On Lyrics and Merch Cuts and Internet Discussions

On Lyrics and Merch Cuts and Internet Discussions

Sometimes there are internet discussions and other things on my mind that I'll have more to say about than I want to put on twitter but not enough for a full individual piece of writing. Here are two of those topics:

Merch Cuts

Obviously, the merch cut is an affront to decency. I don't work in the live music space, but I think it's a stupid idea and I believe musicians when they talk about how it's unfair and cutting into an already thin margin. That feels like the obvious stance, but internet discussion about it gets pretty immediately off the rails. This impulse to have to have the best, most different and interesting opinion on the topic is so exhausting to watch.

It's your booking agent's fault, they just have to try harder.

Just go sell merch in the parking lot.

Just lie.

Well, the venue needs to stay afloat.

They're giving you a place to sell your merch, why do you care?

Why are you complaining? People would kill for your job.

It's just one example of the eternal truth that the general public cannot have a discussion about professionals in any creative field without it going immediately off the rails. People just don't view creative work (or work within any kind of arts field) as work. There are people who go to 20 shows a month who don't view what musicians do as working. There are people who debate movies all day long that don't view the creation of a movie as a job. We all know this to be true.

Just like any discourse, the impulse to be the most right in the most unimpeachable way is what's more irritating than anything. Live Nation announced a new initiative (for the next 90 days) to drop merch cuts in select venues. Nothing too big, not for too long. And hey! Here's $1500 for the headliner so you choose us instead of a non-LN venue!

Is this good? Is this bad? The people can't seem to decide. If you say it's good for artists, are you saying Live Nation is good? If you say it's bad for the competing independent venues, are you being too picky? If you say it's just a PR push, are you discounting material positive impacts for some artists?

The answer is that there are lots of factors that make all of that true. It's fine for it to be complicated, but everybody is so fucking afraid of being anything less than 100% entirely right on all fronts so people argue. It's so exhausting. Clips of Bluey I see on TikTok allow for more nuance than people desperate to get 800 likes on twitter for being The Most Right. Narrow the scope of your statement. Free yourself from this need to have one opinion that is more right. Get a grip.

On Lyrics

Recently I tweeted that I think it's a sign of misogyny to make a big deal about not caring about lyrics. The operative words in there are "to make a big deal" but I got yelled at and it's funny.

I think everybody goes through a phase where they pretend lyrics don't mean anything to them. I think there is a sort of perception that to be invested in lyrics is a more shallow, more childish way to engage with music. To be moved by the music is more adult and more objective. Of course, some genres lend themselves to more focus on lyrics than others, but it's an attitude projected on music broadly particularly as a person tries to distance themself from the way they experienced music as a young person. Being embarrassed of a younger version of yourself leads to being embarrassed of the art you loved and the reasons you loved it. There is a need to feel like you're progressing as a person. It's a phase.

Lyric discussions are frustrating to witness for me. First, because those are so often reserved for women who make "confessional" music that is "ripped from a diary." There is an undercurrent of assumption that women write music from their hearts and experiences. Experience A = Song B. Each song is About something real and experienced in her personal life. The value is in relating to that and her vulnerability.

When people discuss lyrics from men, it's not like that. Even men for whom lyrics, to me, are their whole thing – people like Patrick Kindlon or Jake Ewald or Jeremy Bolm. There is a prevailing assumption of distance from what they write about. Or at least a lack of focus on the reality of their lyrics. Or sometimes an inherent praise of their ability to write from other points of view, if they mention it expressly. When a woman expressly says her music is not written from her distinct point of view, it's treated as something special and impressive. I assume women like Mitski who point that out in an attempt to stop fans from trying to "figure out" what she's personally going through, but it's often discussed as something grander and more artistic by men. When men do the opposite– when they write an album that is expressly about an event in their life– the discussion treats it like a concept album. Again, higher art than what women are just presumed to do naturally.

The act of trying to decipher a woman's personal experiences through knowing what her songs are "about" – Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, Olivia Rodrigo, Mitski– is a shallow way to engage with art. It's a boring and reductive way to engage with lyrics, but it doesn't mean that writing from a personal perspective is shallower than writing from other perspectives. After all, even people who aren't writing about a distinct personal experience are usually still writing about their own feelings in some way. There is still truth in the feeling and in the words they choose.

These are very gendered, general thoughts, but they're not meant to be a complete statement. I just think people are weird about lyrics.

Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Chicago. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram for more insights into the stuff I love and hate and love to hate: @mirandareinert.  This blog does have a paid option and I would so appreciate any money you would be willing to throw me! You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo/on Paypal if you want. As always, thanks for reading!