Saturday, February 05, 2005

Forget Ranting; These Guys Are Building Their Own Machine

Longtime Musings readers know that I've been ranting against the Machine for almost as long as I've been a blogger. (For the uninitiated, the Machine is my name for the corporate-driven recording industry, or Big Music if you wish; read the whole thing to understand why I believe the industry is no friend of musicians.) Yesterday, I read an encouraging article in this month's issue of Down Beat magazine that talks about how many jazz artists are taking the bull by the horns and bypassing the Machine completely by starting their own labels:
Maria Schneider pulled off a coup in 2004. The composer/bandleader didn't sell one copy of her new Maria Schneider Orchestra album, Concert in the Garden, in a retail store. This wasn't a catastrophic failure for Schneider, though. When Grammy nominations were announced in December, she received four nominations for the album, more than any other jazz artist or album in 2004.
Schneider released Concert in the Garden through ArtistShare...and sold thousands of copies of it exclusively through She has taken control of her recording career and found working outside the traditional label-artist relationship can lead to commercial success.
--Jason Koransky, "First Take: The Artist as Businessman"
Unfortunately, the article is not linked on DB's website, but it goes on to tout some of the aritists who have started their own labels in recent years (including Kevin Mahogany, Branford Marsalis, Dave Holland (no link yet), Ravi Coltrane and Dave Douglas). It's well worth tracking down the magazine on newsstands if you're a big jazz fan.

This is great news for jazz musicians, who have pretty much become the red-headed stepchild* of the recorded music industry in the first place. Jazz has become a really specialized genre in the past several decades, and while its devotees are often fiercely loyal, most jazz recordings will never sell in numbers nearly close enough to "help them pay their rents in Times Square," as Ravi Coltrane notes. Having jazz musicians at the helm of smaller, artist-friendly labels will also ensure that musical integrity is the top priority whenever a recording is released, and these new musician/entrepreneurs are sharing the wealth by signing new artists to their labels. Sure, the two major jazz labels have been able to peacefully coexist with the Machine without going over to the Dark Side, but as Mahogany points out, "[E]verybody can't be on [Verve and Blue Note]. But this is better for jazz, as there are more opportunities for more artists to do their own thing. It'll make jazz better."

We in the jazz world were never going to win at the Machine's game, so it only makes sense that some enterprising jazzers decided to form their own league. Bravo to the pioneers in an area that's likely to be the model for recorded jazz for decades to come.

*Sorry, Dingus, I couldn't resist that one. Heh. (Oh, and speaking of Dingus, he returns from the blogospheric dead with a new post on the TD/D site.)

QUOTE OF THE (YESTER)DAY: "One good thing about music is, it takes your mind off everything else. You get lost in the action. You become part of it. No matter how down you are, music lifts you up."--'April Patterson,' in yesterday's strip of the comic For Better or For Worse.

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