Archive for August, 2011

A travelling musician, a saxaphonist, on a temporary trip to the States from his home country Australia, had this to say in his blog about an aspect of the local music scene (“the secret jam”) in Portland, Oregon:

It’s not a secret as such, people know it exists, but players who attend the secret jam only invite others they know can cut it. It’s not held in a music venue, any sort of venue, rather an old shed hidden behind a giant hardware store. There is no audience, just players, the invited few.

You’d think I’d be honoured to be invited. I am. One of the few white boys I’m sure. I won’t go. I can’t see the point in playing music without an audience, no matter how good the music. It is spilling the seed upon the ground. Vibrating air only becomes music when it is received by a human ear. The relationship between player and listener, the shared love, is the reason to play, playing to hear ourselves is masturbation, I can do that alone.

There is nothing created, no new life without the audience.


It’s philosophical, but after a couple experiences in the local music industry in Oregon I have an inkling what he’s talking about. Such a jam can turn into a musical ‘showdown’ with the players trying to dominate the song, drowning out each other, rather than genuinely trying to “make music”. It’s surprising what such a waste of talent these events turn out to be. A cacophany of egos.

But the musical rivalry and oneupsmanship goes much deeper into the industry. Those who control what an audience hears, in effect control who rises to the top. In other words, popularity is not determined by the preference of the ears which listen, so much as the music which is presented to the ears. We are conditioned to like what we hear, because it’s the only music placed before us. A lot of good musician’s talent is bypassed by the mainstream, because those who present the media only funnel their favorite performers to the top, regardless of the true talent others possess.

The musician must make his choice whether he plays at the top of his skill level for the music, the audience, himself and his soul, or whether he will let the industry place him in an artificial setting of predominance in fake ratings. It’s a sad state of affairs — blues without soul. But you see it all the time. The music industry is controlled by those who control access to airtime – and our ears.

This is why some of the finest music you may hear this summer is being played in the streets, not on the radio.

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