When we first began discussion of this year's music issue, the original idea was to do something like "the state of the union, 2009." A lot has changed over the course of a decade. It's been almost that long since the White Stripes exploded out of Detroit and hit international superstardom. It's been a time in which what little was left of big corporations that sold music basically ate themselves. And Steve Jobs has laughed all the way to the bank.
But the more we talked about it, the more we decided it was, well, a bit of a depressing story. There were positive things to note, of course: Detroit is much closer to its pre-Stripes ethos of journeyman musicianship, for lack of a better term, which at one time had made this city a Midwestern cousin of New Orleans. And for every report that the concert industry, or the radio star, is dead, another something still comes along to contradict it — such as 68-year-old Bob Dylan selling out the Fox Theatre last week and delivering a tremendous show ... although it is hard to find anything to contradict the radio-star part. The Internet has made it almost totally unnecessary.
But then folks who grew up in the Internet era seem to think that music should be free. But when something isn't worth anything, well, then it's worth nothing. There's the whole "if your friend were a dentist or a restaurant owner, you wouldn't ask him to fill your teeth or feed you for free, would you?" thing as well. But, for a variety of reasons, making music is not as potentially lucrative as it once was, especially for new bands. The recession has made everything all that much worse, but in a world in which technology, not music (and probably not art, either) is king, unless you're content with playing for beer money on weekends (and there's nothing wrong with that!), a new model is required for any kind of "success" (at least as defined by the old model) in today's music world. To use an old cliché that may remind us a little bit too much of the word "business" than we're comfortable with, especially when we believe that it all begins with and is about the art, one has to think "outside the box" — or at least inside what that box is now as opposed to what it was — to "make it," whatever the hell that means, at the end of the decade. Hell, simply to just survive in 2009.
And so we found four Detroit music stories in which the principals are doing just that — including a modern thrash metal band that sold themselves almost entirely via good vibes on the Internet; a Detroit garage near-legend who should've been the city's next big "rock star" but is now diving into the future after that didn't happen; a hip-hopper who's resurrected his musical career via cross-marketing and a nationally hot sneaker store; and an indie manager-label owner who's surviving — and succeeding — in one of the worst economies, and one of the worst times for music as a career, since possibly the Great Depression.
When in Rome ...
by Bill Holdship
We Came As Romans take a leap of faith to the next level
Don't call it a comeback
by Brian Smith
Eddie Baranek grows up with the (new) Sights in tow
Burn, baby, burn!
by William E. Ketchum III
Burn Rubber' co-owner Roland 'Ro Spit' Coit sees a rap career revived via cross-marketing
Ducks in a row
by Chris Handyside
Quack! Media's Al McWilliams plans on complete musical success in this new recession economy