The Music Scene Has Changed?
I often get asked how the music scene has changed since I started out. I really wish that certain things had changed, but sadly, some things may never change for the better.
For one, back in the day, if you played a gig, you got paid a hundred dollars. It was kind of a good, round, almost magic number, but still not that much money. Now, in 2014, if you play a gig, you get paid a hundred dollars. It’s kind of a good, round, not very magic number. A hundred dollars went a lot further back then. Inflation’s a bitch.
Seriously, I think I’ve got some pretty good perspective since I’m an old fart who’s been playing music as more than just a hobby since the mid-1970s.
One of the first things is that, back in the ’70s, most clubs did not have a PA system. Bands had to have their own sound systems. This was very expensive and made for a really time consuming set-up. That led to a real war between bands who flaunted their Crown power amps and JBL monitors like pro wrestlers flaunted their muscles and sequined wrestling shorts. The equipment rivalries were somewhat epic. I toured with a band in the late seventies that travelled with a pretty big PA and light show that took us about five hours to set up.
Thankfully, somewhere in the early 1980s, most all clubs started providing sound systems and lighting. That was a very positive thing for the music scene, as talented young bands could play and compete with the older established bands. That also meant that the older bands had to up their game to stay in it. It was good for healthy competition. One bad thing, though, was that the younger bands didn’t always respect the PA and lights. The older bands, who loved their gear, were always thinking about expanding their light show or something and would never think of going onstage in a second-hand sweater, while staring at their shoes for the whole gig. The older guys put on a show! But, it was sometimes really, really, campy with a lot of spandex, hair flipping and smoke effects.
One of the sad things about today, however, is that gasoline is so much more expensive. It’s hurting the younger bands. When the price of gasoline goes up due to taxes and inflation, established bands like mine are hurt, but not devastated (well, a little). Young bands, trying to start out, could be left out of the game completely simply because it’s so expensive to drive around the country. Oh yeah, here’s a hint…the bands that do get in a van and drive around the country are the ones who make it big.
Also, back in the ’70s, a band starting out had to play cover songs. Oh, you could play your own original music — once — but they would never hire you again. This was quite the conundrum as the bands that got signed to labels were bands that had their own original music, but you couldn’t get a club gig unless every song you played was some recognizable cover song. That changed somewhere in the mid-’80s with the rise of the alternative music scene. Now, sadly, there is the whole tribute band thing that’s eating into the original music scene, but I’m hoping it doesn’t last. Back when I was starting out, the bands that did play mainly their own original songs, and were good enough to get gigs with those songs, were our heroes. But, there were only about three bands in the whole state of Texas that could pull it off.
Back in the ’70s, a club DJ was the cheesiest guy in the place who used his wannabe radio voice, and his love of disco, to pretend he was actually talented and a star. Everyone knew that the guitar, bass, drum and singer people were the truly talented ones who had a shot at a career in music. Nowadays, a club DJ is a person who pretends that he/she is as talented as a real musician, and the stupid club owners and promoters foster this pose since they pay the person thirty thousand dollars (or a lot more) to stand up on a stage with their iPod blaring disco junk. That’s tough to swallow when you realize that the best musician in your town will play piano at the Hyatt Regency brunch on Sunday for that ‘magic’ one hundred dollars.
As far as the more artistic changes, without getting into why rap isn’t singing (it’s poetry recitation to a beat), or the debate of digital verses vinyl, it’s still about the same. To be a really great musician, it takes countless hours, years and decades of dedicated practice to get even remotely in the ballpark with the talent that’s already out there. Then, you have years of writing, recording and releasing music…if you’re lucky. You have to find your style. Not to mention the endless touring, which means some of your favorite places are clean truck stops and lice free motels.
When I talk with people who did it back in the ’50s, they say most of that was just the sam, except without air-conditioning and the interstate highway system.
Jim Heath is the lead singer and guitarist for Reverend Horton Heat — the outlet of this creative mind for 29 years, leading to 10 full-length albums, 3 “best-of” collections, 2 DVD releases and thousands of memorable live performances. Never reaching platinum status or having a #1 radio single hasn?t been a problem for the Rev either, the band has continually been a mainstay of late night television and has toured with legendary acts such as Johnny Cash, Motorhead, Marilyn Manson, The Ramones, and many more, all of whom hold the Rev in the highest regard, as a true music industry legend.