Frank Zappa explains the decline of the music industry

Here's Frank Zappa explaining what went wrong with the music industry -- it all went sour when the clueless, cigar-chomping old guys hired hippies who "understood music" to do the picking.

Frank Zappa explains the decline of the music business

(Thanks, amanicdroid!)


  1. Sounds like the old cigars went with the “toss it at the wall and home it sticks” method.

    All too often the people that are unwilling or unable to admit they have no clue are the most most dangerous…

    Btw, that second part about “de-punking” kids via camps seems eerily familiar…

      1. If by “old guy chomping on the cigar” @twitter-341602452:disqus means “willingness to just throw it out there and see if it sells” then yes, yes it is. 

        1. the internet doesn’t  make possible for small artists to leave from their art i’m afraid. It doesn’t invest in them, just pushes gimmicks into the absurd. The record industry (included the indy one) has never been in such a bad shape. Bands don’t have time or money to work on their craft, the public just chew and spit them. It’s a field that is being more and more deserted by people willing to innovate. Who’s left? Quick fun stuff.. that stick on the wall for a week.

          1. the internet is quite the medium for innovation (do you even read boingboing much?). Artists are able to push out their wares without having some ridiculous henchman wanting contracts or 35% of their profits. Louis CK is the most glaring and recent example of utilizing the interwebz to destroy previous business models, but there are authors and painters who are making a great living using just the internet.  

          2. No reply button bellow your comment, Tim. 
            Of course the internet is a platform for innovation, but that’s not what that video is about. For the music industry it has been synonym of copyright theft (directly from the fan base – a strange thing), a loss of revenue which translated into lack of investment into nurturing risky acts.  I worked for years in the recording industry and i can tell you those people taking 35% of your money were also applying themselves to get you some: they were looking after their investment. Not any more. Now labels are looking at easy grab from the web, signing buz video band for nothing and let them go as fast they got in. You might point at some exception (they surely exist) but in the vast majority, music has became less engaged, politic, extreme, innovative or experimental. A young Zappa today would certainly not get a contract.. he would have gotten loads of clicks though, and would be working at the corner shop to make a living.  The music industry has became a kid’s playground, run by kids, for kids. Bleak. 

          3. For someone who claims to have worked in the industry, you seem to have a severe lack of understanding about how indie bands operate. Most of the quality music I have in my library these days was downloaded from bandcamp for anywhere between $0 and $7 per album, with a very large portion leaning towards that $0 end.

            There are plenty of musicians who aren’t looking to get rich off of their music, just like there are plenty of programmers who aren’t looking to get rich off their open source or freeware programs.

            The extreme and experimental exists, it just isn’t signed to major labels any more. If you need proof of this, take a look at Pretty Much Amazing or browse through MP3BOO’s library and have a listen.

            In a sense, you’re right – the music industry is bleak. There is the packaged music the industry continues to pump out and just about nothing else. However, there’s plenty of music being made outside of the industry. Just like there are countless operating systems outside of Windows and Mac – you just have to look a little harder and not be terribly surprised if you hear something one day and the next day it’s disappeared forever.

      2. OK, I’m confused. Please help.

        Is the cigar chomping the old new guy on the internet? Or is the internet the new guy chomping on the old cigar?

    1.  It definitely used to be back when media companies were the old guys saying “I don’t understand what’s on these internets, but we need some of ’em.” But we’re now moving into the bad days of web2.0 douchebags closing their iron fist over it analogous to what Zappa’s hippies did with the music industry.

  2. Ruined by an idiot with a 1kHz tone.  Is there version for those of us who don’t live in Christian Taliban-run America?

      1. IYHO, you mean. One person’s meat is another’s poison. I could listen to anything from Zappa’s oeuvre pretty well anytime, whereas the bulk of what passes for music these days (pre-packaged, auto-tuned, tweezed and polished to ‘perfection’) makes me wish I was deaf sometimes.

