This piece was published at AltPress on June 19, 2015 as part of my short-lived column on morality and creativity in the music industry.
I'm frustrated, and the source of my frustration is our scene. Here we have this amazing community of artists, writers and fans built by our shared love of alternative music—squandered by entirely preventable actions. Destructive things are happening that are holding us back in the public eye and in becoming decent people.
Allow me to explain…
On May 16, AltPress ran an op-ed by Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman, a man I have the utmost respect for. In this piece, Kevin laid out his process for addressing allegations about bands he books for his massive tour. His opinions bear weight. Warped Tour is not only a staple for this scene, but the primary reason this scene exists in the first place. If anyone has the power to inspire change in this community, it's Kevin Lyman.
“People ask me what the solution is. I am not sure if it is that simple, but our bands need to have mentors, people who have been around a while, to explain what their actions can lead to. I never thought I would be in this position, but each band on my tours will spend a little time with myself discussing the world we live in, how any action they take can possibly destroy their career and how to navigate the impulses of the road and the life they have chosen.”
Lyman knows the dangers faced by those playing on stages every day of his tour. A lot of these musicians are young—very young. Some of them can't even boast a high school diploma before their first Warped Tour laminate. That's a scary thought. In a lot of cases, these youth are substituting high school or college for a music-career jumpstart at “rock star summer camp” and their actions often reflect that. Warped Tour isn't a place were you can do whatever you want, but the supervision imposed by parents and schools just isn't there. The road is long, wide and open to opportunity, good and bad.
Alcohol, drugs and sex: the holy trinity of bad decision-making. Add a dash of freedom and a lack of education to the mix and you have the potential for non-consensual sex, physical violence or poor problem-solving skills. The risk of hurting yourself or others grows exponentially with substance abuse and lack of conscience. Temptation: This is a weekly battle on the road, one that's hard fought; one that shouldn't be fought alone.
What can be done about this? Lyman laid out his plans to make changes in his second op-ed. He is inviting organizations that focus on abuse, cyberbullying, predator awareness and suicide prevention to Warped Tour. He plans on shooting PSAs with artists and industry professionals. Furthermore, he's working on a program that teaches bands how to avoid mistakes, inform good decision-making, and act properly on tour—any tour they happen to be on. These are all great steps and impressive initiatives from a man who already wears more than enough hats.
I stand with him, but I don't think pamphlets and videos are enough.
Bands need mentors. Kevin had it right from the start. It's critical that bands find someone they can look up to and call before making the wrong choice. Experience matters and until experience is gained, experience should be shared. Managers, by definition, should fill this role, guiding young adults through the world they've come to travel through their art. Some step up and do right by their bands. Others sadly do not. I hope to see more industry personnel jumping in to save the scene. We're not dying, but we are hurting.
I encourage leaders in our community to take a proactive role in the lives and careers of the musicians we support. The stakes are high, not just for young and influential band members, but for those that look up to them, as well. The world's youth are watching our bands on stages and social media platforms every single day. It's a chain reaction of influence that we need to start improving now with positive authority. Label heads, tour managers and publicists need to look at the lives of their clients from an angle that doesn't involve cash. We all make our living by selling records, but I think it's time we make musicians' lives and moral standing a higher priority. A lot of them won't make music forever. Lives and careers go in many different directions. That means the influence we have on these artists now will spread far beyond their time in a band.
Understanding that is important, but acting on it is vital.
I love our scene and the potential it has. Increasing visibility by means of events like Warped Tour and the APMAs are only going to pull us further into the public eye. This is great. It means what we're doing to support our bands is working—but I want our artists, labels and writers to be known for their work, not their misdeeds. I want us to learn the difference between supporting and enabling each other. I want us to hold each other accountable for our actions. If we can take a proactive position, create expectations and educate the faces of our scene, I think we'll be okay.