Could a Jazz Piano Major from Berklee Re-energize the Music Business?

by Menzie Pittman • in
  • September 2018
  • Small Business Matters
• Created: August 31, 2018

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At last year’s NAMM show I spoke on a panel for Guitar & Accessories Marketing Association (GAMA) about ways of reviving and creating fresh interest in guitar. That moment afforded me the opportunity to write an MMR column on the contribution and amazing work being done by female bassists in our industry. It is my stand that we not only need fresh interest in guitar, but the music industry needs new leaders with good old-fashioned skills, energy, charisma, and artists who can reach across all boundaries and make people feel something. And I think I found just the guy to watch: Charlie Puth.

To understand my take on why I think Puth may be a game-changing artist, and someone who could single handedly wake up a stale industry, you have to go back to fundamentals.

Say what you will, but for an artist to have longevity in the music business, he or she must actually have strong musical skills. Puth checks that box with ease. As a jazz piano major, Puth attended the Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music for production and engineering. He also has the gift of perfect pitch.

On his recordings he has an alluring Marvin Gaye styled voice that draws the listener in with a high, almost Eddie Kendricks (Temptations)-like falsetto, but in concert, his voice has a power and depth you simply don’t expect; and as good of a singer as he is live, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Puth can flat-out play, and his band is absolutely world class, but here’s the strange plot twist — Puth is a teen and adult favorite. The audience at the show was loaded with youth from age 12 to 20, yet about 40 percent of the people in attendance were adults.

That’s a huge demographic.

Unusual Puth Truths

Fun Fact #1

Puth’s concert was held at an outdoor theater (Wolf Trap) with a large lawn area, and although it was raining cats and dogs, the lawn was packed with fans gladly willing to sit in the rain to watch the show.

Fun Fact #2

Any time a musician in the band played an extended solo, the audience cheered in delight and rewarded the players with verbal adoration. When was the last time you heard a young audience cheer for “fusion style instrumental solos?”

Fun Fact #3

Wolf Trap is considered a tame arena, so screaming is not the normal protocol, but it was a night for exceptions, so continuing with the bizarre, screaming by all age groups was normal behavior for the evening.

Puth embraced a time-honored tradition – he entertained. Halfway through the show, he hurled his overshirt into a mass of screaming girls. Then, two songs later, Puth lobbed his sleeveless T-shirt into the crowd. At this point he had completely embraced his inner “Mick Jagger” and so had the audience.

So my question to you is a simple one: when was the last time you saw a 20 year old, a 40 year old, and a 60 year old all dancing and screaming at a shirtless Berklee jazz major?

Go ahead and call me crazy, but I can think of a few examples when this type of phenomenon has happened before; again, you will say I’m crazy. These would be Elvis, Little Richard, The Beatles, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger, to name just a few. We are not in that space anymore because everything is downloadable, right? Rarely does anyone sit in the rain for a rising artist, right? After all, you can YouTube the experience at home, and most kids think jazz is a music that is no longer relevant anyway, right? So what if he takes off his shirt; so what if he’s sexy to all age groups; so what if it the first time ever that I have heard an audience scream at this venue. How big of a deal can he be?

Well, I Think Charlie Puth is Right

I think we have been selling ourselves a false bill of goods. Granted, I once thought Blood, Sweat and Tears and Earth, Wind & Fire were great for our industry because the music was smart. But I also think Brass Against has a great new twist on punk covers with stellar horn musicians that execute like a swat team.

Puth gets all this and he will drag us kicking and screaming back into a high entertainment standard, and he will become this generation’s Elton John because he’s that good in concert.

It is my bet that along the way, many will be awakened to the simple truth: you can’t fake good. You can’t fake it in your business, and you can’t fake it as an industry.

In Closing

Music is a craft, and business is a skill; you can’t box that, and you can’t loop it. You should, however, marry the two concepts. I used to think maybe we had forgotten our fundamentals, but that was before Puth wiped the stage with my false fear. Now I am starting to see the oddest trend: musicianship blended with performance skills, sexy marketing, and charisma. That is why I believe Charlie Puth is an industry-changing artist. So before you call me crazy, remember Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder both covered a Beatles tune, and, by the way, what exactly is a “Snarky Puppy? “


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