Frank Zappa’s view on the music industry from 1987 still feels true today
The late, great Frank Zappa made a name for himself as one of the original agitators. A deliberate thumb to the nose of the music industry whenever possible, Zappa found himself comfortable in the sweet embrace of unconventional subversion.
To offer a view on the music industry, in a 1987 interview, Zappa details the trials and tribulations of being an original artist in a modern world, and it still rings true today some over 30 years later.
“Remember the 60s? That era that a lot of people have these glorious memories of?… they really weren’t that great, those years” says Zappa in the vintage clip. Apparently happy to play the grump, Zappa gives a frank description of the decade in which he found his duly warranted notoriety.
But one good thing from that era was missing from the eighties and is even truer today. The sentiment of the sixties was creativity, it underlined everything kids of the day did. Not mentally shackled by WW2 as their parents were, Zappa was a part of a large movement of hippies that changed the face of America. The sudden upsurge of the counterculture movement caught everyone off guard.
During the ’60s music executives were a stuffy bunch. They were an old guard of starched collars and ties, looking up from their Financial Times only to have an eye on the profit margin. Or as Zappa describes them “cigar-chomping old guys.” But one benefit of these old guys was that they “looked at the product and came and said, ‘I don’t know! Who knows what it is? Record it, stick it out. If it sells, alright!’” It allowed countless seminal albums of the decade to be signed off and the music scene of the era exploded because of it.
Zappa declares that “we were better off with those guys, than we are with the supposedly hip, young executives,” making the calls on what gets made and what gets put out to the public. While Zappa is talking about the fast-paced movement of the record industry in the eighties, the same can be said of today’s music scene.
In truth, there are a lot more opportunities to control their output, like Zappa was famed to have done, but it comes at a price. Bands and artists can get their music on to a range of streaming sites without any help from a label, but to actually get seen, heard and paid, they still need the help of the industry. Those decisions, as to who gets the support, who gets the tour, who gets the merch deal, still lives in the hands of those “hip” execs.
Zappa believed that returning to the cigar-chompers, may not be the ultimate choice, but it would at least return us to the days of “who knows! Let’s tack a chance.” The musical impresario continues, “The man in the chair may not be the final arbitrator of taste for the entire population.” Zappa then goes on to shed light on the phenomenon of “reprogramming” children as well as safe-sex at a time when AIDS was rife.
It may have been over 30 years ago but this deliberate and detailed thumb to the nose of the music industry still feels as relevant today as it did in 1987. Frank Zappa was always ahead of the curve and he is again here.
Watch the classic interview as Frank Zappa take son the music industry.