        Have you ever even really listened to anything of his beyond, say, “Valley Girl”? I’d suggest you start with “You Are What You Is” or maybe “Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch”. Unlistenable? Only to someone with a sorely closed mind, my friend.

      2.  Oh please.  I can see you in the audience at the premier of “le Sacre du Printemps” hissing and booing.  To quote Charles Ives “get up and use your ears like a man, you sissy!”.

        1. Oh please. I love Stravinsky and Ives.  Zappa has his moments, certainly, but he was never as great as he thought he was.  He kind of falls between the fences – he’s a very mediocre rock musician with adolescent lyrics (what seemed daring in Joe’s Garage is now very dated) and poor melodic sense, and he’s too controlled if you think of him as a jazz musician.   I suppose if you invest the time to really listen to Zappa as simply a musician, you’ll find the investment worthwhile. But life is short and there are plenty of more accessible musicians who are amazing. I’ll stick with Bartok and Miles Davis, thanks.

          1. Why do you need to think of him (or anyone else for that matter) as a ‘kind’ of musician? Can’t they just be musicians? Some of the most interesting music I’ve ever heard has been cross-genre/cultural/style/whatever ‘mashups’, collaborations, fusions or whatever you choose to call them. 

            Listening to Zappa’s full repertoire – and the evolution of it –  is like hearing a history of American popular (and a good deal of modern classical) music compressed into – what? – 80 or something albums?

            His lyrics, while admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea, are in no way adolescent as you suggest. A thorough listening-to of side 3 of “You are What You Is” will debunk anyone of that notion.

            As for being dated, I’d say that particular album especially is more relevant now than ever.

          2. I was listening to a Bartok solo violin piece last night, so I can attest that Zappa’s melodic sense is no worse, and certainly more approachable, “Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” (as silly as it may be) is pretty catchy.   The same goes for “King Kong” and “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance.”

            “Mediocre rock musician”. . . I’m not sure what that means.  Isn’t it kind of redundant?  Arguably Zappa was too “un-mediocre” for rock music.  He was composing and directing serious classical pieces before he even joined the Mothers.

            Yes, I get tired of his puerile humor too, but I think that beats self-important juvenile bad poetry lyrics any day.

  3. There is a bleeped copy of the movie “Blade”, which has more blood and violence than most other movies ever. American censorship is nonsensical.

    1.  My favorite bleeped movie ever was watching ‘My Own Private Idaho’ on Bravo. Apparently the movie was intact except for the bleeping so that while you can’t hear the word ‘dick’ you CAN watch River Phoenix pissing
      But if you want really odd you should check out very hardcore Japanese porn. Some of the most amazing crap (sometimes literally) going on while genitals are pixelated.

  4. For more of Zappa’s wisdom, find a copy of his autobiography (as told to Peter Ochiogrosso) called “The Real Frank Zappa Book”. Insightful, thought-provoking and funny as hell.

  5. Don’t get any WHAT on me? Zappa reveals the secret of safe sex and it’s bleeped out! We’ll never know…

  6. There’s a quote attributed to Zappa that I’ve never been able to trace to the source. “There’s got to be more to life than a tight ass and a good backhand.”
    Seems to me someone should have collected his best lines in a book.

    1. I’d say that’s two hands pushing together the sides of a hairy stomach. BUT, I distinctly remember when Zappa was on the  Tonight Show and he ran a similar short film “that he was working on” that showed a couple of girls working on a big, fat, you know what. Back in the VHS days, I had recorded the Tonight Show every night and had to freeze frame that one.
      So yeah, watch his films and be prepared.

    2.  I had to play that part back and try to freeze-frame it several times too. Whether it’s a hairy man’s stomach or not, I’d say it’s certainly meant to look like something naughty :)

    3.  If I remember correctly it’s from old Mothers footage and it’s Roy Estrada making “dirty” gestures with his hand and mouth.  I saw it first in an A&E biography on cable.  Yeah, I’m a Zappa freak.

  7. I hear “cigar-chompin’ old guy” and all I can come up with is Syd Nathan… have a feeling Zappa was channeling Nathan’s voice!

