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However, the 2016 U.S. election was not normal. No matter what your political leanings might be – this newly elected president is not normal. When there is talk of “registries,” round-ups, rumors of war, foreign government involvement, not to mention swastikas showing up on people’s cars and at MCA’s park for kids in Brooklyn; surely, you must agree, this is not normal.
Which means, our response as creatives should not, and cannot, be normal. The fans won’t allow it. The market won’t allow it. There is a change in American culture. You will see it reflected in TV shows and movies; which means, the kinds of songs used for syncs will change as well. You will see it reflected on social media, as some people become warriors for a cause, and others decide to check out completely because they’re sick of the rhetoric. It will be reflected in show protests, or how other artists might be attacked/supported for speaking out.
You, dear musician/songwriter/producer, have some choices to make. Will you use your art for more than money? Will you stay above the politics of the day on social media, even if your fans want you to take a stand on a position? Do you dare risk staking out a political position in your songs? Will you decide to be a dealer of distraction, providing entertainment that allows people forget about the world and just disappear in music?
These next four years will not be quiet, politically. There are radical changes being proposed that will affect you and your fans. So, this isn’t just about protesting corporate greed, or a far-off war, or climate change, or violent policing, this will be about all of that (and oh yeah, your Muslim or Mexican friend, bandmate, or roommate, might be rounded up into a detention camp or deported).
From a business perspective, trade wars and global instability are normally not good for touring or copyright access in the digital age. Don’t get me started on copyright reforms. (That’s another article)
It’s personal now. But, protest music has been around for a long time, whether in the form of Woody Guthrie, or C.C.R. decades later, the British punk movement, reggae, or even N.W.A. and Body Count in the following decades.
However, we didn’t have such a thriving (and vocal) independent music community during any of those times. We didn’t have the possibility of writing, recording, and releasing a song to the world in the same day. We do now. I’m not talking about the majors here – there are discussions going on in A&R right now about this very topic. The labels and major publishers will decide best for their bottom line because it’s a corporate quarterly stock price industry.
But you, as an independent, you actually have a chance to change the world with the right song, right now. But will you? Should you?
Will you write and record the next great protest song? Will you write the next anthem burning up the charts about a “new day” in America?
You face these choices right now, today. And either way is fine. Most likely, your fan base is aligned with you politically, depending on the music you do. But even if they are not, this is a moment to think about what your music will and can say in the next year. And what you, as an artist, want to say, and stand for.
Look, if you voted for this, then I want to hear that awesome “Make America Great Again” song. Really, I do. Because, I have no idea what the hell it means. I’m firmly on the side of “America’s Already Great (with flaws),” but more than that, the people are great in this country. So, definitely push that vision, write those lyrics, create that soaring chorus. Create music that your fans or people who agree with your POV can get behind. Champion that cause, and use your music to bring others into it.
And if you didn’t vote for this, I need to hear that, too. Your fans need to hear it. Are you frightened and disgusted? So are your fans. It’s your job to create the song story that explains those emotions, and says it in a way they cannot. Are you snobby and filled with revolt? Cool, let’s hear that killer track. It’s your job to create a vision of the world fans want to live in. That’s what music does.
And hey, no matter how you voted, if you just do not want to be political, I get it. Create sunny pop songs, or sick, ethereal EDM pieces, and just provide a distraction from the madness. That’s OK too. But, it has to be with purpose.
Music gets us through challenging times and provides a rallying point. It provides distraction and relief from feeling helpless. It gives a voice to those who feel like no one hears them, and to those who desperately wish they could make a change in this world, but may not have the power to do so. What music will you make?
–Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.