Our Silent Revolution

The below tweet encouraging support for independent music, from an account with 78.8 thousand followers, received 1 Like and 0 retweets.

How did independent musicians become such pariahs? Just like journalism, our “entertainment” is mostly corporate propaganda. It’s sad we don’t realize this, but even fine arts institutions don’t teach artists themselves the role art should play in our world. We would do well to seek out the best independent music and not just support it to help the musicians, but it would be an important investment in our own health and advancement as a society. Because contrary to popular belief, art matters.

It was over 10 years ago that I first saw the documentary What Is Indie? I had always leaned toward putting out music on my own rather than begging for corporate sponsorship. There wasn’t a political mindset behind it that I was aware of then, it just seemed more attractive to me. Creative freedom was a big plus for sure, and the challenge of surpassing what a corporation could do was something I liked the idea of. The film puts forth the idea that “indie” is “independent by choice.” To me, it’s kind of like how real journalists or politicians can’t represent the people if they take corporate money. But I have yet to meet a musician or a fan of music who agrees with me.

There was a time in my life when demo tapes were cool. They were even getting played on mainstream rock radio. Everyone was looking to discover new bands. It was exciting. I bought quite a few self-released vinyl EPs from bands that eventually went on to “make it.” And a lot who didn’t. When I moved to Los Angeles, friends and I would go and see many of these bands, and getting hold of their self-released albums or demos was always exciting.

After graduating from college and being convinced by someone whose band I joined that there was money to be made, I worked for a few years trying to get corporate attention for the project. As that was winding down with no success in sight, I saw the film What is Indie? It inspired me to take my first steps toward independent music as a “political statement.” I even eventually made the music itself political in content.

Because, as I mentioned above, the answer to the question that is the title of the film is that “indie” literally means “independent.” Not music recorded in demo form to get the attention of corporations. But final product, by the people, for the people, with no middle man involved. I was down for that.

It is important to note that the film was made by what was then being called the “New Music Industry,” which was basically nothing more than a bunch of startup companies preying upon musicians, selling them tips and tricks that mostly don’t work, and using a lot of revolutionary language to do it.

But as revolutionary as they tried to be about it, the film never explained why it was important for a society to have its art and music independent of corporate influence. If their tips and tricks didn’t work, they’d blame the bands for not being good enough. This often could be the case. But the elephant in the room is that people have come to hate independent musicians. How many times have you seen when someone finds out that a new co-worker, or a friend’s new significant other is a musician, they roll their eyes and groan? Or perhaps you’ve done this yourself?

This phenomenon is never discussed among these “new music’ industry “experts,” yet it is the most difficult hurdle musicians face. I have seen many amazing bands, whose music I listen to often, struggle, and even give up music altogether because of this. That to me is a tragedy.

I often wonder if it’s by design that this topic is left out of the conversation. Might these companies exist merely to keep us spinning our wheels and going nowhere? It sometimes seems like it. The millions of dollars CD Baby makes in sales could very well be mostly from signing up thousands of bands, and those bands’ friends and families buying just a few copies to “support them.” For all we know, it’s one big intelligence operation.

The most tragic part of it is that musicians shame themselves and each other for this very thing. In 2009 I started an independent music podcast and focused on finding as many completely independent rock and roll bands that I could for each week’s show. I had some really good luck finding some amazing music. But what I found was that the bands weren’t interested in being featured on a little podcast, they wanted big media attention. They wanted the big bucks. Fame and all its trappings. One singer even told me in an interview “pay me a million dollars, I’ll come out to LA and do a show.”

I’m pretty sure she’s no longer playing music.

Like journalism, music is controlled by corporations. And if you are paying attention, that means the message is being controlled by the same people that benefit from lying to you, or distracting you with the news, film, and other content. They are the same interests who own the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, etc. Rock and roll has been co-opted by the very people it rebelled against in the first place. It’s become nothing more than propaganda. And it happened a long, long time ago…

Some may say that it started when Elvis joined the Army, and Colonel Tom Parker started managing him and his drug intake. That’s when Elvis went from being a supporter of black music to sounding like a racist cop.

Others think it was when radio created the segregation of black (soul) and white (rock) music formats. Imagine the world we’d live in if that hadn’t happened, and there was no racial divide there between us? The music would have been different. The audiences would have been integrated in a much deeper way. I think it’s safe to say that it would be a much different world.

