My father and I have a great relationship. Whether it’s bonding over champagne and cigars, discussing the 30,000 feet view of our business ventures, or over-sharing tidbits about our sex lives, almost any talking point is fair game. All except one: music.
Our views on the subject could not be more opposite. For instance, I’m clinically obsessed with western pop music, but my father can’t seem to get far enough away from it. Even the classical music he plays on Sirius XM whispers at an inaudible volume. How could two people that are so similar genetically be so different in this one area? For a while I was convinced that he just hated the long hair and tight pants associated with the movement like all other straight-down-the-line men, but the real cause is a surprisingly geopolitical one: Capitalism.
Because I was raised in the first world, unlike my father who was raised in the second world (referring to red states during The Cold War), I was free to be courted by the music industry and fall in love with its product, community and opportunity.
Artists and fans give their all to each other simply because they know the relationship will last. Artists are one-of-a-kind to their fans, and vice-versa. There’s no anonymity — and we all know anonymity tickles the worst human impulses.
This give-more-than-you-take artistic ideology spilled over into the physical product sphere when the non-profit Social Venture Network became a nexus for businesses that value people, planet and profits equally. The organization coined the term “triple bottom line” and gave precedent to companies going past their required “Corporate Social Responsibility” and becoming “B Corporations.” The “Benefit Corporation” certification is already legislated in Canada and over half of the United States.
When a company gets this certification, it insists that the shareholders leave behind the nearsightedness of the next fiscal quarter and take on a grand vision that benefits the stakeholders who buy into the brand’s products or are impacted by its spending. This positive movement was initiated by soulful founders and has since lead to more socially conscious personal care, clothing and ice cream brands.
Pop music is a product of modern Capitalism, which grows by creating shared value for the consumer and producer.
The first world may have only built this machine to benefit corporate interests, but the result has sprouted a more emotionally evolved culture than the one found in the second world. Listeners are accepted into a community of fans when they buy tickets and subscriptions, and artists are accepted into a community of creators when they pay for production and its auxiliary costs.
In the words of the great Andy Warhol, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” Great music is released at a rate unparalleled in most other industries because writers, producers and engineers have learned to work through the artistic uncertainty. Artists don’t have to subject themselves to intellectual communism where their mental faculties are forcibly spent on education that offers no tangible application. Instead, they’re rightfully schooled to the game by OGs that see them fit. The consuming public is then privileged to purchase quality art that has been curated by trusted individuals.
Opportunity in music is a similar siren song to the one that lured rebellious first generation immigrants to uproot their lives and come build America. It takes an impetuous wild heart to risk it all for uncertain gains. While there is no guaranteed formula for building a career as a successful touring artist or music executive, there are shared characteristics between the top players. They all have guidance from wise mentors, an intimate connection with their team, and great timing in catching the right waves. Fans need to trust the messenger before they trust the message, so the star typically builds relationships within the industry before connecting with the consuming public. Spending years to seize an opportunity like this demands a lot of self-assurance.
When I added up all the ways music has touched me life and shaped me, it took on a familial role. My father’s story of growing up in the Soviet Union is pretty different. The only genre of music he had was music. There was no need for social scenes, variety in the arts and brand alignment for a nation hell bent on making scientific discoveries, breeding super humans and cutting everyone else down to a uniform size. Plus it’s hard listening to the radio when your DJ is a murderous brute.
Music is such a pillar of our western identity that when the first and second worlds were bridged by Gorbachov’s glasnost (meaning openness), people celebrated at the 1989 Moscow Music Peace Festival by jamming out to music that literally screamed freedom: Hair Metal.
Taking a good hard look at the dumb luck of me being born as a second-generation immigrant in a Capitalist regime has made me see popular music as a unique medium for mass communication rather than just a three and a half minute collage of mid-tempo rhythms. On top of that, knowing that writing a simple essay like this with the innocent message of “people can make cool stuff yeah” would have landed me into Siberian exile has turned this ungrateful prick into a grateful prick.