I had the good fortune of being able to attend the 53rd Grammy Awards yesterday. While my feelings are incredibly mixed about what the awards are actually accomplishing, I first have to say that I had a great time.
The show is SO much more fun in person — this may seem ridiculously obvious, but it’s not something I ever really thought about before as I’ve always just watched it on television. The energy from a live show just can’t be pushed through a screen, I suppose, and the telecast is like 14 mini-concerts. It’s quite a spectacle… and really fun to see with 20,000 other people.
In any case, on this day after, per usual I find myself pondering what’s happening behind the scenes.
The Grammy Awards are an interesting thing. First, they’re serving an industry that has been gloriously ripped to smithereens over the last decade. Second, they’re predicated on an idea that there is a “singular mainstream” of music.
Think about it: the entire televised awards ceremony focuses on 11 awards (out of the 109 given out) under a huge assumption that the majority of people still care about those 11 categories more than any other.
The entire show is based on the idea that a “mainstream” still exists.
I’ve always found this concept fascinating — the notion that there exists a primary flow of “normal-ness” in the larger culture: a “mainstream.” Back when I wanted to make music my career, I had a grand vision for how I’d “break into” the mainstream. I would guess many musicians still want this. But the “mainstream” doesn’t really exist.
At least not anymore.
I think it did exist, for a time. But the so-called “mainstream” was just a construct of 20th Century marketers, who, through the usage of very limited, controlled distribution channels, were able to create a mass-market population the likes of which the world had never seen. “Creators” could perfect a “product” and deliver it to virtually everyone at the same time.
In music, it was Studio to Album to Radio to your CD player. It was linear and sensible. It was perfect, a flawless system.
And now it’s disappearing.
Like most things in our Mosaic world, the music supply chain was reduced to pieces by a changing mentality and new technologies.
I probably don’t need to get into why the mainstream is fragmenting (in short: almost limitless competition from other attention-hoarders like, say, everything on the internet), but I do wonder how much longer the “mainstream” fabrication will stay afloat. As it is, it’s a house of cards, an illusion being propped up by old-minded industry types who somehow think the world still works like it used to.
This makes for some very complicated questions for the good people at the helm of these awards shows, like NARAS.
Because, that’s the thing: these are good people. They’re not dumb, nor do I think they’re intentionally living in a fantasy. It’s just a really, really complex revolution we’re in. And revolutions require armies of pioneers. They demand dreamers and visionaries and prophets. Unfortunately, these are not qualities many organizations have placed at the top; beancounters with MBA’s are much more popular.
We have a long journey ahead to reorient the world around the emerging values of tribes, transparency, and democracy (in its truest sense). The old world was not good at these things, but the new world is.
It’s the transition time we’re in right now that’s messy.
Prepare for it to get a lot messier before it gets cleaned up.