traditional music as viewed by big music companies

Scott Morrison
Posts: 320
Joined: April 28th, 2009, 1:05 pm
Location: Elkridge, MD

traditional music as viewed by big music companies

Postby Scott Morrison » December 21st, 2010, 10:04 pm

This is a copy of a post that I wrote in reply to a CD inquiry. I am interested in what other people have to say about this so I am copying it here to start a new thread with this subject in mind. I have found that traditional music is being affected by music companies trying to sell more and more CD's to a wide market. Here are my reactions....

I am going to post on a year old topic.....because I just read the article and I have strong convictions concerning it....

The author made some very interesting insights into a very serious problem, which I don't think many people even consider a problem! (I know I didn't until I read it...and I just produced an album which is mainly in English!) I agree with him that the medium is designed to sell, and NOT to bolster the Gaelic community. I also am likewise, worried about the "museumification" of the songs due to a serious lack of original compositions (note that traditional "Gaelic" instrumental music does not suffer from this). However, I disagree with his notion that English as the primary presentation language is the sole reason (or at least the primary one). I think a greater threat to the culture is one which Britian started with large worldwide corporations, but which America has certainly perfected, that of the ownership of "intellectual property".

Nowadays, if anyone writes a poem or song, paints a picture, takes a photo graph, or writes a treteasie or story some sort of leagal symbol is slapped on it and a payment is instatnly demanded if it gets read, listened to, or looked at. This insane desire to charge people money for what use to be a culturally free public domain is what is TRULY sucking the life blood out of traditional cultural art and even human contact. In the world of folk music, a musician composed a song not because he/she expected to get payed for it, or even expected to get remembered for it, they did so because it was a recation (a very HUMAN reaction) to their environment, both physical and social. If they tune/song was deemed worthy of acceptence into the tradition, (which was done informally and nearly unanimously by the community itself) then the song would be played. If the author was remembered, that information would be passed on, but in the long run, recognition really didn't matter.

Today, the only music worth hearing, according to the music industry at large, is that of the "superstars". This superstardom mindset about music has bled its way into traditional music as well. (This is also the reason why so few performance groups are around in America, and why Americans in general consider themselves musicaly illiterate or worse, that to persue music is a "waste of my time" because it will not produce "star quatlity" material nor will they get payed!!) I have noticed that the only Gaelic concerts that people attend in large numbers are those of the "super star" (in Gaelic terms of course, which is admittedly very small compared to pop music!) performers like: Natalie MacMaster, Maggie MacInnis, Capercaille, Runrig, etc.. These are the people whom the recording companies (traditional as well as big) want to record because they represent the "best" of Gaelic music. But they miss the point...Traditional music is not about the "best" musicians (although there are talents and they DO deserve recognition), it is about the PEOPLE and their reaction as individuals AS WELL AS a community to what happens in their life! The only place I hear "non-star" quality recordings of Gaelic song is on Mire Ri Mor and Oran an La on Radio nan Gaidheal (although I will admit that I don't surf the web looking for programs). To make my point, when has anyone heard one of these "field" or "home" recordings of Gaelic song as sung by the old masters on NPR's Thistle and Shamrock? Most of what Fiona plays on her show is Rock-n-Roll or New Age at best and hardly traditional music....even the Americans that are featured have arranged the music to fit the taste of the "modern ear" (aka-mass media hypnotized listeners).

To further make my point about the public being hypnotized, I can recall a in Cape Breton where there was a bus load of tourists (mostly Americans) who came to a ceilidh concert (not really a ceilidh, but a performance/dance which was open to the public). There were two fiddlers. The first fiddler got up and played a set of traditional tunes, sitting down and stomping his foot in the traditional Cape Breton style. He was well recieved. The second fiddler got up and played some tunes, but also CLOGGED while playing (I am not sure if it was Natalie MacMaster or not). Well, this performer recieved a storming ovation from the crowd. Later, the first fiddler was talking about the performance to a friend and was feeling rather down and inferior about the way the audience reacted to his music. His friend told him not to worry about it because he played "the correct way" and that the audienced liked it and not to mind all of that flash and show.

"Yeah," ansered the fiddler, "they did, but not well enough."

This is what is happening to traditional musicians. They are feeling squelched, left out, unappreciated, and worst of all, unimportant, when in fact the reverse is true. The traditional musician holds on his/her shoulders generations of human artistic reaction to an entire community of people. It doesn't matter wether they are as good as Bach, Beethoven, or even Jimmy Hendrix, in tune, out of tune with good or bad tone quality, as long as they play with heart, soul, and with the primary goal of keeping the traditions alive for the sake of the community! There is NO POSSIBLE MEANS OF MASS MARKETING THIS APPROACH TO MUSIC!!!! The only thing one can do, is do a "field recording" for education or a museum. Either way, this sounds the death knell of the traditional approach to music. What, pray tell can we do?

