Playing in a rock band is a fun way to make a living if you can somehow manage to avoid the traps that the 89 per cent fall prey to. Getting snared by either contractual fine print, bloated egos, or predictable substance abuse is par for the course. It's no secret the music biz has a tendency to attract the most base of characters and on top of having talent a band has to have an immense amount of shrewdness to navigate these pitfalls.
How our band has managed to remain above the scum water for 17 years can be credited to a learned combination of stubbornness, cocksureness and an aversion to narcotics. Being able to write a song or two that some people dig doesn't hurt either. But no matter how long we manage to stay in the game, people still have hackneyed ideas of what the music biz is all about. Whether it's my elderly neighbour who thinks every tour that I embark on is a relentless Dionysian orgy, or an old friend who thinks I take a limousine to the grocery store, decades of industry myth-building that has left these farcical impressions on people.
Before the advent of downloading and filesharing, the argument could be made for the constant slapstick depiction of the music industry; my favourite caricature being the Michael Des Barres -- fronted Scum Of The Earth on WKRP In Cincinnati even though it was actually Des Barres' real-life band, Detective, playing the music.
However, in a post-internet world most of these "old school" music industry people have been Darwin Awarded out of existence. Yet still to this day Hollywood has kept the myth going that the record biz is a mountain of cash, erupting like a Mount Pinatubo where instead of lava, gold coins flow endlessly towards musicians.
Take Judd Apatow's latest movie, This Is 40, a relatively easy-to-digest "rom-com" about an aging couple fitted with all the usual cinematic devices -- father issues, wise-beyond-their-years children, sexy temptress etc. etc. It's a quaint, charming, coming-of-middle-age story that, aside from its weak patched-together plot resolutions, makes for a nice date flick. The only problem is that in Paul Rudd's "Pete" character, an ex-Sony Music employee turned indie label owner, I am asked to suspend an amount of disbelief equal to the amount of money that apparently flows so endlessly from his ex-Sony Music employee pockets when it comes to the movie's depiction of the music business.
Don't get me wrong, I'm completely able to suspend disbelief when watching movies and I'm fully aware they're works of fiction. Hell, I sat through Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull trying to swallow the fact that the mighty Indiana spawned a kid that looked and acted like Shia Labeouf. When they cast then-hot Meg Ryan romantically opposite never-hot Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, I quietly pretended the coupling could happen in real life. But while watching Apatow's depiction of an indie label owner I found myself missing punchlines to jokes and gags because I was unable to get past how inaccurately and impossibly Rudd's character operated his "Unfiltered Records" indie record label.
In a world where the music business has no money left, Rudd's character spends it like he just released Thriller, Bat Out Of Hell and The Dark Side Of The Moon all at the same time. While Apatow valiantly tries to ensure credibility by festooning Rudd with all the correct swag a 40-something music industry survivor would like (Camper Van Beethoven and Bob Mould T-shirts), Rudd's character has a number of entitlements most don't.
* He drives a BMW while his wife, owner of a clothing store, drives a Lexus.
* His 13-year-old daughter has an iPad.
* His wife, and his eight-year-old and 13-year-old daughters have iPhones.
* There are at least two 47" flat screen televisions in their house.
* He has a house which seems to have been furnished by either Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware or both.
* He and his wife have a weekend birthday getaway in a resort.
* He and his wife throw each other a fully catered 40th birthday party, complete with wait staff, arches, tents etc.
* He hires a personal trainer for his wife.
* He spent $30,000 on a neon sign of his label's logo to be hung inside the office.
* He spent $12,000 to fly in Graham Parker's "Rumour" band from the U.K.
* He spent $5,000 on a John Lennon drawing.
* He gave his deadbeat dad $80,000.
This list doesn't even count the big mortgage on his big house, the rent on the office space and the marketing and promotion budget for all his label's releases. What ex-employee of a major label has this kind of money? Even the ex-Vice Presidents don't. It's not like Rudd plays a character named "Mr. Sony Music."
Rudd's character goes into hysterics when his label puts out Graham Parker's CD and sells a paltry 612 downloads in its first week. Why? If you were keen enough to strike out on your own you should be keen enough to realize that it's 2012 and nobody buys albums, let alone Graham Parker albums, any more.
Sure it looks like I'm obsessing over minute details, but these erroneous depictions of an industry I've been shackled to for 17 years stay with an audience and eventually become completely accepted horseshit. Which seems fine on the surface, but you try explaining to your mom why you don't have a Lexus and BMW parked outside of a four-bedroom house. It makes me look like a total underachiever. Thanks, Apatow.
Truth be told, the remaining few gimps left in the scurvy-laden holds of record labels are generally forced to hobble around trying to swindle bands into signing 360 deals -- a truly deep and sad scan. If we all know Hollywood is a complete facade meant only to pimp cheap platitudes through its corny depictions, then the same awareness needs to be applied to the music industry for the extravagant show of smoke and mirrors it truly is. Maybe then all that parental judgement I constantly face might subside.
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