If you don’t like what you’re seeing in your record store or hearing on your radio, don’t blame the musicians—blame the suits.
Recent studies have shown that in any given year, as many as 50 percent of the CDs purchased in the U.S. are not the product of contemporary artists, but rather classic albums from classic rockers, or reissues from old-school jazzers, or repackaged “best of” collections. Some fans claim the reason for the apathy toward newer releases is that rock-’n’-roll, R&B and hip-hop have been co-opted by record label numbers-crunchers, while others feel the current generation of musicians has simply run out of original ideas. A journalist/musician who’s written biographies of Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, Bordowitz accuses everybody, maintaining that the entire music industry has shot itself in the collective foot. In his rambling, somewhat didactic treatise, Bordowitz points the finger at red-tape-wrapped record labels, ethically questionable radio stations and greedy retail conglomerates. He places the blame for the multi-platinum success of such dubious talents as Kanye West and Avril Lavigne on everybody from the sales-obsessed trade magazine Billboard to the manager at the local Sam Goody’s. If you’re already even the remotest bit familiar with the music industry’s ins and outs, few of Bordowitz’s revelations or assertions will come as a surprise, but for music-business newcomers, the thumbnail profiles of various musicians, producers and executives—not to mention the user-friendly descriptions of how record labels and radio stations are run—are engaging and enlightening. He doesn’t offer much in the way of new firsthand reportage, but his research is first-rate, and he is consistently able to support his arguments. The downside is that Bordowitz’s prose is relatively academic, his jokes feel forced and the so-called “dirty little secrets” aren’t particularly dirty—or secret.
Not as witty or breezy as the title would lead you to believe, but still a solid primer to today’s Byzantine music industry.