  8. I am reborn.
    When this guy was alive and famours, I felt he was a complete drug-infested slob of a human being, but I had never given him the proper chance. And I was the product of a generation of do-gooders and anti-drug parents (nothing wrong with that) but I was so near-sighted I summed him up from looks alone.
    Needless to say, I’ve been a fan for years now, watching his good old diatribes that I abhorred in the past. I should have watched them, for that is how I’ve lived my life…trying to see the other side and giving “them” a chance.
    And the bleeping was a product of the times you guys. Masturbation was bleeped as offensive, but now we hear fuck and shit in black music as a norm. Yeah. That’s not really a good thing. But it’s the young kid/punks that promoted it when it should have been the cigar guys.
    And let me just add….blah, blah, blah, blah blah blah (Al Bundy)

    1. I was so near sighted I summed him up from looks alone.

      Zappa was interviewed by an antagonistic someone, I forget the details, who happened to have a prosthetic limb, sometime in the 70s, I think. The guy opens the interview with, “I guess your long hair makes you a girl.” Quick as a weasel, Zappa comes back with, “I guess your wooden leg makes you a table.”

    2. I summed him up from looks alone.

      Now I’m a straight male, so what do I know, but isn’t he a particularly good-looking specimen? 

      When I was a kid I didn’t understand the first thing about his music, but I’ve learned a lot. 

  9. With respect, I’ll use Mr Zappa’s own words elsewise and call “Frogwash”…

    The music industry so to speak wasn’t as “Monopolized” in the 60s as it is today.  Back then they actually competed and actually faced “Anti-Trust” laws.  The song “Eve of Destruction” proved it, one DJ played it and then there was such demand for it it went mega.

    So, they appealed to the new market, and about 5 years after it was really popular.  The 60s were going on since well, 65 but it was the late 60s the really “Radical” stuff saturated the market and went into future generations. Notice how the most famous example the Beatles was pretty much “Late 50s” in sound till the “Hippie” stuff caught on, then they went “Hippie” whatever…?  And, btw, lots of musicians got marginalized, the most famous example being Phil Ochs.

    A recent WIRED had a music industry CEO (boy have they sold out!) B—tching and moaning about being like a “Schmoo”…  Yes, in 2010 he used a reference a 50s man, not a 60s man would make.

    Frogwash, again I say.

    It’s the same “Cigar Chomping rich men in suits” only now they have a monopoly and indeed only put out what they feel like inflicting on the public.   IMO, all the “DRM” stuff is to gradually close out the net and consumer devices…  Make your own music, music videos, cds, game programs…  Even if you do 100% your own stuff they eventually want to make it so you essentially need their permission to have them WORK on anyone’s player and if you find a way around it you go to jail or at least can be ruined with lawsuits.

    But the “Fossil Rock” aka “Colostomy Rock” need their wavering royalty checks…  So IMO they say what they want.

  10. This actually also explains a lot of the issues with “hippie helicopter parents.” Or perhaps “cool mom” syndrome. Basically, Zappa wants mensches back in the music industry. Makes 100% sense.

  11. If you went through Zappa’s speech and replaced every instance of the word “hippie” with “lawyer,” you would get a more accurate picture of what happened in music biz in the late ’60s and early 70’s. Prior to that time a lot of music industry bigwigs had musical backgrounds or some sort of interest in music. Eventually they were replaced with a new breed of executives who were more interested in the dollars and cents aspect of the business.

    The classic example is Mitch Miller leaving Columbia Records and then Clive Davis, formerly Columbia’s legal counsel, moving in. Davis set the model for the way the music biz currently operates: sign as many acts as you can; if their records don’t sell, drop them after one or two albums.

    Zappa should know this. When the Mothers were signed, Verve records was in the hands of guys like Creed Taylor and Tom Wilson, hardly old guys chomping cigars.

    1. Well, that could also be said for any industry. The U.S. is one of the most litigious countries out there!  Heck, look at the toy industry. Prior to the 1980s the amount of really cool stuff one could score from a toy store was amazing. Then lawyers and parents who “knew better” butted their noses into the business and now look at what’s out there.

