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I can’t stand NBC’s The Voice, and it’s not just about the songs

The set goes dark.  The audience hushes but you can still feel the buzz of their excitement.  The drummer plays an epic tom fill to start the song…somewhere in the distance there’s a glissando across a set of thousand dollar chimes.  The singer comes into view, wearing some gown that might be designer…might be the designer’s cousin.  It doesn’t matter.  It looks expensive.  Rhinestones, lapels…bright colors.  They step up and emphatically start into the verse.  

And as beautiful as this all is…we’re all just really waiting until the singer hits the high note or impossible vocal run.  That’s when we’ll clap and roar and shake our supportive signs from the nosebleed seats.  

Sorry, I only speak fluent Cynical.

Let me preface by saying this: I’m not a jaded or jilted musician.  I love music and I’ve long ditched the typical immature view that music can only be one way (my way) or it’s no longer music.  I owe the financial support and emotional support I get, largely from fans.  They take their time out to come see me.  They spend their hard earned money to see me; and I’m nowhere near the level of successful any musical celebrity is.  I’m not even as well known as a relative unknown who makes it to the blind auditions on The Voice; but I thank God for the people who support me and I know that I owe them a debt.  For that, I provide a service.  I take my artistic freedoms wherever I can find them but I keep service to the fan in mind.  

So yes, sometimes a little show flair and theatrics are just right for the people who will potentially allow me the chance to never work another 9-5 in my life.  

A lot of what I see on The Voice may not be my cup of tea, but damn, do I get it.  I love the excitement and fanfare you can witness on the show.  I watched the show faithfully…until I moved to Nashville.  

Nashville is a peculiar city in that celebrity is not venerated to the point of barriers keeping even a casual fan away from a legendary artist.  I’ve served food to Miranda Lambert; I’ve shot the you-know-what with Luke Bryan; I’ve been 3 feet from Randy Travis as he celebrated his birthday. Most of the band members in these legendary acts can be found hanging out, playing a few covers at Broadway bars.  

Barely two months into living in Nashville, I ran into a singer songwriter at a jam.  He was absolutely amazing.  Wonderful voice, amazing chops on his instrument, pretty funny too.  I found myself talking to him at the bar, letting him know I really appreciated his playing.  As we spoke, I realized I recognized him from somewhere.  Eventually, I just flat out asked him: “Were you on TV?”  “Yeah, I was on a show…”.  He didn’t seem excited about it so I pivoted away from the question and switched back to music until it was time for us to jam together.  

Later that week, I learned from a close friend that there was a reason that singer’s voice shifted down an octave after mentioning the show:

The Voice SCREWS OVER it’s musicians.

I wouldn’t just say that for dramatic effect.  There are some real life consequences to going far in that show. 

See, the show is predicated on ratings and little else.  On its face, that’s not the worst thing to ever happen.  I mean, network TV is limping across the finish line with every passing quarter.  They need every win they can get.  The issue is when it comes to artist compensation as they go far into the competition.  

Take my new found friend that i mentioned above for example.  He made it to the final two.  That’s right, he was standing right there with the winner of his season.  Little did he know, that night would be the beginning of a hellish few years.  See, the contracts that contestants sign become more and more restrictive as they reach the end of the season.  Their music becomes largely owned by the show; their branding and creative control is largely out of the artist’s hands; and if they make it far enough into the season, they are essentially signed to a label under The Voice that keeps them off the market for months after the show.  This limits their ability to take advantage of the spring board that the show provides via exposure.  

Now, if you’re asking yourself “well, what’s wrong with being instantly signed to a label?” I’m going to ask you a question to answer your question: When’s the last time you saw someone from The Voice actually playing big gigs, big tours, headlining for big artists, etc?  

Yeah.  You don’t.  The point of the show is not to launch a career.  It’s the spike ratings for the half dead dinosaur that is network tv.  And while my newfound friend was surfing couches, barely able to afford to eat because he couldn’t release music under the contract (and was reduced to taking potshot gigs for very little money) The Voice thrived.  

I met many artists in Nashville who were, luckily, forewarned about the perils of being on the show; but for every 1 artist who declined an audition request, there’s 20 who will do anything to be noticed.  

So here’s my far reaching warning: Bet on yourself.  Not the circus.  


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