So you wanna be in a rock band?: Alan Cross: Interviewing the interviewer
According to The Edge 102.1’s official website, Cross’ flagship show, The Ongoing History of New Music, debuted in February 1993, and since then, has aired more than 500 episodes, all researched, written and produced solely by Cross, himself.
The Ongoing History is currently syndicated through almost a dozen stations across Canada, has spun off four books and more than a dozen CD compilations, and currently holds the title as the longest-running music documentary in Canada. Alan has additionally appeared as a guest on various TV and radio shows, written official biographies for a variety of rock bands including The Making of NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine & Downward Spiral, narrated TV shows, documentaries and info-mercials, and written articles for both newspapers and magazines, alike.
In other words, if radio djs were allotted the same degree of celebrity as rockstars, Cross would undeniably be the media world’s James Brown sharing the joint title of the “hardest working man in showbiz.” It’s this astonishing work ethic, and sea of accomplishment, together with his personal ascend from humble roots, that formulates the basis for his perspectives regarding today’s indie musician.
When asked what advice he had to offer to the current independent artist, Cross, unfalteringly, began with “the world doesn’t owe you anything.” Admiring bands such as Oasis, who triumphed despite arising from hidden backdrops of familial abuse, poverty and alcoholism, Cross believes that being a musician, “is supposed to be hard, and if your stuff isn’t good enough, or if the public chooses not to like it, there’s nothing you can do about it.” However, in saying that, he still maintains an optimistic, if somewhat idealistic, view.
Although for any musician (and media personality like Cross), one’s relationship with the internet is ambivalent at best, Cross acknowledges that the net has provided today’s musicians with a power that none of their predecessors could’ve ever dreamed of experiencing. Without leaving the comfort of one’s home, musicians are now able to record, disseminate and exploit their art to global proportions. But, there is another side to this coin: because production technology, that is capable of making even the most tone-deaf drowning cat-esque vocalists sound melodic, is so widely available, and because the vast majority of the social networking sites that bands use to campaign themselves are free, the competition is beyond steep. And so, in Cross’ eyes, if you truly want to get the attention of a larger label (which he feels is necessary for success), you need to provide them with a turnkey solution: that being, a product that is pre-packaged and ready to export to the grand stage. The only way to do this (and I can contend) is to work your ass off playing lots of gigs, developing your fan base, and making sure that all of the people who come out to support you are always taken care of so that their loyalty sustains.
Though I think Cross makes a valid point regarding how so many musicians underestimate the work involved in “making it,” I personally believe that he’s missed a central feature to his provided equation for success: as talented and as marketable as your act may be, whether you like it or not, there is still an element of luck involved, and often (more often than they should), connections trump everything.
With his expansive musical knowledge, I’m sure that Cross could list tons of bands that haven’t made it that should have, and equally on the other side of things, tons of bands who did make it who shouldn’t have. But, in his defence, Cross would argue my rebuttal by stating that we require the bubble-gum mainstream artists to appeal to the masses in order to generate new capital that can be invested in underground acts that are really doing something interesting.
I think its important for me to express my high degree of respect for Cross and to acknowledge, that myself, as well as all of you, my fellow musicians, could learn a great deal from what this man has to offer, and so we ought to respond to his benefactions in the only way that is appropriate in the realm of wireless telegraphy: that being, all ears.
Mimicking the aims of the great musicians of the past who made this industry what it is today, Cross himself is an artist in his own right as it is clear that his mission is both to educate and inspire.
Taking this into consideration, his loyalty to the radio waves makes perfect sense because when people need to know if things are safe, and/or want to keep in touch with the rest of the planet without having to be tied to the computer, it is the FM dial to which they naturally turn.
Though he’s been almost 30 years “in the making”, I think its fair to assert that Cross has most certainly made it. Long gone are his days of broadcasting out of what he terms an “elevator-music” radio station situated between a wheat field and a mental hospital. Cross has worked diligently throughout his career to open up our minds to music that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, he has resurrected lost artists from the past, and embraced new artists of the future, he has sparked debate regarding the music industry, and Canada’s place within it, all while managing to stay true to his homeland roots giving hope to the rest of us that are proud to call this great nation our home.
Cross believes that, “headphones, in public, are a blight on the development of society” further contributing to the modern-day phenomenon of “ego-casting.” According to him, “technology now allows us to shut out any material, concept, sound, or sight that we find disagreeable so much to the point that we can cocoon ourselves in a warm bath of just the things that we like, unencumbered by the stuff we don’t.” With this kind of control and impenetrable mindset, he begs the question, how will people ever grow as music fans? This is a question, I will leave all of you to contemplate.
For more information on Alan Cross, check out the Edge’s official website located at www.edge.ca and be sure to catch the debut of his latest buzz-generating endeavour about which he remains tightlipped: ExploreMusic (launching Oct 6).