Beneath the Worlds of Wayne

I guess you could call it the pre-show warm-up.

Wayne Brekke, the guy behind the Worlds of Wayne podcast, hadn't clicked the “record” button yet. Maybe he was checking mic levels or warming up his voice or just trying to finish his vodka on the rocks before the show began.

Wayne’s been doing the podcast for seven years -- a long time, very likely longer than any podcaster in Omaha. Last week’s episode was Worlds of Wayne’s 200th. I was a guest on the podcast when Wayne celebrated his 100th installment a few years ago and have been told that I’ll be invited back for installment No. 300 and 400 and 500 and 600...

Anyway, the pre-show chit-chat centered around what I intended to write about right here in my column this week: A comment on the film 20 Feet from Stardom, which is now showing down at Film Stream’s Ruth Sokoloff Theater. The spot-on documentary captures the stories of the backup singers behind some of the most legendary recordings of the early days of rock ‘n’ roll right up through the ‘80s and beyond.

I told Wayne at around the hour mark into the movie -- right around the time when Mick Jagger and background singer Merry Clayton were talking about her iconic role singing the “Rape, murder, it’s just a shot away,” lines on Rolling Stones’ track “Gimme Shelter” – that I realized we’re never going to hear music like that again.

This was after seeing and hearing classic performance footage from Ray Charles and Luther Vandross and Talking Heads and David Bowie and Joe Cocker and background singer Lisa Fischer and archival footage of Phil Spector recording Darlene Love.  I told Wayne that music like that simply won’t happen again, that the record labels and the industry and the system and the wealth and power that created that music are long gone. No one will spend the money or take the time to make something that special.

And Wayne basically said I was full of shit.

He has a unique perspective -- he’s played drums in local bands most of his life. In fact, Worlds of Wayne was born out of that lifestyle. The podcast interviews musicians (and others) about their music and their lives. Wayne started the show at a time in his life when his own music was slowing down along with his attendence at rock shows. Worlds of Wayne was his way to stay connected with the scene he loves.

Wayne argued major record labels are still spending lots of money on big-time recordings complete with dancers and production and the whole ball of wax. But when I asked him to name one modern rock band playing that style of music that wasn’t targeted at pre-teens (i.e., The Biebs or Taylor Swift or the rest of the Walt Disney set), Wayne, of course, couldn’t. The only ones left doing it are the ones who did it before, the old timers like Sting and Springsteen and Elton John, who also were interviewed in the movie. Where’s the next generation?

I pointed to the money, or more accurately, the lack of it. Gone are the days of bands becoming rich rock stars and, thanks to Spotify, those days aren’t coming back. Just ask Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Nigel Godrich, who announced in a series of Tweets Monday that they yanked the music of their Atoms for Peace project from Spotify.

“Make no mistake,” Yorke said in odd Twitter shorthand, “new artists you discover on #Spotify will not get paid. meanwhile shareholders will shortly being rolling in it. Simples.”

Godrich’s explanation was more coherent: “The reason is that new artists get paid f*ck with this model,” he said. “Small labels and new artists can’t even keep their lights on... If people had been listening to Spotify instead of buying records in 1973... I doubt very much (Pink Floyd’s) Dark Side (of the Moon) would have been made... It would just be too expensive.”

Thank you, Nigel, for making my point.

Streaming music services like Spotify make (almost) all the music in the world available for free while indie musicians whose music is on Spotify are paid virtually in pocket change. Free is the new model, and as a result, even local music fans are becoming skittish about buying local recordings. Why pay for the music when you can find it online for nothing? Forget about my concerns about the return of classic production values heard on 20 Feet. How will any band survive?

Wayne merely rolled his eyes as he adjusted the mic stands in his basement tiki bar studio.

They’ll survive, he said, just like they always have -- by performing on stage and selling their wares from the merch booth. Wayne loves his Spotify even though he knows it’s screwing artists. He said no one in this day and age is going to pay $35 for concert tickets or $10 for a CD from a band they’ve never heard before. Radio is dead. And that’s where Spotify comes in. Spotify allows him to discover new music he couldn’t hear anywhere else before he buys it in the format he chooses.

To underscore his argument, Wayne pointed to the recent resurgence in vinyl record sales and added even cassette tapes are making a comeback. Yes, cassette tapes.

I wanted to point out that vinyl, while robust, is merely a sliver of the overall music market pie, but before I could Wayne pointed at his laptop, and pressed the “record” button.

What happened after that, well, you’ll just have to go to worldsofwayne.com and listen to the podcast to find out.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 04:02 pm
on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

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