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"Fast Food on the Radio": The state of popular music...

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
Vendor
... is the age old topic among musicians.

I've found that with age (I'm still in my twenties though) I've found a way to enjoy the simple things in popular music and its capability to move so many people on this planet. There's no genre out there that someone doesn't hate and that's okay but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't annoyed by the fact that literally millions of people have seen Lil Wayne's guitar solo but have no idea who some of the greatest guitarists are. I'm fortunate enough to have some ties into the small music scene in my country but even here it can sometimes be a bit too much. F.ex. a close friend of mine is a drummer in a major label band and the record label asked for him to be removed from all promotional pictures because the label thought he wasn't attractive enough for the band to reach their designed segment = teenage girls. It's a friggin' punk band....

So... I wrote a song about the topic. I don't by any means mean to say that our music is the most original type of music out there (which is why I'm screaming "are you original?!" to myself in the end. :D ) but I thought the metaphor "FAST FOOD" was perfect to describe what the popular music genre has become on so many levels. Most people love fast food. Most people love the music on the radio. That being said... if I could get a nice steak for the same price I'd be eating steaks 24/7... music is free these days so I feel there's an evolution coming in the next decade.


Discuss?
 

Geezerjohn

Fractal Fanatic
Hopefully this will not devolve into a war and will remain civil. I have long believed that music is a very subjective taste. I can like or dislike music without thinking in terms of good or bad. I have a pretty wide taste in music and enjoy a lot of different kinds of music.

I will always enjoy the music I listened to when I was coming of age and transitioning from listener to musician. I worked as a professional musician for about 15 years so I have a pretty good understanding of the music business. I agree with the term fast food and the obvious analogy it draws. Most of what is popular will not withstand the test of time. By that I mean it may be trendy, but it is not memorable enough to last. There is frosting, but not any cake.

I don't really care for a lot of the music that is "popular" these days. That is not to say it is bad, it is just not to my taste. When I am writing, I try to avoid listening to the radio as I am a bit of a musical sponge and can easily hear music, and then somehow reproduce the riffs forgetting where I heard them and somehow thinking I created them.

I think musicians should be paid for their work. I hate the trend of "free" music and especially hate piracy. If musicians cannot make a sustainable living making music, there will be fewer and fewer musicians. Most musicians now make their money touring, rather than in record sales. Anybody who has toured knows how exhausting it is. I see the music industry as a fading thing.
 

barhrecords

Axe-Master
The music "industry" is by its nature at odds with itself.

On the one hand, the artists, the creative people are writing, performing and making the music, driven by their own creativity, social causes, life experiences etc.

On the other hand, there is a profit driven business that makes decisions using mostly a profit motive.

These two drivers are by nature conflicting.

It's pretty cool that social media and services like youtube enable complete unknowns to be discovered and become stars. But for the most part, musicians and artists rely on the "industry" to invest in them, with hopes of returns, before their music is heard by a wide audience.

If you are deemed not profitable, your exposure to the masses is a tougher road for sure.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
Vendor
Also as a musician it's easy to come across as being jealous of someone else's success when talking about this subject as in "I'm so much better than this other dude that's super famous". I think most popular artists deserve their fame and I believe they have worked hard to be doing what they're doing. My personal problem is not the artists making a living with music. My problem is more about people in general not caring about the music they listen to. Most people are "too busy" to explore music so they listen to whatever they play on the radio. That again raises another question: Should people explore music or not?

The business side of things is cold but real. Is your music so good that people are willing to pay to see your show and buy your music?
 

barhrecords

Axe-Master
Also as a musician it's easy to come across as being jealous of someone else's success when talking about this subject as in "I'm so much better than this other dude that's super famous". I think most popular artists deserve their fame and I believe they have worked hard to be doing what they're doing. My personal problem is not the artists making a living with music

In my experience, musicians and artists struggling with this type of jealousy have a hard time "making it".

It's also great, IMO, that your goal can be to be true to yourself and pay the bills vs. making the millions and being a rock star.

And yes I agree, music isn't valued like it used to be. There is so much information "out there", music has to compete for everyone's (growing short) attention span.

For example, even for simple audio demos, you will get more "listens" and feedback with a video vs. audio alone.
 

ML SOUND LAB

Cab Pack Wizard
Vendor
That's true for sure. F.ex. some of my 20 second Cab Pack tease clips have thousands of listens. Some of my songs only have a few hundred listens. :) So yeah the task is getting harder now that you have to be so good that people are willing to spend their free time listening to you. You need to be better than the shows on Netflix. You have to be better than all the video games out there. People have so much entertainment to choose from these days.
 

