Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dr. McKinney- The most important blog I have ever written

So this is going to be my first blog since graduating with my doctorate, a blog I have so humbly given the name RockstarProfessor (sarcasm intended). As the title denotes this is a music business blog which is meant to educate and cause serious abstract thought and debate on the entrails of the business side of a creative industry.  In addition, this particular blog is the launching point for both my beginning to write a book on the music business (this book will mix stories of my journey in the industry along with the research I conducted during my doctoral studies on the industry) and the national radio launch of my bands latest album. Lastly it is on the heels of the one of my videos going viral. In light of that, what deep data driven analysis of the music industry am I going to reveal? What secret about viral videos am I going to unearth? What does my subject and musings today have to do with the music industry at all? The answer is NOT MUCH; if at all? For me and my journey through young adulthood, the music industry and early manhood though, my subject today means everything.

Today’s subject is about hero’s; particularly one of mine. Oooo you might be thinking he is going aspirational and will espouse on the Mt. Rushmore of his deity of songwriting- Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, Johnny Cash, Prince, Levon Helm, etc. etc.- and while you may be right that in that I admire all of those people in one way or another, they are not the subject today. Okay then maybe you might think I am going to wax whimsical about the closely familiar and relational- my mom, or wife, or kids but that would be wrong as well.

In fact the hero I am going to speak of today did not play an instrument that I know of and is no relation.

To go further the inspiration for today’s blog was a short Irish man, a lustfully failed priest, an alcoholic, a recovering alcoholic and then an alcoholic again, a liar, bitter, selfish and arrogant, BUT…..BUT  he was also an author. Not just an author though that is far too mere mortal for his words. He was a poet with words that weren’t poetry, a prophet for those who desperately needed the message he passed on, a well-worn old and needed friend for those who were about to give up on it all.

It is no exaggeration or hyperbole to say that this man’s words whether spoken or written have proliferated and informed every single lyric, every morsel, every bite I have ever written like the red sauce drenching a wet burrito since being introduced to his work in 1998. His message has formed and shaped my very worldview, it has gently taken me by the trembling hand and brought me, kept me believing when logic, my own arrogance, the failings of others, and shear laziness would have lead me away.  For a moment let me digress.

In the year 2000 (yes I am hearing the old Conan O’Brian skit in my head too!) I was a singer in a band of 5 funky brothers (musically and odor wise at times) who was about to release our sophomore album for a well-funded but inept label and I had made a comment about how influential this author’s work was on the lyrics I was writing in an article for a national magazine. Did not think much of it until one day my phone rang and the caller I.D. (God I am old!) said New Orleans and I joked with my then wife that it was probably him, knowing that he lived there. She answered the phone, her face turned ghost white (and she is Italian) she murmured a couple hesitant, “yes…..yes…. he’s right here. Jason, its Brennan Manning.”  So being the trusting husband I was, I retorted, “whatever, who is it really?” The answer back was, “No I am serious.” Now keep in mind, that I had been on tour with, written with, hung out with rock star after rock star and none of them, not one left me impressed or star struck in the least, this was however a different matter all-together.

After fumbling through some awkward pleasantries, we spoke about life, faith, and of course with Brennan… GRACE. We exchanged lyrics, thoughts, and fears for about 45 minutes. As cliché as it sounds we laughed, I cried and then it ended.  That was the only time I ever spoke to Brennan, we never met in person. We exchanged a letter or two through the years but never met face to face.  We never met but I read every word the man ever wrote and it changed me, deepened me, and urged me to crawl grateful at the foot of the throne full of joy.

Brennan’s seminal books where The Ragamuffin Gospel (http://www.amazon.com/The-Ragamuffin-Gospel-Bedraggled-Beat-Up/dp/1590525027) and Abba’s Child (http://www.amazon.com/Abbas-Child-Heart-Intimate-Belonging/dp/1576833348/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y).  The overarching theme of his writings was this; we are all screwed up (the blessed are the ones who at least know it); it is okay to be screwed up; God is madly in love with us anyway. In two words Brennan’s message was that of Vulgar Grace!!! Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the man

·         “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

·         “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

·         “There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

·         “In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve.”

·         “The Ragamuffin Gospel was written with a specific reading audience in mind. This book is not for the super-spiritual. It is not for muscular Christians who have made John Wayne, and not Jesus, their hero. It is not for academics who would imprison Jesus in the ivory tower of exegesis. It is not for noisy, feel-good folks who manipulate Christianity into a naked appeal to emotion. It is not for hooded mystics who want magic in their religion. It is not for Alleluia Christians who live only on the mountaintop and have never visited the valley of desolation. It is not for the fearless and tearless. It is not for red-hot zealots who boast with the rich young ruler of the Gospels, “All these commandments I have kept from my youth.” It is not for the complacent who hoist over their shoulders a tote bag of honors, diplomas, and good works, actually believing they have it made. It is not for legalists who would rather surrender control of their souls to rules than run the risk of living in union with Jesus. The Ragamuffin Gospel was written for the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out. It is for the sorely burdened who are still shifting the heavy suitcase from one hand to the other. It is for the wobbly and weak-kneed who know they don’t have it all together and are too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace. It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents. It is for earthen vessels who shuffle along on feet of clay. It is for the bent and the bruised who feel that their lives are a grave disappointment to God. It is for smart people who know they are stupid and honest disciples who admit they are scalawags.”


