August 14, 2008

Looks and Sounds

A few weeks ago, I happpened upon a brief newspaper snippet about the jazz singer, Sophie Milman. In the article, the writer tells the story of how Milman's CD came to a local promoter without a cover. This promoter listened to some of her songs and liked her Ella Fitzgeraldish voice. "I figured it was a 40-something singer," he's quoted as saying. He goes on to mention that this type of voice is usually the purview of large people.

And then, story takes a delicious twist. You see, Sophie Milman actually looks like this:

The article then implies that once the promoter saw a picture of Milman, he just had to sign that voice. Apparently, it's the head shot and measurements that get you the gig and 40 year old overweight black women need not apply.

I'm not saying that Milman is not a good artist or a great singer; She has a technically gifted and well trained voice. My problem is that the 18-25 year old white girl that sounds even remotely like a 40 year old black woman is a recipe that never fails to make the music industry drool itself. This has nothing to do with her talent, desire or personality but has everything to do with the shallow vision of the entertainment machine.

What I'm talking about goes beyond "video killed the radio star." It's the matter of mere facade versus real depth and the newspaper story about Milman is a mild example of it. Milman has depth but depth isn't what sells her. The facade is more important.

For a stronger case, let me just say that I can do nothing extreme enough to avoid hearing about Brittany or Christina while at the same time the singers that I would like are probably considered too old, too black and too plain looking to merit any coverage. A lot of the best artists today have been forced into the independent music scene whether they like it or not.

By the way here's what Ella Fitzgerald looked like at 23:

There is an incredible honesty in that photo yet when was the last time you saw an album cover or promotion like it? As much as I like this picture, it would be unusable in today's mainstream music industry. It's not sexy enough, not trendy enough, not underground or buzz laden or edgy enough.

The whole thing reminds me of this Dan Kennedy quote that he got from the chairmen of the record label he worked for, "I don't tell people I'm in the record business, I tell people I'm in the business of delivering a lifestyle - hooded sweatshirts and other merchandise, merch that features various band logos, licensing soft drinks, everything. There's no limit to how this business can become a business of selling a way of living more than simply selling music".

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