From Worthless to Bothersome: The Fate of Music Today and the Rise of the Gear Pimps

Everybody’s a musician now and they’re all clamoring to have their music heard. Every teen now has a laptop, guitar, and a POD (or functional equivalent); every middle-aged accountant is resuscitating his student garage rocker days; every child with a Mac is making an album (seemingly one album every four days); everybody, everybody, everybody is recording music and posting it online.

Like poetry, music was downgraded to junk status some years ago as fewer people were willing to pay for the stuff but, now, music is just a pain in the ass. Everywhere you go hundreds if not thousands of people want you to listen to their music and you want them to listen to yours. Trouble is, nobody is listening to anybody any more. So, posting a link to your new song is no longer ignored but even seen as an annoyance – “Geez, get that shit out of here.” Soon we will have to pay folks to spin our new ditty. This phenomenon is best seen at work in the dynamics of FaceBook. FB represents a perfect fusion of narcissism and apathy -- it's a terrific enabler of the sustaining fantasy that people are paying attention to you with zero effort on their part.

Let’s say I record a new song and share a link to that song on my FB account: all my ‘friends’ have to do is to hit the lovely ‘Like’ button to (a) lend the impression that they are listening and that they actually do ‘like’ what they’ve heard, and, (b) to bypass the listening altogether: ‘Oh, Dumbass has linked to a song. I’ll hit ‘Like’ and then update my status so that all my friends know I just walked the dog. They'll like that."

Ten years ago, I had hundreds of ‘fans’ actually listening to what I made whereas today, virtually nobody cares at all. My playing is better than ever and my recordings sound better all the time – at least I think so. But when I put up a new song today, either nobody cares, or, they grudgingly acknowledge it while mumbling “Geez, get that shit out of here!” (Actually, I shouldn’t complain too much, I seem to be doing better than some of my ‘friends’ in this regard). But, anyway, trying to give music away for free today makes one feel like you’re asking somebody to loan you money. You can’t even give this shit away!


Because ‘music’ is so ‘ten years ago.’ What the people want today are product demos. Everybody is making gear-driven music now so that pervasive disease of American society, commodity fetishism (Gear Mania, GAS, whatever) is fueled to fever pitch. Whereas ten years ago a kid might dig my latest riff and also want to know what overdrive pedal I used or what software I was using to record, today, the king of the guitar music world is some guy named Andy who plays classic rock riffs while demonstrating hundreds of effects pedals for Of course, Andy is not alone – YouTube is overflowing with ‘demos’ – mostly pathetic clips created by idiots with their cell phones. But you know what? These clowns have an actual audience. Even guys without so much as a particle of talent can garner thousands upon thousands of views, comments, and questions on YouTube just by owning a stupid quantity of gear, the hot new pedal, etc., recording it on their cell phone, and loading it up: “Hey, guys, it’s GearDouche here again, and I just got this new Hacienda Hellfire 1x12 Mojo Pro Tone and we’re going to do a SHOOTOUT between it and the Blazing Adobe 2x12 Vibetone Master Volume.”

Sweet Jesus, the “shootout.”

The new stars of the guitar world are not guys who write tunes, record songs, or perform live; they’re gear pimps on YouTube; random Schmos providing NAMM updates with shitty video recorders; manufacturer reps; and the various and sundry pale imitators. Some guys are enjoying a second wind in their sails by offering product demo services to cloners: let’s say you want to start your own ‘boutique’ stomp box business so you buy kits from BYOC (build your own clone) website, paint them, and give them mojorrific names. In order to elevate yourself from the swarming masses of cloners you can send one to one of these ‘demo specialists’ who will make it sound good on YT and transfer some of their name recognition to the pedal. Then it’s off to the races; maybe you can make your debut in an Epic Gear Page Flame War or what have you. But the Gear Fiends (they’re like meth addicts) will be playing those shitty Flash videos like mad all the while projecting ‘mojo’ and ‘vibe’ into the sound of a generic kit stomp box with a clever name. Instead of listening to music, they're listening to riffs and licks, discerning between A and B, and being manipulated by a bunch of hucksters and snake oil salesmen.

In my most cynical moments I think why not just join the flotilla of absurdity and do some ‘product demos’ and name all my songs after a piece of gear. But, screw it; I realized that I don’t actually care if anybody listens any more. Well, I do care a bit – after all, no man is an island.

However, to keep plugging along these days a person has to love the process of making music, not the end result. If you love making music, for nothing more than the enjoyment of the process of making music, then a person can be happy with the current state of affairs. If, on the other hand, you need others to recognize the virtues of your finished product, then you’re headed for misery. Reflecting on the relative apathy that greets my music these days I had to acknowledge to myself that making music in my studio makes me very, very happy. And this realization makes the whole situation bearable: I had to decide if I cared more about the process or the product. The more I thought about it I realized that after a couple of spins I don’t like to sit around gazing into my own music too much -- doing so only causes anxiety: "Oh, I should have done X, Y, and Z." Once a song is in the can I’m off to cut another, and another, etc. So, here’s to the joy of toiling away at making sound for nobody in the era of Gear Pimps, Junkies, and Social Entropy.

Now, I'm off to 'Share' this with my 'Friends' at FB. I hope they 'Like' it.