Brownmatthall

Power User
That's true for sure. F.ex. some of my 20 second Cab Pack tease clips have thousands of listens. Some of my songs only have a few hundred listens. :) So yeah the task is getting harder now that you have to be so good that people are willing to spend their free time listening to you. You need to be better than the shows on Netflix. You have to be better than all the video games out there. People have so much entertainment to choose from these days.
You also have to account for the fact that it's gotten ridiculously easy to put out a recording within the last decade. it used to be that you had to have your shit together and tight to even be looked at by a recording studio (which was the only way to lay music down) which in and of itself was a degree of quality control. Nowadays I can hop up out of bed, turn on my 400 dollar laptop and the axe, and pump out music to my little hearts content. Even beyond the axe fx there are vst amp sims that may not play like the real deal but in the context of a mix, plus the current state of drum programs allow you to put out quality recordings easily. I think it's pretty natural that the threshold for what passes as worthy would rise as a result
 

Geezerjohn

Fractal Fanatic
You have to be better than all the video games out there. People have so much entertainment to choose from these days.
Bada bing bada boom. I remember when an artist album release was a big event. Even the liner notes and artwork were part of the "new album" experience. The release of a new record by top artists was a cultural event, not just new music. When I was recording and performing with Supernal Endgame, the great cover artist Ken Westphal did our cover art. That was a really big deal for us as we are old enough to remember when the artwork was really the first thing people discovered with a new album, and Ken has given the industry so many awesome album covers. I'm sure anyone reading this post is familiar with Ken's work, but maybe not with Ken the person.

Music is not really a major form of entertainment as it used to be. It now competes with entertainment that it didn't used to compete with. I think people still enjoy music, but not at the same level that they used to. Personally, I would much rather listen to music than watch TV and I am absolutely not a gamer. I will always enjoy music more than any other form of entertainment, but nowadays I am in a declining minority.
 

don_joe

Experienced
It's not even fast food, it's all dish warmed up in the microwave these days. I'm really feeling sad listening to one cover after the other from some mediocre performers no one has ever heard about. Why does anyone put this in radio?
 

pima1234

Fractal Fanatic
I can attest to this. I have been working with a singer-songwriter for a while now. He's good; that is, he writes good songs and can sing well (he does need to work on his guitar playing...). He has recorded songs with me and at a local pro studio, with the owner acting largely as his producer. Sadly, I have seen song after song become ruined by the addition of "pop" ideas (even gimmicks, usually reserved for EDM) instead of remaining true to the song. His best songs are the ones which remain simple and true to the song. Sadly, his pursuit is only to commercialize his music (specifically, to sell the rights as an additional form of income). He has even turned down becoming signed as an artist twice! I don't really know what else to say. I suppose the music industry itself is largely to blame.

Thanks Mikko. Good thread!
 

Sixstring

Axe-Master
I don't know a lot about the music industry but I do know that music as a whole does not have the same refined structure it used to have. "Pop music" has always been around and will continue to be as long as you have promoters, analysts, and a strong middle class income base.

Great music on the other hand has to be crafted by artists that are gifted, the 60's, 70's, 80's and part of the 90's I feel were the last decades of great timeless music. I'm not saying that every group fits in this category obviously, groups like The Beatles, The Eagles, Scorpions, Van Halen, the Police etc that had something special that you just don't see today hence Clarks "Fast Food" which by the way has the 1991 Anthrax and Public Enemy Rap/Metal collaboration to thank.

It seems that nobody crafts their music today with longevity in mind it's mostly about what's going to sell and sell this week and not about how many years down the road will it be played or even remembered for that matter.
 

vangrieg

Power User
It's a popular thing to blame profits for everything (or, in the US, it's "corporations"), but we need to remember that profits brought us a lot of great music and without them we wouldn't even know anything about it.

I think the problem currently isn't the profits but lack thereof. Music selling business is shrinking, and, while it has a pleasant side effect of a lot of bands touring these days and visiting a lot of places they didn't during the fatter days, it's a bad thing as a whole. Because what's happening is so called "collapse of the middle". When a market shrinks or stabilizes, the cheapest mass products survive, and the top end luxury items do as well. But the middle suffers.

In music, this means that Metallica and whoever else can gather stadiums may still do well. And local clubs may be full. But there's not much variety in the middle.

When this happens, producers aren't interested in anything that doesn't have potential to gather stadiums. And everything begins to sound the same. Just to be safe. This is always the case, but when there's no way to make money apart from stadium concerts, the problem is exaggerated.

Then this means that, while there are still a lot of niche bands doing great stuff, this doesn't trickle through to mainstream. And things begin to stagnate.

Moreover, humanity now is in a weird stage when everybody wants to see "positive thinking", political correctness, and there's very little appetite for protest. I mean, hipsters are now the cool thing, not punks or hippies. So you get Katy Perry.

We'll get over this, I'm sure, but right now it's kind of sad.
 

barhrecords

Axe-Master
Was listening to a Carly Simon interview on XM and she made a great point.

When the main format of music delivery was an album, then as a consumer, you were exposed to tracks that were never on the radio. There was a builtin discovery process where you bought the album maybe on the basis of song heard on the radio, but then you listened to the whole album and maybe discovered other tracks that you loved even more.

Today, this kind of curiosity or discovery is gone. People purchase mostly just what the like a la carte.
 

zenaxe

Fractal Fanatic
This is in response to ideas about popularity and traditional music versus 'talented' unknown musicians and their resentment over time with the industry (they deep down wish they were a part of)...

