File-sharing killed the rock star?

Musician/Reality TV star Gene Simmons' kid conducted an Esquire magazine interview with his legendary dad about a few topics including the demise of the recording industry. Simmons, along his band KISS rose to fame during the 1970s as the first musical act to perform masked in heavy make-up. Love them or hate them, KISS' shtick worked with unprecedented records sales and sold-out concerts. Simmons and the band went even further with marketing campaigns including KISS lunch boxes. In other words, no one can argue with success.

These days, Simmons is not feeling too great about the state of affairs in the record business. According to Simmons, "Rock is finally dead." Simmons points to how folks on the Internet engage in so much file-sharing, they are no longer buying music. The co-leader of the KISS Army takes it one step further by saying that middle- and upper-class American kids possess a free-loading mentality for not purchasing music. Simmons, who came to America from Israel when he was just 8-years-old states that immigrants like him appreciate the opportunities that America provides and that many people born here just don't understand the United States' benefits. Thus, Simmons intimates that honest non-freeloaders and immigrants are buying music these days, which is quite sad.

I'm not sure about Simmons' views on patriotism, but has file-sharing done that much damage to the recording industry? Perhaps, but there are benefits to file-sharing.
Simmons goes on to say that it's far more difficult for truly talented young musicians to break into the music business due to the fact that they cannot make money off of their work. True, but these days it's far easier for musicians to distribute their work through file-sharing and of course social media sites including Facebook, YouTube and even good ole MySpace. Easy distribution may mean that someone in power will notice a talented musician. Love him or hate him, boy wonder performer Justin Bieber was discovered through that method via YouTube clips. Performer/music mogul/philanthropist Usher viewed the videos and immediately took young Bieber under his wings-a star was born. Once again, despite Mr. Bieber’s recent bad-boy antics, he’s one heckuva success story. Nevertheless, there is a problem with easy distribution: Just about everyone can do it these days! Anyone with a digital video camera can upload their work.  The result is that the market has become over-saturated with a lot of trash. There is no way to put a governor on the amount of material floating around out there. So, yes, Simmons has a point, but all is not lost. There is a lot of great talent out there-both unknown and known. 

In addition to file sharing and easy social media distribution, are those talent television programs like American Idol and The X-Factor also part of the problem for the so-called demise of modern rock music that Simmons describes? While he says he is not slamming X-Factor, Simmons states that it's easier to not learn how to play anything, sing in the shower and then audition for the show. Certainly that's quite cynical because most of us shower singers cannot even get in to see the judges and the few that do are immediately cut. Those programs have discovered a lot of good talent, but have the winners on those shows been able to sustain their success? How many talent show winners can you name? 

Whether through a talent show or not, there are those one-hit wonders, longtime successful performers who had their "heydey" and rarely come back or if they do, they're a nostalgia act.  Then there are those long-sustaining acts that continue to tour and even record new music. In other words, the music business always has, is and will continue to be a tough business no matter if there is file-sharing or not.

It's amusing that Simmons cites all these great singer-songwriters in the Esquire magazine discussion with his son. Simmons name drops Bob Dylan, Elvis, and the Beatles and others inferring that we do not have legends like that today. I believe that many could agree with Simmons on that point because we have way too many over-produced/over-sampled “Nicki Minajes” and not enough “Allen Stones.” Do you know Allen Stone? He’s amazing. I learned about him by watching musical great Daryl Hall’s web-based show Live from Daryl’s House, which is a great example as to what is working well on the Internet. Another musical giant solo artist/Eagles member Joe Walsh appeared on Hall’s program and stated that there are too many "Beyonces" out there who have a team of writers and producers who construct her songs making the art of song creation second banana to the glamour in the act.  

The basic question here is: "is rock finally dead?' While many might say that Simmons is correct, there will be many others who might say that Simmons is being pessimistic. Like just about any business on this planet, technological changes impact them. The music business is no different. There will always be great talent that never gets discovered and some that will get discovered. There will always be great talent that will thrive and some will not thrive.

Still, I wonder when KISS exploded onto the scene in the early 1970s, was there an elder or fellow musician saying to the effect: "I really don't like these new guys who get up on stage, mask themselves in make-up, put on pyrotechnics , wear extreme high heels and the music becomes second banana to their visual antics? “Just saying.


Most viewed

Condos. Cutting-edge restaurants. Trendy shopping.

Take time out for Virginia’s Shenandoah region

Flashback: Billy Joel's Sax Player (Mark Rivera profile-March 2007)