Tonight’s Prairie Home Companion was broadcast live from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN, home for 31 years (1943-1974) to the Grand Ole Opry. At the end of the first hour, Garrison Keillor gave a clear and moving tribute to the past, present, and future of music:
Our show comes to you from the old Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a great old gospel tabernacle, the original home years and years ago for the Grand Ole Opry on this great stage here. This is the stage that they wanted to be on, back in the 30s and the 40s and the 50s. They’d come trooping across here and play their music for free. It went out clear channel WSM, out all over the South. During the winter, it got up to where I live, way up in Minnesota. We used to listen to it. We’d string an aerial out our bedroom window, out to the maple tree, and you could bring in little bits of the Grand Ole Opry. Then, for many years, radio was less important. Albums were more important. Big record labels. Where people promoted their albums through television. Videos eventually. And then when LPs switched over to CDs, record companies were swimming in money. Money, money, money, money. And then came the MP3. And then came the Internet. And then came the sharing of music for free by fans and album sales plummeted. And now people are earning money in music the way they did back in the 30s, by going out and playing concerts in front of people. That’s the nature of the music business. The business of small entrepreneurs who are promoting themselves on the Internet. The people who were on this stage back in the 1930s would recognize all of this. You give your music away so that people want to come and see you play it. And that’s the music business. It’s changed and it’s more of the same than it ever was.
Thank you, Garrison, for understanding and reminding us of the difference between music and the music business. Music is permanent, deep, spiritually uplifting, and vital. It’s art shared between performer and audience and goes back to the dawn of culture. Music should never be confused with the delivery mechanisms nor — even worse — with the business models developed to exploit those delivery mechanisms. Technologies and business models come and go. Music is forever.