In 2000, I was introduced to the notion of what I call the "don't care" audience. While interning at a pop radio station, Mary J. Blige was to be interviewed via phone one morning. Before the interview began, I politely asked if I could ask a question about working with Elton John. Blige's new CD featured Sir Elton playing a hook from "Bennie and the Jets" and I wanted to ask what it was like to work with him. The deal is, the question was never asked because when I ran it by the hosts, one of them responded, "Eric, nobody cares about that stuff!" Thus it began.
I know the mindset I have with music is not in a majority, but I know I'm not in a minority. I am somebody somewhere that cares, so I've never bought the line about how "nobody cares" or "people don't care about that stuff." Recently viewing the excellent documentary, Before the Music Dies, I have a better understanding of how I'm not alone here.
Filmmakers Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen are fans of music who wondered if people felt the same way about how a lot of music is marketed these days. Be it consolidation of radio stations or major record labels, they look at their effects on the marketplace. From the giggly concertgoers at an Ashlee Simpson concert to writers, musicians and label people, both sides of the coin are presented. However, there's a point that's made abundantly clear right away: music treated like a commodity does attract a "don't care" audience. But also proven early into the film is how not everyone falls into this "don't care" audience.
There are plenty of great interviews from people like ?uestlove, Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews, Branford Marsalis, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket, and Bonnie Raitt. They share their love of music with their own stories. They also share their scrutiny of the model of instant hits, focus groups and other matters that distinguish commerce over art. Keep in mind, all of these performers have large audiences, sell plenty of records, and continue to do well.
Probably the most endearing part of the film is how it doesn't wallow in a mindset of "Too bad you missed out on rock 'n' roll. It's over." Looking at the major pros of the Internet with websites and downloading, there's a general sense of relief with the interviewees. Plus, strongly urging us to teach our children about the power of music is probably the most powerful point of the film. This part really moved me because I've seen the positive effects of music on kids. My nieces might be too young to appreciate Tom Waits' Small Change right now, but that doesn't mean they will always be unappreciative of it. And I highly doubt they will fall into the "don't care" audience.
Before the Music Dies is a testament to how music affects us. There's a difference between music affecting us and pop culture affecting us. The film wisely goes for the former. Ashlee Simpson may sell millions of records, but so did New Kids on the Block and Right Said Fred. The Velvet Underground and the Pixies didn't sell a lot of records in their day, but plenty of the people who bought their records started bands and/or talked them up. The point is, life doesn't solely exist where the most money flows. For as long as music is sold as a disposable commodity, there will always be those that don't treat it like one.