The author argues that the CDs are being marketed to a non-Gaelic audience via the use of too much English. He is right. But then that is the goal of the production and distribution sell as much of the product to as many people as possible! Since there are many more English speakers with an interest in Gaelic song who have no Gaelic, than Gaelic speakers, this is a no-brainer from a marketing point of view. But marketing runs contrary to the goals of traditional music. So how do we justify this?

Personally, I am not sure. I believe that recordings of traditional musicians are still necessary. But there should be many other venues available to the musicians other than big lables and international distribution. Computer technology and the internet are leveling the field a bit, but since Napster started poking a hole in the big record company's pockets about 10 years ago, they are now trying to get control of this medium as well!!

The best way for traditional music to survive, in my opinion, is to provide it with a community in which it can flourish. For Scotland and Cape Breton, that means local support for gatherings of local musicians in other venues besides feises and competitions. Safe places, where a free and open session can run regularly. The same can happen here, in America, albeit the Gaelic communities will be in short supply. The other option is the net. Skype is changing the way Gaelic is taught. I am willing to be that there will be, in the future, a way to gather on-line to jam via web cams. However, these type of ventures would need support in order to thrive....
Megan Moffitt
Posts: 150
Joined: March 19th, 2010, 2:10 pm
Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Re: traditional music as viewed by big music companies

Postby Megan Moffitt » December 22nd, 2010, 3:17 pm

Halo a h-uile duine, seo mo da sgillinn, I agree with many of Scott's grievances with regard to record companies culture mining operations, they seem to root around for jewels and precious metals, then polish them to their specs, before regurgitating them to the eager mouths of the "mass market consumers". I recall a period of time in the distant 90's when Gregorian Chant was being accompanied with electronic drum beats, this fad has now gone the way of the Pocket Fisherman, but the beauty and the timelessness of Gregorian Chant will stand the test of time. I desperately hope Gaelic Psalm singing suffers no such indignity. However one must admit that these non-traditional ventures do offer a taste (even with the recipe re-arranged) of a more authentic, living and breathing facet of a particular community's culture. Taste; now that's entirely personal, and cannot be dictated. It can perhaps be cultivated. I like to watch the face of someone who drinks a Guinness for the first time, I almost want to snap a photo of it. " Is iomadh rud searbh nach marbh thu" Many a bitter thing will not kill you.
I personally find the Idea of some record company executive picking out music for me contemptible, but the music itself doesn't have to be. You can take it or leave it. There will always be record industry types (under the auspices of much larger media conglomerates I'm sure) sculking around looking to make a buck or two. And i have no objections at all if a performer or perfomers get compesated for their talent, A farm without a financial component is just a garden.
I rather respect the DIY ethos myself. If you have something to share don't sit around and wait to be plucked from obscurity, or supplicate yourself to a reality tv show. Get out and show the rest of us what you've got, If you're more comfortable playing in front of your friends and family that's great too.

The flag of Traditional Music will be taken up by many proud souls to come, just as Gaelic will be. Both are worthy, therefore they'll survive. As for the Pocket Fisheman, it's straight to the scudal for ye. :lol:
Scott Morrison
Posts: 320
Joined: April 28th, 2009, 1:05 pm
Location: Elkridge, MD

Re: traditional music as viewed by big music companies

Postby Scott Morrison » December 23rd, 2010, 10:17 am

I forgot to point out that this entire diatribe is a result of reading an article that was posted in the board members section. Here is the link: ... rcator.pdf

What drives me crazy about all of this (besides what I wrote above) is how the "mass marketed" music is being presented as actual and authentic "traditional Celtic" when most often it is Celtic Women, Riverdance, Enya, any Celtic rock group...etc.

It is not that I don't like this type of music, (Enya and Clannad are amongst my favorite recordings), and it would be wrong to say that new age Celtic and Celtic Rock are not based on traditional music, but it IS wrong (and irresponsible) to call it "traditional music", because millions of people are hearing this stuff for the first time and thinking (as I did several years ago) that they are listening to "real traditional music". Then their ears are placed upon the actual thing, which is not as polished, rehearsed, or slickly packaged, and more often than not they walk away or are not as impressed because they don't understand what they are hearing. I just wish that the business would be more responsible in clarifying what they are selling, because, I think, that they are hastening the demise of these traditional means of playing and we will no longer get artists like Enya who can build off of a heavy traditional background to make something so stunning as her work. Even Classical composers use(d) the traditions of their local areas to compose. But they never for a moment called it "traditional music". In fact, they often looked down upon it as a "lesser" art form, but that did not stop them from finding beautiful melodies and harmonies upon which they could build their ideas. Traditional music is the corner stone for ALL of our modern froms of music. If we let it die, then what shall we have?

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