Here's something I have learned, having been an adult for a while now:

Outside of your own inner circle, generally, nobody cares about your f*n <blank>.

Where blank is: band, kids, gf/wife, boss, god, poetry, dog, vegan lifestyle, painting, career, or any other thing that is likely super important to you.

There may be some small group of like minded people or dear friends who will chat on end about any given one of these (and that is why you should value those people/groups) but, truth be told, for the most part when it comes down to it; people are dealing with their own sh*t and cannot be bothered to filter through other people's sh*t looking for needles in other folks' haystacks.

In music, and most other art; the 'editorial' function for better or worse, that record companies and now other entities have played to date is to filter out stuff that is un-listenable or has low mass appeal, i.e. to kick the garbage to the curb. They have millions of potential sources for talent, people who can play music are a dime a dozen. There are three people on the tiny cul-de-sac I live on that play instruments, for gosh sakes. So, because you have WAY more candidates than resources in terms of either time or money, the strategy is to burn through those candidates as quickly as possible to find ones that will not be a waste of your resources promoting or expending money on... This means you disqualify candidates for almost anything because you have a zillion people left who are vying for the same type of opportunity.

The idea is NOT as many musicians seem to think to select the "best stuff": it is to keep the publisher's money from being wasted. And the the editorial function provides HUGE value to customers: it keeps customers time and money from being wasted on things they are not likely to enjoy. That is the value of the editorial function and people grossly underestimate it.

Yep, as a result a lot of epically talented, hard working, people do not get significant exposure and you get all this resentment among good starving artists toward either the people who have had the right combination of timing, luck, creativity, and talent or toward the machine that helped them and oftentimes both.

But honestly, it may not be about you or maybe even about your band. It is just the way markets work and like I said it is not just music.
 

squealie

Inspired
Awesome insight guys. zenaxe...well done.

Imo..being a musician is a fastrack to being a music snob..for good or bad. We work so hard at something and view it through such a microscope that we expect the world to share our mania.

I can name like 3 painters besides picasso. Im sure that infuriates artists. like zenaxe says...nobody gives a crap...and...ill add...so what?
 

vangrieg

Power User
Was listening to a Carly Simon interview on XM and she made a great point.

When the main format of music delivery was an album, then as a consumer, you were exposed to tracks that were never on the radio. There was a builtin discovery process where you bought the album maybe on the basis of song heard on the radio, but then you listened to the whole album and maybe discovered other tracks that you loved even more.

Today, this kind of curiosity or discovery is gone. People purchase mostly just what the like a la carte.

Yes, that's what's killing the revenues - you could write a couple of good songs, then a bunch of filler stuff and people would buy an album, still paying $15 for the whole package. Now they'll pay just $2. That's exactly why the music industry always hated the internet.

On the other hand, it's constantly shooting itself in the foot because in terms of technology, the discovery process could be so great that people would be introduced to new and unknown tracks all the time based on their most peculiar preferences. Yet, the whole thing about licensing and the hatred towards technology companies is such a mess that it never really works.
 

vangrieg

Power User
There are three people on the tiny cul-de-sac I live on that play instruments, for gosh sakes.

And maybe somewhere there are ten people on another cul-de-sac who would love to listen to what they play. Yet with the current centralized model there's no chance for them to connect.

When music was published on physical media, this made complete sense. Now it doesn't.

Of course there's a lot of value in editorial services, but they don't cost nearly as much as publishers take currently.
 

aens

Experienced
I'm sorry if this is obvious information for some people and if it's already been discussed in this topic.

I've also been part of the music industry here in Finland for a while now mostly on the indie side of things. At first I couldn't stand the mainstream music and the companies for obvious reasons. Lately I've been trying to explain myself that mainstream music has its place. If you really think about it, it's a good thing that it exists. There's a lot of people that don't understand a damn thing about music. Mainstream music companies are still able to get money off from those people. Indie companies aren't able to do that because these people don't care about "real music". This helps the indie industry in some cases. Or as some people call them, the "Thursday-bands".

Let's divide the music business into two opposites: mainstream and indie. While some companies promote, invest and book gigs to mainstream artists, at the same time the money also flows to the smaller bands. The bigger companies are able to take bigger risks and organize smaller gigs for the indie bands because of the money they get the from the mainstream side. This of course depends on the company. It's your choice to take the leap to the mainstream side of music business.

Nobody forces you to listen to the mainstream artists, and therefore don't have to care or stress about them. I did, but I no longer don't because I see the big picture. The mainstream music business is really tough, and again it's your choice. You don't have to sign up for Sony etc., but if you want your Ferrari, then you might have no other option.
 

barhrecords

Axe-Master
I will admit that I am in NO way envious of the broads, booze, glamour, fame, attention, world travel, primo lifestyle, hella cash, making music I love for a living, generally having fun and being able to afford to do anything I want.

Instead, I am sticking to playing EDM covers on my kazoo, because it keeps me pure.
 
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