We will all grant, I think, that what the Nashville music community has achieved in the past 20 years is something of a modern music industry miracle. It is true that much of the achievement has been made possible by “damn yankee” money in the form of significant major label investment, but that investment has been protected and multiplied by a strong sense of competitive cooperation rooted in a system of shared cultural and musical values. This is perhaps best expressed by a songwriter I was talking with recently who phrased the attitude like this: “Nashville is really like a big family. When you have a hit and you’re hot, everyone is genuinely happy for you, and when you’re having a cold period, even if it’s for a number of years, they understand and don’t shut you out. . .they still invite you to all the parties anyway.”
It would be wonderful if the Chicago music community could develop such a mature, supportive attitude for each of its members, but that seems highly unlikely without a major shift in thinking and awareness. We will not ever develop a sense of togetherness until we tackle the main obstacle head on and get it out of our lives. That obstacle is not, as you might think, profit-motivated competition for what is perceived as a small slice of an ever-shrinking pie, for the pie has actually gotten much bigger than many of us realize or fully understand yet (more on this topic in later columns).
The main problem is that Chicago musicians and music industry pros lack, and will probably never have, the one element that has made Nashville’s success possible–a common musical style rooted in a shared cultural tradition. Unlike the homogeneous “good ole boys,” Chicagoans represent a true cultural melting pot: the CSO aligned in uneasy, uncaring co-existence with Kiss. Musical Chicago is a conglomeration of social and cultural factions, and the suggestion that such diverse human groups as those that support “new wave” and “Classical” musics might find cooperative strength in their very differences may indeed qualify as a profound example of wishful, schizophrenic idealism. Yet that is precisely the course we must follow for our own mutual benefit and ultimate success as a powerful music community.
Until and unless we can find a common ground, one of which each of us is allowed equal status in the profession, the larger profession will not flourish. Leonard Bernstein said it eloquently in his acceptance speech at the 1985 Grammy Awards, to paraphrase: “The goal of my career has been to show that music, fundamentally, is music, regardless of the color or race or cultural origin of the people who make it, and I find myself at once pleased at my own sucess and anxious to finish this speech quickly and make way for another true artist–Tina Turner.”
This attitude, the simultaneous acknowledgement of difference and esthetic acceptance of those differences is, I feel, the key to Chicago’s success as a force in the music industry.
Look around you. There is an astonishing array of musical styles and activity, each contingent mining its own musical vein largely unaware of its neighbors. A huge Polka market exists side-by-side with an ever-strengthening Hispanic presence with a broad range of white and black gospel music, jazz, and blues, with a resilient folk scene, with a brilliant classical constituency, with a hip cadre of jingle producers, and so on and so on. Chicago is an intensely creative musical community, but because it never takes time to get to know its neighbors, it is never able to capitalize on its true strength. . .the very diversity that keeps us apart.
So I propose that we all think about this, and find ways to acknowledge our true strength and capitalize on it.
We should begin now to support such professional organizations as NARAS and the Chicago Music Coalition. We should lobby the governor and mayor and city council for a Chicago Music Office. We should develop the powerful marketing techniques that exit today to strengthen independent labels of all kinds. We should educate professionals to run the companies that will make us all rich. We should look beyond ourselves to what’s happening in other parts of our area in musical communities cultural light years away from our own. We should make sure we don’t ever need mac hard drive recovery in general (for more, see http://www.harddrivefailurerecovery.net/). Then we should come together in common effort to help each other out and develop communication networks built on mutual respect for our differences and recognition of the wonderful opportunities that a true music community can generate.
If we do that, 20 years from now they’ll be talking about the fantastic things that were achieved when the Chicago music industry giant woke up and discovered its true strength. And you know what? They’ll still be inviting us to the parties.