From The Plastic Hallway

“The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” -Hunter S. Thompson

The Inevitable Evolution of Cool


“Sit on it” ~ Arthur Fonzarelli

When I was a kid, the cool jobs in music were at record companies. Columbia. Arista. Capricorn. Warner. Epic.

Had you told supremely-uncool 13-year-old me that I would grow up and serve as the president of a Warner Music distributed record label for 8 years, I probably would have passed out on the spot.

Nowadays, the cool jobs in music are at tech companies. Apple. Spotify. Facebook. Google. Pandora.

These companies are great and are certainly at the leading edge of what’s happening in music today, but being a front-runner is hard. Eventually companies slip up and consumer perceptions shift. The labels were cool, but they are also for-profit multinational organizations that have a unblinking obligation to the almighty dollar. It’s hard to stay cool and profitable at the same time. It’s amazing to me that Apple has managed to do so for so long, and currently that perception is slipping. And being cool isn’t just cool. It’s also profitable. Very much so. Cool companies sell stuff. Cool companies also have a firm grasp on their own raison d'être, articulated beautifully by Simon Sinek in his book “Start With Why” https://www.startwithwhy.com

Ironically, the only long-term cool organizations are ones that are not for profit. I don’t mean to say that all non-profit orgs are cool. They aren’t. But to have long-lasting, unilateral cool, you have to have a non-corporate agenda.

Anyway, I was thinking this morning about this concept, the concept of Lasting Cool. Once the tech companies suffer the same fate as the record labels, what entities will become cool, and what entities will have Lasting Cool?

Maybe it will be content curators and creators. Companies like Annapurna Pictures (http://www.annapurnapics.com) - Annapurna has spurned the philosophies the of conventional Hollywood “play it safe” mentality and has cranked out some of the most thought-provoking films in recent years. American Hustle, Zero Dark Thirty, and Killing Them Softly are a few examples of their masterful work…

Maybe it will be the publishers or performing rights organizations, as these entities seem to be the only ones capable of stirring the pot financially in music…

Maybe it will be festival organizers or concert promoters, as it seems obvious that “LIVE” is the only enduring format in music. Recorded music has evolved into a free art form, and concert tickets have never been more expensive… something has to give there.

The Lasting Cool companies of the future will probably be an amalgam of whoever can best deliver access to quality content – a bridge built fusing technology and humanity, the best artistry… you know, possibly like the Feelies depicted in the Kentucky Fried Movie (1977): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mypS7VfwZLI

The record companies were cool because they delivered cool artistry. The technology companies are cool because they deliver cool artistry. It’s the artists themselves who are the common thread, despite the meddling music business.

From an artist perspective, there are many different current examples of Lasting Cool. Some artists are cool in their ability to evolve: Madonna, Pearl Jam, Beck, Radiohead… Some artists are cool in their consistency: Coldplay, Wilco, Ryan Adams… At any rate, these are all artists who appear to have transcended the manufactured A&R machine created by big labels, articulated somewhat accurately here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/hit-charade/403192/

In my mind, authenticity and confidence seem to be the underpinnings of Lasting Cool - those are the two hallmarks of each of the artists I’ve named here, and are probably tied tightly to your favorite artists as well. As the industry of recorded music trudges forward, it would be smart to bet on artists who are authentic and confident in their messaging. You know, just like Apple used to be.

- JLS

 © 2017 Noble Steed Music