Monday, August 07, 2006

Paying Your Dues

Following Clay's career has me much more tuned into the music industry (Pun intended) I've always been a lover of music but rarely paid any attention to the mechanics of producing an album or the nuances involved in promotion.

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Now that I'm paying closer attention, I've heard the phrase “paying your dues” a lot. For some reason, the performers from American Idol were never seen as having paid their dues at least until they raised the age limit to 28. Then the older contestants had time to actually practice their craft for at least 10 years but never got the break or were good enough to actually make it.

Recently, Kanye West was on the show and was asked about American Idol and he said they pay dues in a different way. He used an example of someone who was discovered in a mall because they had the look, He said he thinks it is harder to make it on AI than in Real Life.

Sometimes the show's publicity downplayed the performers' musical past for better television. Kelly Clarkson was the waitress from Texas, never mind that she had already gone to LA to try to make it as a singer and returned home. She was still plenty young enough to try again. Carrie Underswood was the country bumpkin right off the farm and Fantasia Barrino was the unwed mother. The real truth is that Carrie (who I was ambivalent about but have come to admire) had performed as an opening act for a number of established country groups and had lots of experience in on stage. Fantasia comes from generations of professional musicians.

Clay's backstory always made it seemed like he walked right out of his classroom as a teacher and on to the AI stage. In fact, he sang with a country band, starred in a number of community theater productions and starred in, hosted and produced the Hometown Connection show a number of times a year. He recorded two demo CDs (which now fetch a pretty penny on ebay). And he was only 24 when he tried out, not a bad resume for a guy a semester away from getting his bachelor's degree.

I wonder why Clay and others were sometimes seen as manufactured pop stars simply because they were able to avail themselves of better hair and clothes on the show. Performing in front of tens of millions of people, singing LIVE (what a concept) every week for 16 weeks is like bootcamp. I'd say it is the equivalent of playing a few years in crappy bars and clubs at 1 AM where 5 people see you and only 2 are sober. Aguilera, Timberlake and Spears all came from the Mousketeers and Timberlake was part of a group that was deliberately put together to appeal to young girls. Sorry, JT but N'Sync was a manufactured pop group.

Tell me that there is a more manufactured pop star than either Simpson sister with their manufactured breasts and/or nose. How can Hilary Duff be considered a worthy pop star when I can't recall the last time I saw her actually sing live instead of lip synch. In 2003 when Clay performed at the Jingle Ball concert put on by KISS in Boston, he was second to last. I had to sit through some horrible acts after paying $85 just to see Clay. Hilary Duff came on and did five songs, the first one was the only one that she sang live. An adorable 13 year old was singing away behind me. At the end, I smiled at her and asked her if she enjoyed it. She said “Yes! She was great but that first song wasn't so good.”. I said “that's because she didn't use the record, she sang it live.” (OK, that was mean but I was annoyed.) Clay was sick as a dog that winter but still came out and sang four difficult songs live.

I don't mean to put these other performers down (OK, maybe the Dufflet and Simpsons), I'm just questioning the double standard that has been out there for the last few years. The tide seems to be shifting as evidence by the pretty big names performing on AI this year. And most of the contestants sang better live than the professionals.

Clay will probably take some hits for an album that is 75% covers (thank you Clive the cadaver) even though I'm pretty sure he will make me forget the originals in about 4 minutes. He probably can sing just about anything and sometimes I think that is a blessing and a curse.
But I'll be there at midnight on September 19th to buy my copy of A Thousand Different Ways. And the smile on my face will be anything but manufactured.

PS. If you are interested in attending a CD Release party in your city, visit www.clayaikencdparties.com and find the thread for your region.

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5 comments:

lakecat said...

The music industry is so corrupt, how can they dare criticize someone who performs in front of millions of people only to be mocked by someone trying to make godd television.

Carolina Clay said...

During the past three years, we have all learned a lot about the music industry, radio, and how the media look down upon the AI finalists, even though they have definitely paid their dues. I enjoyed your essay on the topic.

Since July 13 I have been posting my blogs here at Carolina On My Mind. I have your journal in my Blogroll. Hope you can drop by sometime.

Have a great day! Looking forward to 9/19!

Caro

Hotforclay said...

Woohoo for Kanye West! Yes, they've all paid dues in their own way. Can't agree with you more.

Vox Vixen said...

I never thought I would be giving props to Kanye, but "right on Kanaye". I've come to hate the words "paying your dues" because it is just being used as a put down when nothing else can be critcized. People pay dues in all kinds of different ways. Has every young singer or prodigy "paid dues". Sometimes talent Just Is. You discover it and that's all that is needed. Clay, Kelly and gang might not have taken the usual road into the biz, but in many ways I think it is harder (agreeing with Kanaye again). They have to overcome the stigma of AI which in the early days was not easy. Amazing how a huge rating juggernaut/popculture phenom can change perceptions of paying dues.

VV/EE

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and insightful blog! Your writing is a pleasure to read and reflecting on my experience as a local, small-time vocalist, your remarks are right on target!