Myth of Rock

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Everyone has a different concept of what reality is. It would seem on the surface that this should not be the case since, by definition, reality would be an absolute constant in any situation. Good on paper but not in fact. As always, the truth is never so simple. Everyone has their own take on what is real and what is not. Those who have a sense of reality most similar to our own are those we eventually think of as friends or compatriots. We tend to avoid those who disagree with us, while anyone whose perspective is radically different is usually institutionalized, ostracized, or (at least) moved out of the mainstream of the society/culture they live in until - or unless - they can prove to the status quo the validity of their point of view. You could probably put anyone from Leonardo da Vinci to the Wright Brothers to Thelonius Monk in the latter category.

The way we acquire our information combined with the veracity of that information affects our subjective sense of reality. It is the reason why propaganda was such a useful weapon during the Cold War years. The ability to create doubt in the minds of society causes that society to question its own sense of cultural/societal/governmental reality. In his book 1984, George Orwell created a society in which the ministry of information controlled the masses by controlling the information they received. The government even went so far as to rewrite history by changing old newspaper and film files to support the ideological goals of the current regime. They created a world very far removed from the truth but also gave the public a unified, single, consistent vision (however untrue). The mythology of rock is very firmly rooted. Many of us grew up believing that if we learned to play well we would find success, or even more specifically, success would just naturally come looking for us. Just because you can shred or write amazing songs does not mean you will see your name in lights. In the late 80's and early 90's, guitar magazines helped propagate the myth that looks + chops = fame and fortune. This is obviously not true. When was the last time you bought a record by a shred dude? (And if they have put an album out recently, they are one of the lucky ones "successful" ones.)         Reeves Garbles, David Bowie's recording and touring guitarist, solo artist on Upstart Records, and author of The Myth of Rock speaks about several misconceived views of musicians and the music industry. In the first chapter he writes about what he calls the "misfortune of getting a record deal." The misconception here is that record deals make you an immediate fortune. For example, you just got a record deal with a major label. It is a five-album, one million dollar deal. He clarifies, "What this means is the record company has the right to expect the artist to give them five albums over the next five or so years. Each album could have an average budget of $200 000, totaling out at $1 000 000 (if the label puts out all five records). The first two records are most likely firm (which means the label is contractually bound to pay for them but not necessarily to release them). After that, each record has an option that lets the record company decide whether to continue the relationship or not." For the sake of argument, let's say there are four band members, a manager, and, of course, at the label's insistence, a producer with a track record of some success. We also have to figure that the band needs money to live on, so we have to take that into account. Gabrels lays down the facts: "Manager takes 20% of budget; lodging costs: $200/day; Studio costs: $1000/day plus engineer and tape costs, etc.; producer 50-70 thousand dollars."         So you decide to record your first of five potential albums. First off, the manager takes 20% right away as his fee. Automatically your $200k budget drops to $160k. To keep costs down the band decides to record in their hometown (which will eliminate lodging costs) at a studio that the label feels is suitable. The band and the producer feel they need two months worth of time, which altogether should cost around $80k. The band now has $80k left, and it's time to pay the producer. This producer is going to cut you a break. His fee for producing (and making you a star) is $50k. This leaves the band $30k to divide among four members in order to have food and rent money for the coming year. This means the band members, if everything goes according to schedule, get $7.5k each to live on for the next year. There are other ways to make enough money to keep playing after you get a major-label deal (like selling your publishing if you are one of the songwriters, and/or touring). But the record deal doesn't look quite like the brass ring you once thought it was, does it?         In the fourth chapter of The Myth of Rock, Gabrels talks about the supposed "high life". The idea that all rock stars travel by jet and limo everywhere and having someone waiting on them all the time. Gabrels clarifies once more, "On David Bowie's tour, we travel almost exclusively by tour bus. Three to four nights out of the week we travel overnight to the next city, which means the band (David included) sleeps on the bus. It is simply more efficient and cost effective. I haven't been in a limo since 1991, and that time it was on MTV's tab. As far as being waited on, the afternoon before our show in Boston (where I live) I was at home cleaning the cat box." The point is this: Professional musicians are normal people doing slightly abnormal jobs. I am personally more in awe of firemen and schoolteachers than musicians.