      I for one am grateful I grew up in an era where toy guns looked like real guns, Japanese robots fired missiles and monkeys smoked.  I pity kids and their “safe” play nowadays.

  12. Interviewer: “So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?”
    Frank Zappa: “You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?”

  13. Zappa was great in many respects but very dogmatic. “Hippies” became an all-purpose slur for him; maybe because, to main-stream America, he and his group were indistinguishable from the San Francisco hippies he despised. 
    What is he talking about, insinuating the music industry was a wide open musical market in the late 50’s/early 60’s? Horseshit. After 1966 and the “youth revolution” (so laughingly captured in LIFE, TIME, and other clueless media outlets) the record companies hired people who they thought could produce music that would APPEAL to the hippies. Remember the pandering “The man can’t steal our music” ads? By definition: if you WERE a real “hippie”, you WOULDN’T take a job at a major label.

  14. People need to realize the entire way radio worked back then was also different.  “Hits” came from AM radio, and FM was either classical, or underground weirdos and colleges (hard to believe now, but AM had dominated since the 30’s and FM was “new” and most people didn’t have FM radios.)  Most “classic rock” FM radio stations in the 60’s and early 70’s were free-form, open to playing long album-side tracks (like Zappa’s), it was only later they got commodified and commercial.  “The kids” had their own radio stations that were mostly ignored by straight white America, where they could play whatever they wanted.

    Zappa has said that the only reason the Mothers got signed was the A&R suit happened to walk in during their set when they played their one “boogie rock” song, had he heard their avant classical ballet music or parody songs they would have remained unknown and ignored.

  15. I think the music industry is experiencing a new renaissance, coming out of these talent shows.  Fans are getting to say what they like in advance, so we’re getting what we want to hear and some of it is extraordinary.

  16. Zappa was clearly intelligent, and honorably fought for artistic expression. That being said, Zappa’s version of bohemian conservatism died an unsung death during the Reagan era – so anyone who wants to begin waxing nostalgic about Repubs needs to acknowledge that the rise of Neo-Conservatism took over the party and made it just as hideous as anything Tipper and Al Gore tried to spearhead during the late 80s/90s.

    His fight was with the moral pendulum swing to the right, where even so-called progressive candidates were too caught up in the fervor of sex panic. We still haven’t recovered from this. He could see it, and did all he could to make it look as ridiculous as it was. In the end, he was just labeled as another freak flag flyer who was too intellectual and elitist to propose “real” solutions to our mounting problems (pun intended).

    As far as the music industry being marginalized, in a strange way, he was considered a voice for freedom among the industry, yet he was content to separate himself from the process and labeled himself “anti-industry” for years. He is looked at in hindsight as a man who would work to improve popular music, yet his actions don’t indicate this. He had no love for making music as an art form BETTER as an industry. He just wanted industry to leave the art form alone. There was absolutely no way that this was going to happen, and he knew it. Yet he was content to speculate how this supposed artistic nirvana would exist without working to create parameters to give it any type of genesis. Outside of his extensive music composition career, he was just another stand-up comedian. A feux activist that gained himself notoriety by proposing feux realities, much like so many academics.

    Zappa – we miss you, but christ you wasted so much air speaking nonsense.

    1. “Outside of his extensive music composition career, he was just another stand-up comedian.”

      That’s like saying that outside his extensive physics career, Albert Einstein was just another old Jewish dude with a funny mustache and wild hair. Outside of his music career, no-one would have ever heard of Frank Zappa.

      BTW, do you mean ‘faux’?  Feux is the plural of fire.

  17. I can testify that what Frank says here is absolutely true in the animation business. The most conservative and terrified people in charge of animation studios are the “hipster” “creative” executives. I’d take an old guard animator over them any day of the week.

  18. An oldie but good:

    A rant from music engineer Steve Albini – with an especially good account of these young, hip, A&R guys:

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