See I am writing about this man’s influence on my writing in a music business blog for three reasons; 1) He recently passed away 2) My wife gave me his final book All is Grace as a graduation gift and it reminded me of how much he has meant to me and 3) To quote a line from the movie Almost Famous “Didn’t we get into this to avoid responsibility?” or to paraphrase it is the creative that drove me to the music business, it is how music can reach and touch the soul. How words can articulate the heart.  Song has that innate search for what Brennan called the “beautiful transparency.” I put up with all the other, stats, deals, business models, etc. because the creative makes it worth it.  

Brennan Manning had his critics for sure but that is not what this blog is about and I will not dignify their arrows with a response here. The theme here is Brennan’s  message has found its way in so many of my songs from Sweet Lullaby, Boy Meets Girl, and Give in the old CCM days, to Find Me, Reason, and Broken in the RAWK days to the title track on the new album Troubadours, Vagabonds and Thieves.  His words changed my life and influenced my lyrics far more than any musician, NO he was not perfect far far from it, but neither am I, neither are you…. isn’t that the real point.

I will end this (quite lengthy) blog with the lyrics to That’ll Preach, which contains the title phrase to the newest album. The irony here is that when I wrote these lyrics with my buddy Kevin Lawson I had not recently read anything of Brennan’s or really thought of him in quite some time and to be honest I don’t know if Kevin has ever even heard of the man but his message permeates these lyrics.

I will close with this, a simple thank you Brennan- rest now in Abba’s arms.
That'll Preach- ITunes

That’ll Preach

By Jason Lee McKinney, Kevin Lawson



                All my friends are troubadours, vagabonds and thieves

                Just like me

                Dirty orphans drowned in water, raised up as sons and daughters

                Just like me, Just like me



                We’re all bikers and drinkers, poets and thinkers

                Wanting nothing but to be free

                Open roads and pirate souls, looking for a hand to hold

                Want something real to reach

                We’re all looking for something that’ll preach


                When it comes to counting cost, I know I’m found but I’m still lost

                Just like you

                When I feel I’m losing ground, all I got to do is look around

                And see a room full of rebels just like me

                Oh I see a room full of rebels just like me


V.1 reprise

                All my friends are troubadours, vagabonds and thieves

                Just like me


Monday, March 11, 2013

George Orwell would be proud of today’s music industry

Big Brother truly is watching. With news feeds, tweets, and IPhone videos providing a constant interaction between Artists, Actors, Authors and their fans everyone can see the little man behind the curtain now. You can find out what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast or where Britney Howard singer of Alabama Shakes buys her glasses, or that Taylor Swift just loves watching old John Hughes movies in an instant, non stop. In some way, this is great. The connection breaks down the perceived barrier between artists and their fans, they get to see the real person (sort of- at least the real person the artist wants you to see) frailty and all; likes, dislikes, what ticks them off, little odd idiosyncrasies. All designed to make the fan feel two things 1) Familiarity with the artist- “I know that guy” and 2) build brand loyalty- “Not only do I love her music but she owns a Siberian Husky just like me… that’s my girl.” Unfortunately, what is lost for the fan is the reverence and mystique that artists, authors, and actors once had. The larger than life side of performers had an upside as well. What are lost for the artist are privacy and sometimes the safety of their families or themselves. There used to be an unspoken covenant between the media and the artists; the artist would give access and interviews and in turn, the media would protect the artist from the public knowing about their dirty little secrets. This created an aura of being larger than life. While on the positive side the tearing of the veil allows the public to know that artists are not perfect or glamorous and that their lives are often nothing to envy, it also allows the public to know that artists are not perfect or glamorous and that their lives are often nothing to envy. In any trade off there is something gained and something lost and the mystique and aura of artists being “larger than life” has been lost in the same way as the beauty of album cuts and album art.
So how do we allow access to fans with trying to regain some of the aura? How is this to be taught in music business classrooms (should it be)? Where is the balance? It will never be the way it was again and that is probably for the better but the pendulum should not swing to far in the other direction; artists should want to interact with their fans. The artist is the brand and the brand is now the product not the music so interaction with fans is selling, however the discernment to where to draw the line is one that is ever blurring. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

rockstarprofessor: What is the greatest skill needed in the new music...

rockstarprofessor: What is the greatest skill needed in the new music...: How do we teach college students how to solve questions in an industry where the answers change quicker than the questions can form in t...

