I can sing Beck's "Debra" in all its falsetto-fueled glory. If you want me "to get with you, only you, girrrrrllllll, and your sister," I will, on command, no problem. Unless, of course, it's karaoke night. Every time I sing karaoke, I ask for "Debra." Every time I've been disappointed.
I have no way of knowing why "Debra" is absent from the world's karaoke books. But if it made financial sense to get it there, it would find a way. And the companies that turn songs into karaoke tracks - as Dave Lake points out in "Karaoke Krisis," the cover story of Reverb Monthly August issue - are having their Napster moment. They're shells of their former selves. Like their colleagues in the recorded music business, the companies have been shellacked by piracy. Sound Choice, a company once estimated to make 70 percent of the country's karaoke tracks, has stopped producing new cuts altogether. If it made financial sense to keep making new songs, they would. But it doesn't. So, here I am, singing "Debra" a cappella.
Many people wince at the notion that music is a business. To them, the music business means slick record label executives fleece songwriters, their favorite songs becoming the soundtrack to McDonalds commercials, and Bud Light posters plastering summer festivals. To me, it means the residents of Rapid City, South Dakota will be treated to a Bob Dylan concert later this month.
The modern, often-maligned music business - a complicated infrastructure facilitating the recording, listening, playing, and viewing - has produced more professional musicians, and more options for listeners, than any other time in history. It's never been easier or cheaper to record or experience music. But the reason we have these luxuries - iPhones, Spotify, the Gorge, and the Capitol Hill Block Party - is because innovators saw an opportunity to provide products that people would buy, and earn them a return on their investment.
The reason The Rolling Stones can play Missoula, Mont., and Elton John can pack an arena in Pullman is the same reason the xx can travel from England to Seattle and find a packed house waiting for them at Showbox at the Market: a complicated infrastructure known as the business of music made it possible.
What Dave's story about the crumbling karaoke infrastructure reminds us is that as the access to music is proliferating, the ability to monetize it is being shredded. And when people enjoy the fruits of the music business without paying their fair share, they jeopardize the fate of the music industry--the best thing that has ever happened to musicians and fans of music.
So, hats off to the music industry: You made Rachel Belle's intimate moment with a stranger in Japan possible (see RM's "Where the Streets Have No Shame"); you gave Regina Spektor a chance to enjoy Britney Spears' "Toxic" (see this Q&A); and you gave SW editor Mike Seely a chance to work "Purple Rain" in front of a live audience (nightly).
But if the music industry dies, you'll never be able to hear me sing "Debra" at the Yen Wor.