Or did it happen when throngs of less-than-talented sons and daughters of military and intelligence top brass flocked to L.A.’s Laurel Canyon to form bands with seemingly pre-ordained recording contracts, as was revealed in the late Dave McGowan’s Weird Scenes in the Canyon?

John Potash writes in his book Drugs as Weapons Against Us that even the Grateful Dead was an intelligence op aimed at dosing the youth with the intention of getting them to “tune out,” and turn away from activism in the face of the rapid escalation of the Vietnam War. As Potash writes, this gives a whole new meaning to the term “deadhead,” used to describe fans of the band.

Check out what Wikipedia says about the band’s lyricist Robert Hunter:

“Around 1962, Hunter was an early volunteer test subject (along with Ken Kesey) for psychedelic chemicals at Stanford University‘s research covertly sponsored by the CIA in their MKULTRA program.”

It’s no surprise that the ‘70s and ‘80s eras that followed were mostly songs about sex, drugs and the rock and roll lifestyle. The ‘70s is my favorite era of music, but it all amounts to almost nothing as far as art goes.

Some may say punk rock was the real deal, but many of the successful bands ended up under the banner of Miles Copeland, whose father was one of the founders of the CIA. To say those bands’ content wouldn’t have been controlled would be an understatement. Stiv Bators once told the story about Copeland censoring the video for the Lords of the New Church song “Russian Roulette,” removing footage of Agent Orange being dropped on civilians in Vietnam.

One guy who wrote music in the ‘70s that was actually about something important was John Lennon, and we all know what happened to him. Anyone interested in learning the truth about Lennon’s death should track down the book Who Killed John Lennon? It’s out of print, but the author Fenton Bressler proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Mark David Chapman was mind-controlled using MKULTRA techniques, and did what he did not of his own volition.

Or if you want more examples, check out Potash’s book on Tupac Shakur called The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders: U.S. Intelligence’s Murderous Targeting of Tupac, MLK, Malcolm, Panthers, Hendrix, Marley, Rappers and Linked Ethnic Leftists.

So back to the tweet, this is what independent musicians are up against. Not even the musicians themselves support the idea of independent music. They are too busy trying to “make it big,” and see their independent status as merely temporary. Because if they dont “make it,” they’ll just quit after their first or second album, before getting a chance to really develop their talent and sound. Perhaps it’s because the level of shame they’ve come to feel when they look into the mirror is unbearable.

I know a music fan who made it perfectly clear that I was not to even discuss my musical endeavors with her. She often makes fun of musicians she knows who don’t make their living doing it, who aren’t famous. She forbids her children to learn to play musical instruments, and once bragged about a sign in her home that read “No demo tapes” that she would put up at parties. We get along great as long as I don’t talk about the thing that drives me, that is the air that I breathe, that I think about all day, and that I spend most of my free time doing.

When a songwriter gets $.001 per stream, how does any musician think they could ever really get rich playing music these days? You need to sell 100 streams to make a penny. The joke’s on us! The only word that comes to mind is slavery. The only people making money are the corporations that own the streaming services, and of course the companies selling fake tips to musicians about how they can make it on their own.

As the opera director Peter Sellars said in a speech at my college graduation commencement, “don’t go out and find a job, find something that needs to be done and do it.” He also stated that “artists are important in society because they are the only ones that do what they do without compromise.” Out of many years studying music in American academic institutions, that speech was the only example where I was given a good reason why art mattered.

What needs to be done is far more obvious now than ever. Independent journalism, activists, and grassroots political candidates aren’t enough. We need more voices for change. Climate change is killing us. Endless war is literally endless, and that’s where we are spending billions of dollars a year, as more and more of us slide into unemployment, debt, poverty and homelessness.

Corruption will destroy us unless we all join the revolution against it, and that includes musicians. We don’t need one John Lennon to prop up, who they can just kill. We need thousands of John Lennons playing in clubs, parties, parks, and streets, singing the truth. Not pop stars in mansions doing the bidding of the 1%, but real people who know what it’s like to live in this increasingly Third World-like environment, writing the soundtrack to how we plan to rescue our planet from those who would destroy it.

The masses are “tuned out.” We need to wake them up and dose them with musical red pills of truth and substance. Do it loud and proud. Here are some examples of a few of my favorite bands that aren’t corporate, who are writing songs that matter. (Some are on small labels, others are not.)