Is country music just like any other business? Is the new Brad Paisley CD or tickets to a Blake Shelton concert just another commodity -- a widget cranked out at the lowest possible quality and cost, served up in recyclable containers to be purchased by the naive and uninformed masses who don't know any better than to like what they're told to like?
God I hope not.
It all started with a discussion with a music biz insider about the unprecedented product placement and sponsorship by JCPenney of the current Rascal Flatts CD and tour. I know that sponsorships are a part of the music business, "Brought to you by . . . " doesn't bother me. We all know that George Strait wears Wrangler jeans and Kenny Chesney drinks Corona. Who cares?
But commercials during a live concert? A band putting a song praising a particular product line on their CD? Is that where we're going? Welcome to the 2009 American Living/Rascal Flatts tour.
The 2008 Rascal Flatts tour made $56 million, according to Forbes magazine, so obviously the band and the label know how to make money. But I was not the only person in the audience shaking her head at the blatant commercialism and over-the-top product placement during a recent concert. Commercials before and DURING the live show? Seriously!?
As someone near me said, "Jeez -- how much money do these guys need?"
I know that a business has to make money to survive. Touring is expensive. A lot of people work very hard to bring me the music I love, and they all deserve to be compensated for that work. But am I naive to think that it's not just about work and money when I hear a song I love?
Am I just being manipulated when I cry over the beauty of Caitlin + Will's "Address in the Stars," dance to Dierks Bentley's "Sideways" or smile at Blake Shelton's "Some Beach"? Is it all just an attempt to get me to buy a worthless widget?
"Artists have no control, no say," my insider friend tells me. "The business runs the business" and the bands who make it big do so by selling out.
Wow. The thought kind of broke my heart.
But then I played some country music, let it touch my heart again, and decided to not believe my music biz insider friend, at least not completely.
There's too much beauty, truth, love and passion in country music for me to believe that it's all just widgets. So I'll try to ignore the next commercial I see during a live concert, turn my head at the next obvious product placement and I'll just hold on to my naivete a little longer.
But will I be able to keep up the delusion if commercials, product placements and "inspired by" songs on CDs become the norm? I doubt it. Let's hope we never have to find out.