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Off Key: Sex, Drugs and Photo Shoots

 by Ben Horowitz
 published on Thursday, January 26, 2006

Horowitz/issues/arts/695410
Horowitz
 

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When you write music reviews, unless you give everyone a glowing write-up, you're almost sure to get a few pieces of hate mail. Inevitably, you'll say the wrong thing about someone's favorite band, and they'll feel the need to enlighten you on exactly why Band X is the most punk act since the beginning of all things punk. Also unavoidable is the accusation that the reason you can't rock out with the rockingest band in rock is because you're a pretentious jerk who only likes bands that fewer than seven people have heard of.

I should probably preface what I'm about to write by saying that no music journalist has the right to complain about their job. What music junkie wouldn't love to hear new music for free and get paid for their opinion of it? Unfortunately, the majority of fans don't see what is included with the jewel case and compact disc: the scourge of the press sheet -- a packet of information included with nearly every album that gets sent in.

While sometimes the press sheet is a simple enough affair, informing you of who is in the band, or when they started playing, with various other biographical tidbits, more often the sheet reads like a pre-written review. If these press sheets were correct, every artist since the dawn of time has not only recorded an album: they have re-defined music. The best press piece I've ever seen wasn't even hidden in a newspaper's office. It was on the back of Usher's newest DVD, which hails the R&B singer as the greatest performer in the history of music (no joke).

Equally great are the photos included with every packet. There are two basic variations of the band photo: the serious band and the goofy best friends. The serious band is always clothed in fashionable duds, with fashionable haircuts and fashionable make up, shot from a dramatic angle with shadows everywhere and a sense that this band will touch your soul. Then, there are the guys who just want to have fun -- they might be posing next to a silly statue, or just hanging out, with casual clothing, big grins and their arms around one another.

Bands, record labels, or promotion companies send us page long write-ups on why their band is amazing and full-page, glossy photos demonstrating why their band is cool, and somehow music reviewers are the pretentious ones?

Music should not be a commodity. Music, like all art, should be something more than a commercial, trying to interest Consumer A in supporting Band X in order to support Brand B. It seems like all bands get this at the beginning, playing clubs or basements filled with sweaty kids, rocking the nights in between school or work away to the sound of music built on a short lifetime of memories. Somewhere along the way, those memories and a free tab at the bar no longer suffice.

The worst is when a famous band releases their documentary, where members talk about the rigors of performing every night and spending a few weeks away from their mansion in a tour bus. Right.

There must be a balance between getting the word out about yourself and selling your music out.

Local artists: we want your music!

Send your album and contact information to benjamin.horowitz@asu.edu.



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