Van Dyke Parks Explains the Modern Music Business

Van Dyke Parks


Whether it's David Lowery or David Byrne, you can't escape the logic of what Van Dyke Parks is saying:
I see in 2014, as Sousa did in 1914, an uneasy standoff between music’s creators and their distributors. A handful of musical conglomerates have gathered to snuff out reasonable artist/composer compensation, and the already apparent result is a centralized homogeneity of music. With, say, Chinese and Indian youths in villages with wifi now paying micro-cents to listen, new markets are admittedly emerging. But even as the music market goes global, the ancillary cost is a troubling conglomeratization of thought, style, and taste.
To cite but one example of this problem: In the vacuum of patronage, there’s an increased rarity of acoustic ensembles available to new artists/composers. It’s as lamentable as the loss of glacial ice. Ensembles are of vestigial interest in this new pop culture. As a result, too many U.S. orchestras, opera, and dance companies are losing their endowments amid a swill of bourgeois bohemian rock ubiquity. As the French say, “Bo Bo.” This vernacular diet of a faux gras American pop-rock hegemony has replaced a vibrantly precious global musical elasticity and variety. We must find a way to get out of that box.
I hate to sound like a curmudgeon. It’s not sexy. Yet, I relate to the skepticism of Sousa, in his cautions about unfair practices in a free market of recorded music. Something’s wrong when the tail wags the dog and the provider dictates content. That’s not freedom of thought. We must discover a means of subsidy by which music and parallel arts may thrive unapologetically. Let us remember: “Freedom of Thought” does not mean “Free Stuff.”
We must fix this ruptured pipeline for the popular arts. It can’t come from a half-hearted, flaccid philanthropy but rather from a nexus of patronage, from both private entrepreneurs and the public sector. We’d better take a real hard look—and soon—at the disproportionate profits of creators and distributors of ideas. Our priority should be in nurturing new ideas and innovative art, and the people who create those ideas and that art must be fairly and legally compensated.
Making everything free was the stupidest idea known to man.