Standing on the Staples Center floor during Roger Waters’ first of five sold-out Southern California performances of The Wall this month, I marveled at how much music has changed since I first became a fan.
To call myself anything short of obsessive as a teenager would be an understatement—but I wasn’t alone, that was how music made a lot of us feel. It wasn’t enough to know everything about the bands we loved, we also wanted to know everything about the bands they loved. We wanted to know why they wore the shirts they wore, and who inspired the lyrics they wrote.
When Anthrax covered a Joe Jackson song, I had to go out and buy the Joe Jackson album it was from. When Lars Ulrich talked about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, I needed to know the bands he was championing. And when I discovered industrial music, I needed to also discover early innovators like Einstürzende Neubauten.
It was my responsibility as a fan, and I took that responsibility seriously. I went to record stores to find new music, read magazines to learn about inspiration and influence and listened to the radio for news and information. The word fan is derived from the word fanatic for a reason—being a fan took effort, and our efforts were rewarded in kind.
Music wasn’t background noise then, it was the soundtrack to our lives. It meant something, because we needed it to mean something. Our favorite bands helped shape our identity, and that identity couldn’t be researched for free on the Internet, bought for .99 on iTunes and adorned for $19.99 at Hot Topic.
Today, there is no effort required.
The value of music has changed, and so has our perception of its value. Music is no longer marketed as central to our lives, it is now delivered as a backdrop to a game of Madden, an addendum to Twilight or as a novelty on YouTube.
Cynics cry that the music industry is a dinosaur, plodding the earth in its final days before a downloading-induced extinction. But those people are being lazy and short-sided. True fans don’t stop at just listening to music, they make that music a part of them—and despite everything we’re told to the contrary, music fans are still out there.
I look at artists like Amanda Palmer and I get excited about where music is heading. Not because I love her music, but because I see a woman who is passionate about her art, and equally as passionate about delivering that art to her fans. She realizes that music is about more than just a song, it’s about a connection, and she works tirelessly at engaging that connection.
In an ADD-inspired and Internet-driven culture where short attention spans are not only encouraged, they are also rewarded, that engagement means everything.
Music isn’t dead, it’s just fallen into a coma for the people who refuse to make the investment, whether it be the fan who’s looking for little more than the flavor of the day, or the artist who is looking for little more than a lifestyle or a paycheck.
Standing on the Staples Center floor as Roger Waters performed The Wall’s epic finale, my relationship with that album changed. Not because I was hearing it for the first time, but because I was experiencing it for the first time. I was part of something bigger than iTunes, and I was in the midst of something that you don’t get from watching a performance on a computer screen or buying a t-shirt at the mall.
Nearly three decades ago, I invested in a double album by Pink Floyd. That album may not have made sense at the time, but it makes perfect sense today. It makes sense because I invested in more than just the product—I invested in my connection to the art.
It’s time that we—as fans and artists—rediscover the value of that connection.
by Paul Gargano
Paul Gargano has been a professional journalist for 20 years, in which time he has been syndicated by the Associated Press and Reuters, spent a decade as editor of Metal Edge magazine, and been featured on VH1, MTV and The Style Network. He lives in Los Angeles, where his company—Paul Gargano Media Dynamics (PGMD—provides marketing, management and writing and editing services to music industry clientele. Visit him online at www.paulgargano.com, and join him on Twitter via @PaulGargano.