By Hans Ebert
There’s something happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mister Jones? Dylan wrote and asked that question on “The Ballad Of A Thin Man” many many years ago. In recent months, more and more friends have been asking almost the same thing- intelligent people looking for answers, wondering who or what exactly is today’s “Mister Jones”, and how there’s very little around to inspire or excite to bring about positive change. Yes, living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see…so, wake up, already!
Sure, inspiration is wherever one finds it, but it appears to be in short supply today. Excess is not inspiration. It’s clutter. Neither is throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. Neither is everyone having an online pulpit to spew forth naive thinking, which then attracts more naivety with all that’s left being the often befuddled thoughts of online pundits.
Many will disagree, but social media, as we know it today, is either on its last legs, or has died a quiet death with this news being killed off as it would be bad for business and share prices. It’s very much like parallel worlds: There’s what you’re allowed to see and partake in, but with the real engines being blocked from view in case they’ve stalled or blown a gasket. It’s about keeping up pretences for the fawning faithful.
At least to this writer, there’s a technological driven Orwellian world at work with Big Brother watching over the worker bees and ensuring that everything stays on the straight and narrow and that everyone complies. But, in every generation, there are the rebels- the peasants who will always say, Enough is enough, and storm Le Bastille. Or the offices of Mark Zuckerberg, Daniel Eck and the rest of the digital rat pack.
There’s also an eerie similarity between the interest in social media and “going digital”, and the launch of MTV- the spreading of the 24/7 music channel’s tentacles around the world, the repetitive news how video had killed the radio star, whereas what you have today is a dead brand on life support.
MTV saw this coming less than five years before it was launched as did Viacom, its parent company. The problem was that Viacom- and MTV- were, like music companies- unprepared for the Trojan horse being wheeled in and what was inside: chaos and a new digital world eating disorder.
It’s why today, it’s not just raining men, it’s raining bloggers, vloggers, Youtubers, Instagrammers, a president who communicates through Twitter, and an online world where everyone is an expert on everything and Google has all the answers with big business led by the nose by that guy named Al Gorithm.
Musicians who are using social media to promote themselves and their product and who aren’t Weeknd are furiously engaged in gaining more “views” and “likes”. But does any of this get anyone further? Has the online world become formulaic marketing where the tail is wagging the dog and originality is taking a backseat to make-believe, and often, purchased illusions of fame?
Musicians often losing sight of the quality and potency of their music for online popularity has much to do with a world on overload and a lowering of standards. There’s so much clutter out there that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. It makes the organic success of a hugely creative looper and musician like Melbourne’s Tash Sultana all the more interesting and stunning. She broke through all the clutter and made YouTube work for her music.
Maybe it’s because it’s really HER music and HER videos- videos that are of almost edutainment value, and where we join her journey to get from here to wherever she’s going. Tash Sultana is also not style over substance. She’s not another pretentious Lorde. Or Katy Perry. Or Miss Swift. She’s the real deal.
Perhaps it’s also why many of us, after all these years, are fixated with discovering outtakes of tracks by the Beatles. We want to hear how it all began. We want to understand the process and when technology wasn’t the idea. Maybe it’s a need to get back to the basics.
Maybe it’s why these days I am not only drawn to the musicianship of Danish bassist Ida Nielsen, I am excited thinking of what might happen if she and Tash Sultana ever made music together. And if I could help make this happen…
This is where the role of the A&R person goes MIA these days when recording music these days. Average musicians working alone produce average music whereas talented young musicians often get lost in online fame and stay there through a lack of direction. Somewhere along the way, they get bamboozled by bullshit and take their eye off the ball with inexperienced enablers unable to get them back on track. Even the Beatles needed George Martin to show them the way.
It’s probably why the latest release by The Sam Willows, a group from Singapore that I really thought could make it outside of Asia, leaves me asking, What happened? Why release something that sounds like a song Selena Gomez might have passed? Lazy A&R? An Asian act has to try doubly hard to be original if they’re to break through beyond being big fish in their own backyard. At least with this new release, The Sam Willows have gone back to Orchard Road and a plate of roti prata.
Much more importantly, a number of us who were lost for awhile and dazzled by “tech talk” are suddenly realising the need to simplify and prioritise lives. We’re looking for something, but not sure what this might be. But we’re getting there…
The last few years have created the illusion of so much happening when much of this muchness has been smoke and mirrors. Now, all us restless hearts who have worked with much better talent in many different creative driven industries, are turning a deaf ear to unrequested advice from “social media experts” who can’t even figure out how to live their lives in the real world and believe in making music an exacting science. That’s what making music with technology often- not all the time- does. It sucks out all the passion and soulful mistakes. As in beauty, perfection is always not what it’s cracked up to be. Flaws show character.
In the end, it’s quite simple really: If you’re creative, you create without thinking of anything else. That’s what the Beatles did for seven short years and just look at the legacy they have left us. Add to this list Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Prince, Bowie, David Byrne, Bjork and Todd Rundgren.
If, after years, there’s still only a roaring silence from talent more interested in equating success by the number of followers they have on social media, excuse me while I stifle a yawn. What are these people following when there’s nothing out there of any relevance? Leave them behind. Don’t engage with people who will drag you down to their level of pettiness while living in make believe lands with the fairies.
The other problem we have here, Huston, is everybody pretending to worry about everyone else. But, like collecting “friends” along the way on Facebook, there’s a phoniness to it all, because no one is really concerned about helping anyone. Not really.
Where are we at? Everywhere and nowhere. Do any of us have the answers to what’s next? Maybe. But if the past has taught this writer anything, it’s to keep everything under wraps.
Trust no one except yourself, and what’s in your heart and mind. And don’t follow leaders and watch your parking meters because time waits for no one.