Interview: Moos Lamerus on changes and quality in professional music
New media caused the music industry to change dramatically over the last two decades. The exchange of recorded music through peer-to-peer software nearly killed ((See for example this article, one of the many texts on this topic)) the big players in the recording industry. The initial startup costs for professionals in the field declined ((This website provides a nice example of what this means)) , enabling more individuals to enter the market. Digital home recoding, online distribution and social media marketing enable musicians to reach wider audiences while hardly investing any money.
Most comments on such developments focus on the negative consequences for the traditional recording industry, the positive, often utopian expectations of the (maybe now no longer very) new possibilities for individual artists and art lovers, or on the question if the general quality of available art declines now thresholds for the creation and distribution of art also do so. But the question how artists and other professionals in the industry perceive the changes caused by the new media over the last decade remains largely overlooked.
To get a general feel of what an answer to such a question might look like, I interviewed Moos Lamerus. Before continuing, however, it is important to distinguish, for this article, between musicians on the one hand, and other music professionals on the other. The second group consists of sound technicians, managers, and distributing and booking agencies, among others. To keep it simple, I will refer to this group as producers. Using this distinction, I was able to map the field in the interview, and tackle a few of the above questions.
Moos Lamerus has been working as a producer at Muziek Centrum Nederland (Dutch Music Centre, MCN), at the Tropentheater, at Paradiso, Bitterzoek and Crea (four concert venues in Amsterdam), and in the production team of the Grote Prijs van Nederland (one of the main music rewards in the Netherlands). He is currently a Music Producer at the small but international company MassiveMusic. Beside his activities as a producer, he has also been playing in various bands ((Those bands being ‘The Blue Shades‘ and ‘Piet‘.)) over the last ten years. He has been touring abroad, and released various records.
You organized both a US tour and the recording and release of your latest record. Among other things. Do you feel like the new media enabled you to completely produce and manage your activities as a musician?
“Only in a certain sense. I do feel completely independent in making plans, getting them straight, and making them work. But I also think part of that job is to acknowledge that you can’t do everything by yourself. People tend to stress do-it-yourself (DIY) culture lately. Music industry professionals in general, and record companies specifically, tend to be seen as bad, threatening entities that only exist to squeeze as much money out of you as they can. But realistically speaking, these producers are the ones that make it happen in the end. Sure, you should get yourself up to a certain level first, and in order to do that, you can, and should, take care of your own business, using your own network, online and offline, to get going as a musician. But you should not be afraid to acknowledge the spots in the plan where you lack the required talent, and arrange for some trained producers once you’re ready. DIY is certainly useful to get somewhere, but it won’t get you all the way.”
So getting through the startup phase became easier over the last ten years, with advantages of the new media?
“Well… yes and no. The new media offer a means of getting your stuff out there in a million new ways, but they are also a burden. New musicians on the block are expected to do something new, something special. Back in the days, musicians were dependent on music labels to get them somewhere, but that also meant a relatively easy picture: you just had to make a few super good songs, and the label would arrange for the rest. They would do come up with a band image, hire songwriters and recording engineers, and so on. Now, as a starting musician, you’re still expected to make outstanding music, but also to make it through the possibilities of the new media in an original way.”
But the key to success…
…remains the quality of the music. You might have the most ingenious way of promoting your work, if it’s rubbish, nobody is going to listen to it.”
So you don’t agree with the people saying that the real new talent is made invisible by an overload of mediocracy?
“No. There are still certain gatekeepers who decide who gets mass attention and who doesn’t. For example, MassiveMusic recently gave a bunch of fifteen-year-olds a lot of attention by using their music for a commercial. The boys are extremely good for their age. And this is no exception. Although mass media are not as important as they used to be – especially music television is on its return – their role as gatekeepers still stands. And grows, in the case of music used in commercials. Like I said, of course there are exceptions, of course there are successful self made musicians, but most of the success comes through producers.”
And what about the producers themselves? Has their field changed over the last decade?
“Sure, quite thoroughly. When the recording industry started to make a lot of money during the second half of the last century, it made sense for them to specialize further and further – the market was big enough, and highly specialized producers were in demand. Since the new media changed the was music is distributed, it is no longer simple where the money is being made. The market has grown, other than what [music industry] people might claim, but the money sources have segregated, so professionals start to gather specialities, so to speak – the manager decides to also become a booker, the label starts to organize concerts, and so on. Especially now startup costs are lower than ever meaning there are also a lot of new possible competitors, the field really got a bit uptight – everyone tries to get a bit of the pie when it shows up, even though the pie itself got bigger.”
And what’s the role of, for example, social media in this?
“Well, most companies do use social media as a part of a broader communications strategy. But, again, most professionals already know most of their colleagues in the field. For me, personally, social media are both a means of keeping my professional contacts archivable and accessible – I use LinkedIn for this purpose – and one of the three most important ways to get my music out there as a musician, the other two being my website and old fashioned word of mouth.”
Also posted on my blog.