Hello Stranger from Issue #27
Almost from the day we began publishing this magazine I have patiently had to explain that, no, No Depression was not an Americana publication. Americana is principally known as a radio format, a chart in the Gavin trade magazine, and while we certainly share artists with that chart, it should also be clear that the aesthetic of this publication’s two editors is rather different from that of Americana radio programmers.
And so it may have been a surprise to those who received a press release noting the formation of a new trade organization called the Americana Music Association to find my name among the members of the AMA’s interim board.
A few words, then, about the formation of the AMA. An open meeting was scheduled during SXSW 1999, during which a group of people agreed that the time had come at last to form a trade organization. Many of those same people reconvened in Nashville last October and, under the patient care of professional facilitators, agreed to form the AMA. (Not incidentally, Jon Grimson — who owns the trademark on the name “Americana” — agreed at that meeting to assign that trademark to the new organization.)
Since that October meeting, the interim board has worked to build a legal structure for this nascent organization. That structure now more or less in place, the AMA began soliciting memberships, a process kicked off by a party during this year’s SXSW.
This is all far more business than we normally allow to intrude in the pages of this magazine, and I apologize for that. It is also far more business than I had ever hoped to allow to intrude in my own life. This is a particularly delicate matter for me, for I am both entrepreneur (as a co-owner of this magazine) and a working music critic, here and elsewhere. The potential for conflicts of interest is troublesome.
That said, I also believe the need for this organization to be compelling, and that neither the entrepreneur nor the music critic can afford to sit on the sidelines. The work of most of the artists we write about here is nurtured by an interdependent chain of small businesses. Many, like No Depression, work out of spare rooms in their homes; most could find more remunerative work elsewhere.
The music we write about is, by and large, of quality. It deserves an audience — not necessarily a mass audience capable of conferring great wealth, but certainly an attentive audience of sufficient size to sustain the careers of many of the artists.
The theory — my theory, anyhow — behind AMA is that if we mostly small businesses combine our resources, we will more effectively be able to build an audience for this music, however it may be defined. How and if that is to be accomplished is fundamentally up to those readers who work within this loosely defined industry. The AMA’s goals and objectives will, inevitably, be driven by the goals and objectives of its membership.
Mind you, it isn’t going to be easy. This is the biggest bunch of mavericks you’ve ever seen corralled around a conference call. But every single person who has been involved in the formation of AMA has worked tirelessly, without ego, and without seeking to impose the agenda of their particular facet of this business on the organization. If the AMA is to have no other legacy (and I think that unlikely), I am enormously proud and honored to have been a part of this process.
As to how we define the music served by the AMA, frankly we don’t. The needs of a radio format are different from the needs of a magazine, and the needs of artists and labels are equally diverse. It is the common ground we seek to plow together. The AMA will succeed if, and only if, the professional community embraces it and works to make it succeed.
Please join us.