An article on CNN's website caught my eye, "What will save rock and roll?". Within the article is a speech given by the very articulate and knowledgeable, Steve Van Zandt. I read the whole thing, its looooong, but good. Below I pasted some of his key points. He calls his speech "A Crisis of Craft".
To summarize what SVZ said: Today's "musicians" have lost the art of the craft and bascially most of them suck. He explains his reasoning behind this and shares kind of a mini-history of rock and roll in the process. I enjoyed it.
Any thoughts on this?
... I want to spend just a minute on a topic that never ever gets discussed in the music business – the music.
The reason nobody wants to talk about it is because it mostly sucks! It blows! It is sucking major moose cock! Who are we kidding here? Nobody's buying records? Because they suck!
And I know why.
Nobody wants to deal with this but we have to.
Yes we are experiencing big changes in the business but much more importantly over these last thirty years or so we have been witness to a crisis of craft.
Rock and Roll is the working class art form.
So let's go back to basics.
What is our craft?
So as to our craft – performance, record making, songwriting-what happened exactly?
The crisis in performance is I believe based on one simple fact. When it started, Rock and Roll was dance music. One day we stopped dancing to it and started listening to it and it's been downhill ever since.
We had a purpose. We had a specific goal, an intention, a mandate. We made you dance or we did not work – we did not get paid – we were fired – we were homeless. That requires a different energy. It is a working class energy. Not an artistic intellectual waiting around for inspiration energy. It's a get up, go to work, and kill-energy. Rip it up or die trying.
The advent of the video was just the final nail in the performance coffin, a coffin that had already been constructed by years of excessive immersion in ganja, hashish, and all forms of water cooled bong therapy. You didn't have to make people dance anymore. They were too stoned to dance! You didn't even have to play your instrument anymore – all you had to do was act!
Act like a Rock Star and bada bing you were a Rock Star.
And now there's a new trend that's even more dangerous. And this affects songwriting as well as performance. Bands are starting to skip the bar band stage of their development. The club stage. Where, ideally you're still a dance band, but equally important, you get the opportunity to play other people's songs. Your favorite songs. All of a sudden I'm hearing it's not cool to play other people's songs. That's for the less gifted. The losers. The way we thought of the top 40 bar bands growing up has been extended to include any songs that didn’t come from your own personal genius.
This is a major problem.
Performance-wise the energy you discover, manufacture, and harness as a dance band stays with you for the rest of your life. You never lose it.
You learn greatness from greatness.
Nobody is born a great performer. Nobody is born a great songwriter.
The Beatles were a club and bar band for five years. And then continued playing covers for five albums. Let me say that again. The Beatles were a club and bar band for five years. And then continued playing covers for five albums! Then the Rolling Stones were a bar band for three years and played covers for their first five albums. Do you think you're better than them?
If you want to write then you’ve got to learn how to do it. This is why the great song publishers like Lance Freed are always encouraging the young writers to co-write with the older ones.
Just as it’s important to perform with a purpose, it is equally important to write with a purpose. Whether that purpose is to express your most personal anguish or to simply have a hit record. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
The third part of our craft is record making and that discipline has been almost completely abandoned.
A record is four things – Composition, Arrangement, Performance, and Sound. Four different crafts overseen by a Producer that understands, to some extent all four elements plus the Big Picture of the Industry, plus the psychological stuff of being the artist’s psychiatrist, plus the liaison with the business people, etc. etc.
Where are the Producers? Where are the Arrangers? The point being once upon a time it took an army of very talented people to make great records. Writers, singers, musicians, producers, arrangers, engineers and now you have to do it yourself? No wonder everything sucks!
We must reintroduce a new dedication to the Craft.
And worry about the new technology, and the Art, later.