Americana Music Association and AXS TV – A Devil’s Deal?

What does the Americana Music Association and billionaire poster boy Mark Cuban have in common? According to Cuban apparently quite a bit…

“The Americana Music Association is home to a great community of independently spirited artists, and as an entrepreneur with the largest independently owned and operated television network, I relate to these musicians and their spirit.”

Yeah, okay.

Cuban’s corporate bromides aside, he is right, the Americana genre is born of marginalization and independence of spirit. And like entrepreneurial spirit, the music is wrought from a fertile cultural soil of necessity. opportunity and at it’s best, passion.

In today’s PR email blast refered to above, Jed Hilly – the Americana Music Association Director – has ” a new partnership with (ed: Cuban founded) AXS TV which will result in a two-year commitment of the network’s live broadcast of the annual Americana Honors & Awards. Starting with this year’s September 12 event at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium, AXS TV will deliver viewers an exclusive experience including live behind-the-scenes coverage of sound checks, red carpet arrivals and interviews with the evening’s special guest artists.”

Though references to “red carpet arrivals” coverage sets my proletariat nerve on end, my capitalist side sees the sense in it. As a trade group promoting and growing the brand to gain a larger customer base the AMA is doing what they’re paid to do. They are not in business to be an musical aesthetic standard bearer, they are here to shine an ever brighter light and to gain customers.

The growing of an Americana brand brings in fans who didn’t know they were fans. Mumford and Sons and Civil Wars leads people to The Felice Brothers and Shovel and Rope. This leads them to a like-minded community of musicians, web sites, festivals and labels that inform, entertains and unites.

Fans of The Band followed Levin Helm’s late career trajectory into Americana were able to discover bands that were disciples of the elder statesman.
Hell, they might have even performed at his legendary upstate New York-based Ramble.

The roots run deep and they spread wide. But they need water.

Members of this community are some of the most generous I’ve known. Artists, promoters and , yes, bloggers, within the Americana family are willing to open their studios, stakes and web sites to people willing to do the hard work of making extraordinarily music. Music that stands heads and shoulders over the flavor of the week.

Some in the community don’t like what the AMA is doing. They imagine a future where the Nashville-based trade group co-opts an imagined organic genre as their dominion. Securing the brand and stamping their seal of approval on the blandest of performers to be paraded in front of the masses to gain the most market share for few interests. I understand that fear, but don’t share it.

I don’t see the risk as AMA monopolizing an Americana brand the way Music City has monopolized Country Music. I believe wholeheartedly that at it’s core Americana is a dispersed genre that comes from our mongrel beginnings and touches people globally. Diversity within common markers, styles and distinctions is at it’s core. There are signposts bit not fences. Our birthright as sonic mutants and misfits has forged a new world that allows us to connect and thrive.

The AMA has a job to do and Jed and his team are succeeding spectacularly. Musicians, media and fans of the genre needs to be prepared so other boats will be lifted as the marketing tide comes in. No one channel – not radio, not a music channel, web site, not any industry awards show, represents that entirety of richness and beauty and , yes danger, that constitutes this music.

Besides I’ve met Jed Hilly on several occasions and, though we don’t see eye-to eye on everything, I do believe his heart is in the right place. He’s in it for the music, not the money.

The red carpet can coexist with the sawdust floor, we just need to remember what matters, the music. I don’t see Americana heading down the same glitter-glutted road that country music traveled, but we need to understand that no one organization owns what the genre represents. It’s too big, too much. There is no Nashville big label machine that churning out a music like some meat-like paste at a fast-food burger joint. Americana is wild and, yes, sometimes too tough or gamey for mainstream tastes.

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