What is the greatest skill needed in the new music business and how do we teach it?

How do we teach college students how to solve questions in an industry where the answers change quicker than the questions can form in the collective industries mouth? How do we transform in an industry where the very cornerstone has eroded to the point where it cannot bear the fiscal weight of the industry itself? Where the product itself no longer has any value in the market place, yet there is more interest in that product than in any time in history. In plain terms what will the music industry be like in 5, 10, 15 years….or for that matter in 6 months? Truth is no one knows, we all know that and have for a while but the truth is the answer lies in paradigms of thought. Paradigms of new business models, or old business models that become a new in the cold light of the changes taking place; while there is no “one size fits all” business model out there for the music industry and I don’t think there ever will be again, there are new business models and concepts that will work for a vast majority of the time (at least for now), but more importantly the music industry as a whole (especially the new generation) must learn how to think strategically, in new ways. The answer is not in following a rote set of principles but in discovering new ways to think about the music industry. The challenge in being a music business educator is by the time we get a good text book (or any book) for that matter out and into the hands of students it is pretty much obsolete. For me the real solution is to teach them how to think. What I mean by that is teach them how to assess and discern their situation in the current marketplace and then decipher which levers to pull that will bring the most impact to their situation. We must teach them how to be dynamic thinkers, not conditioned responders. This is the greatest skill a student can have in the new music business- not great accounting skills, or being a great social networker, or great player, or producer, etc. because all of these skills and talents alone do not in and of themselves pave the way towards monetizing themselves, but adding dynamic thinking to one or more of these skills does. This is the key.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

rockstarprofessor: Cheer up sleepy jean- A look at the Monkees legacy...

rockstarprofessor: Cheer up sleepy jean- A look at the Monkees legacy...: I was first exposed to the Monkees on the weekend of my Grandfather’s funeral in 1986. I was a young child and my older brother and I spen...

Cheer up sleepy jean- A look at the Monkees legacy in the music business.

I was first exposed to the Monkees on the weekend of my Grandfather’s funeral in 1986. I was a young child and my older brother and I spent the night at my Dad’s apartment while my Dad was off making funeral arrangements. It just so happened to be the same weekend that MTV was running a Monkees marathon and my brother and I stayed up all night watching every episode. It is vivid in my mind and my heart. It is one of my most cherished bonding moments with my older brother John. It was an escape from the pain of the very real life moment as my Grandfather was both my brother and my hero and still to this day the kindest man I have ever met.

Davy Jones of The Monkees passed away today. The oft-beguiled Monkees, who were manufactured by two upstart film producers and a veteran producer Don Kirshner to become the answer to the Beatles. were patterned after the Beatles. They were patterned not only in looks but also in demographic and most importantly in the intent of harnessing the power of television. Following the success of the cheeky, Beatles film Hard Days Night; the creators thought they could cash in. The Monkees were wildly successful for a couple of years and toured to rabid fans across the world. The question I am asking is what is their legacy?

Were the Monkees the first sign of the musical apocalypse, where acts are created in an industry laboratory setting as opposed to organically from the people?

In some sense, the answer is probably yes. As Rock grew from an under ground movement into big commerce, it was exploited towards a lowest common denominator that would reduce risk and garner profits. This is just part of the tension of the music business. The artistic side of it loves innovation, experimentation, and change because it leads to transformation and great art but the business side needs to see profits and must assess everything through the lens of risk verse benefits. For the business side it is always about profits not art. This tension pushes and pulls on the music business and always has. The Monkees are in some ways a keystone marker of a subtle shift more towards the business side, one that the ripple effects are still being felt today.

Were the Monkees innocent kids who saw a chance to grab the brass ring and took it?

On this one, I think the answer is yes. In much the same way the guys in Milli Vanilli were. While the Monkees did actually sing the lead vocals on their recordings, they were not allowed to play on the early recordings and were not allowed to write on the songs. It is easy to pass artistic judgment on these guys until you place your self into their shoes. You are a young often literally starving artist who is given a chance to have a platform and most importantly feed yourself, and the artistic moral waters begin to muck up a bit.

Were the Monkees a cultural icon that left us some great guilty pleasure pop songs and an entertaining escape?

I cannot speak for you but as I started, this blog I can say for me the answer is yes.

Rest in Peace Mr. Jones.

Here is a link of Mr. Jones at his best.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

rockstarprofessor: New Artist Growth App

rockstarprofessor: New Artist Growth App: It is beyond both empirical and anecdotal evidence to state that one of the trending business models in the music industry is that of a move...