Why don’t Musicians function more like Actors?

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Somewhere amongst the quandaries that float around my noggin on a daily basis is this: ‘why don’t musicians function more like actors?.

Let me clarify.

Actors are basically professional bachelors. Their allegiances are strictly to the best roles, scripts and pay checks. None of them are tied down to having to work with a set collection of people movie-in-movie-out [although Depp/Burton come close..]. This would be considered repetitive and boring in the movie world and we wouldn’t back it with our pennies after a few mundane outings, so why is it the norm in the music world?

In the music world, we start our bands with a handful of friends/people and we tend to stick with this cast throughout our entire creative life. This ain’t no bachelor life; this is a fully-fledged sexless marriage from day one. The cast remains the same with subtle variables such as producers, studios and instruments – but for the most part the career trajectory is going to be defined by a brigade of similar minds given that 99% of bands get together based on common genre adoration, personal common ground and musical ideals. Put it this way: if your creative ensemble consisted of four Ridley Scott’s, you’re unlikely to end up with a Rom-com or a Western, you know?

Why then, hasn’t an industry sprung up based around a musician marketplace? One in which talented musicians have no solid allegiance to any single band and are employed by other musical curators and producers for projects, albums and tours set within a predefined period of time. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time, but i definitely think it’d be an interesting avenue to at least explore. This model would drastically improve the quality of the music world due to the sheer competition for roles vs. the current safety and comfortability of being the bosses of our own bands – we all would have to up our game to stand a chance. Likewise, the diversity of these projects and the potential for new genres to perpetually pop up is a very real scenario – especially if your project comprises a metalhead singer, jazz drummer, DJ, blues guitarist and funk bassist.

I know that the money available in the movie industry absolutely dwarfs that of the music industry, so let’s use an example of popular musicians that would be very likely to generate a hefty financial return using this idea …

Rob Cavallo [Producer of Green Day and Paramore] has gotten a generous budget for a new Album and Tour project. He’s calling the project ‘Rocketship‘ and he has managed to hire Billie-Joe from Green day on Vocals/Guitar, Hayley from Paramore on Vocals, Slash on Lead Guitar, Flea on Bass and Travis Barker on Drums – doesn’t that sound like something you’d want to see and hear even for sheer curiosity? It’s a simple one year, one album, one tour commitment and after it’s done they’ll all go back to their regular bands and/or start working on the next project with a fresh set of different faces and different personnel.

I know i’m shooting big here, but it’s just to make my point as clear as i can manage with the tiny amount of coffee my day has blessed me with thus far. It would bring a real excitement back to music because suddenly you’re constantly hearing of new projects popping up with incredibly gifted and diverse folks. The rumour mill alone would breed a tangible air of excitement because you’d never know the audio combinations that are currently formulating projects behind closed doors. Seeing Steven Tyler, Ryan Adams and Madonna having lunch in LA suddenly would take on new meaning. I don’t want to just keep comparing this on an international scale though, because i think it could work at a local level as well.

I know that ‘supergroups‘ and hired-guns have always existed, but they are usually one-offs and scarce. I also know session musicians have always existed, and whilst that’s definitely a core component of this imagining; it’s definitely not the same. I’m trying to envisage a world in which musicians don’t anchor down to one band preferring instead to pop-up in all different guises throughout their career arc – winding up with an incredibly eclectic portfolio of work upon retirement, just like an actor would. As a musician myself, i’d be thrilled to have an arc that allowed me to sharpen my musical wit alongside folks from completely different worlds – i’d be as happy or more happy than i currently am with my career.

Let’s not forget the young musicians starting out:  when i was in my teens and in a band, getting advice and experience from older musicians such as Cahir [Fighting with Wire] in my town was pivotal to my growth. Imagine the possibilities for younger musicians to be integrated into ‘projects‘ like i’ve mentioned before in a lesser capacity to the musical leads. It’d supply them with a notch on their artistic CV but most importantly; practical experience with professionals – something that’s pretty much impossible in the current industry save for one-off guesting.

Most musicians these days spend as much time promoting themselves as they do bettering themselves as a musician and writing their music – isn’t that weird? It never used to be that way. With this new actor-based model, musicians could have someone actively finding great musical projects on their behalf whilst they spend all their time improving as a musician.

I’m not suggesting this as a replacement for the traditional band structure at all – that’ll never happen and shouldn’t ever happen – but i do see a future where the two could co-exist and flourish. I speak not only as a musician myself but as an obsessive listener; this would bring a lot of new excitement to music for me.

I predict a shift to something similiar to this in the next 10/15 years.

What do you think?


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