SFW: Do you think it’s viable for a lot of other people to have the same career model as you?

DiFranco: Absolutely! Anybody else who can fucking play! And that’s the way it should be. There’s nothing wrong with smoke and mirrors and making records with machines and exploring all those possibilities, but with the whole music industry like that, it’s like a house of cards. If you can’t really sing and you can’t really put on a show, when the marketing muscle starts failing, so does your gig. I mean, I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world that the music industry has been contracting and distilling down to its most passionate and dedicated people.

Ani DiFranco interview on SF Weekly.

There’s a few points in here worth looking at really. There’s some interesting things about the lack of protest songs in contemporary pop music. I don’t personally think that the reason for the scarcity is anything to do with people being worried they’ll “date badly”. Rather, it has much more to do with the ever-increasing compartmentalization and specialization of art in general combined with the modern drive towards escapism and simulacra over experience.

The way we consume culture now is very different to the way it was done in decades past; it is at once more open to possibilities but ever more shielded from them by means of curation. Your twitter feed is an open field, where you can have a million things a minute popping up in front of you or you can have a carefully selected feed relevant to your interests. I know which I have. It’s part of a more general thing where we drive ourselves further into our own specialist areas of interest and fail to pay attention to what’s going on on a wider scale. Personalised news feeds, Facebook, Google Reader, Twitter; they all feed this specialization, this focus on the first-person interest. The more hone in on your own interests and those of select groups, the less likely you are to write a song protesting the general state of things for people other than yourself. Maybe that’s more honest, I don’t know, but it is blinkered in some way and does breed a lack of empathy, the key ingredient in any protest song. 

What annoys me about the answer above is the implication that music made by non-musicians is fake in some way. The “There’s nothing wrong with smoke and mirrors and making records with machines” reads like “No offence, but…”. A piano is a machine too. A guitar is a machine. Any instrument is, except the voice perhaps. But then language is a machine too right? Where do we draw the line? Either way, it is no bad thing that “the music industry has been contracting and distilling down to its most passionate and dedicated people”. No bad thing at all. It’s important to understand that people that make music and art with machines are passionate and dedicated too. And no less authentic than a singer with a piano either. 

In relation to the actual question, it’s pretty much impossible for any artist now to have the same career model as someone who started in the late 80s. That’s how different things are now and it continues to surprise me when an established artist like DiFranco doesn’t recognize this.