way would, in today’s term, would be “selling out”. The only way to gain respect in art culture is to own 100% of the art, and to have anybody else touch it would be seen as “going corporate”. The reality is that it would be letting professionals handle the things we can’t do. And I can admit I can’t do everything, which is something artists in today’s world would never let you know.

Old media had its problems, sure, but it was built in a way to let experts perform their duties. Musicians played music, executives sold it, and you just took any problems that that relationship came with. But we live in a selfish society where everyone has to be the best at anything, which in turn just makes everyone mediocre at everything. Jacks of all trades, Masters of Puppets of none. Let’s get back to being great at something, and letting others be great at their something too. If our art is subpar, so will be our society.

One thought on “The Danger of Democratized Art

  1. Well said. I’d never thought of it that way, but it’s totally true. Recordings these days really don’t have the attention that they used to have put into them. The ones that do, stand out to me.

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