One of the upshots of the homogenization of radio over the past few
years is that I've more or less stopped listening to music on the
radio. I'm going to club shows more. It costs more, but I can
usually stand the music -- and it gets away from the programming
decisions of the corporate monoliths.
Or so I'd like to think. But Jeff Sharlet has an article in this
month's Harper's (which I don't see on line -- they kinda want you to buy it) on
Clear Channel, which describes, among other things, their attempt to
bring the same benefits to the live music arena that they have to
broadcast music on the airwaves:
Musicians say touring has become a cross-country hopscotch from one
Clear Channel venue to another, each more sterile than the last; their
agents and managers say that if artists don't play when and where
Clear Channel says, they will suffer less airplay or none. ...
Sharlet shows how the strategy works by exploring the life of a guy
named Bryan Dilworth, who works booking live gigs for Clear Channel in
Atrios's stomping grounds in
Philly -- and some independent clubs on the side -- but the
company doesn't own him. Or at least so he wants to think:
At various times, Dilworth told me he worked for Clear Channel, or
didn't work for Clear Channel, or Clear Channel simply didn't matter.
Sometimes he called Clear Channel "the evil empire"...
But in the end, it may not matter what the guy thinks he's
Dilworth develops "baby bands" in [tiny, independent] clubs like the
Khyber on his own time and filters the most marketable of them to the
more lucrative venues he books as his alter ego, a Clear Channel talent
buyer. Such a double role appears to be part of the Clear Channel
business plan, in which the independents who should be an alternative
to Clear Channel instead become the company's farm team. As a result,
live music is following the route taken by radio. Songs that sound
the same are performed in venues that look the same and even have the
same name: identically branded venues, all controlled by Clear
It's hard for me to know what to think of this. The clubs I wind
up going to most often -- the Middle
East, T.T. the
Bear's, and so forth, at least claim to have independent
ownership. Then again, we have a radio station around here, WFNX,
which is very proudly independent, and years and years ago programmed
itself like an overgrown college station -- but the last time I tried
to listen to it, admittedly quite some time ago, their programming was
in the grip of a consultant whose brilliant idea was to shovel the
exact same, well, stuff onto the airwaves as the corporate giants. So
even independent ownership is no guarantee. And the band I saw in TT's last
night, who played good solid rock that sounds, well... about as
good as anything you can hear on the radio, proudly posts on their web
site that they are "cocked and loaded in Lava/Atlantic president Jason
Flom's star-making cannon"...
By the way, unlike a lot of lefty bloggers, Sharlet
does not perceive the company as following any particular political
agenda. In his article, he points out that many evangelics are
appalled at the antics of Clear Channel shock jocks, and that Clear
Channel's post-September-11 list of songs for its programmers to avoid
included not only anti-war songs, but also "Some Heads are Gonna Roll"
by Judas Priest. In private email, he adds a list of Clear Channel
folks who are doing progressively slanted broadcasts of various kinds
on the local level.
Then again, the best he can do with progressive talk show host
Randi Rhodes's allegations
that the company is keeping her out of national syndication to keep
Rush Limbaugh happy, is that it if it's true, then the company is
following Limbaugh's agenda -- for purely commercial reasons -- and
not its own...