Deplorable state of Today's Music

My first article on this forum created a great debate in the political realm...but notice there aren't many posts yet on music (at least when  searching the category "art").   I hope to get a lively debate going here.  Here's a rant about just how lousy today's music is.

When growing up half a century ago,  and I'm sure in many ages, it was almost a badge of honor to distance  one's self from the art forms, especially music, that one's parents got into.  Today, it's almost the opposite.  One is deemed very cool if you turn your friends onto some music your parents exposed you to.  I have two kids, 19 and 17, and see it happening.  Not only that, they say many of their peers that like the junk that passes for music now, are deemed uncool. 

In my work selling music related accessories, we have relationships with a number of "sponsored" acts who are all 22 or under.  While these (mostly) girls do like artists like Taylor Swift, they are also proud to dust off and cover a song from artists like Dylan, Johnny Cash, etc.    

Music seems to have mostly died somewhere around 1990.  What has replaced it is something that befits our age of "all style, no substance".    Author and music biz figure Hank Bordowitz gave numerous, very scientifically derived  reasons for this in his book Dirty Little Secrets Of The Record Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks.

It's important to note that it seems to have happened to most genres--one can't just say "Oh, rock and roll is dead, yeah, but hip-hop replaced it".   One could say that about rock and roll replacing the bland pop in the 1950s.   But today's  hip-hop is awful too.  Even Chuck D. from Public Enemy admitted once that when rap/hip-hop went from being dominated by groups like his own, plus Run DMC, NWA, etc. and became dominated by single performers such as you have now, it was all over.  He has a point.  I can listen to Public Enemy and be fascinated by the sonic achievements they accomplished.  Ask most hip-hop fans what they think of The Last Poets, arguably the originators of rap.  You'll get blank stares. 

Country has become so embarrassingly bad ("Nickelback with fiddles" Tom Petty has called it) that performers that are true to the tradition of Waylon Jennings,  George Jones, Cash, Haggard, etc. have abandoned calling themselves "country" and resorted to a new moniker, "Americana".   "Americana" is also used to describe many "singer-songwriter" types like Richard Thompson who may live here in the USA, but his sound derives more from the British and World-music traditional folk than anything American.   Joni Mitchell would be classed this if she came out today.  She would not share radio airplay or tour with other rock acts, as she did years ago. 

And speaking of Nickelback can someone eloquently tell any of us what makes them special?   Other than the possible reason that among a generation of "rock", "alternative" or whatever category-artists you want to include, they put one to sleep faster than any others?   How did rock and roll become boring?   Any record execs reading this:  I'm all ears, earn your pay.  Why Nickelback? 

It's true there are scads of great but little-heard talents out there. In age when one can, with about $500 worth of gear and software, convert their desktop into a fully functional recording studio that can do what traditional studios used to charge thou$and$ to do, much good can be recorded and then heard.   But this embarrassment of riches often translates into a flooded market...of free goods.  The really great artist now often has to give his/her product away in the hope of "exposure", paying gigs, or just slogging it out for the love of it all while holding down a day job and that's often the case.  Even major artists like the ones I'm lambasting here find it hard to justify letting download and streaming sites play their tunes for fractions of a cent per play (Taylor Swift actually pulled her latest output from these sites).

So the main question is:  Why is so much crap floating to the top?  And why is it usually mindless (Florida Georgia Line) , boring (Korn) , vulgar (Lady Gaga or Beyoncé), or all three (the self described lord over it all, Kanye West)?  Bodowitz makes a compelling case blaming Radio, Record Labels, Technology, Corporatization, etc.  All very well and good.

However, the kids who grew up collecting CDs that never had a jewel box around them (they had their buddies' handwriting on the label side, in marks-a-lot red or black letters with name of the band or artist), who downloaded songs off the 'net (usually for nothing)...well these kids are now grown up and moving into their first apartments or homes.  They want stuff.  That's one reason for the vinyl rebirth...and sales of turntables, even of the frames that show off album jackets (one of my accounts says he sells as much of those as he does of vinyl LPs in general).   But will this mean music recovers into anything good?

Will the dying off of the 70-80 year old execs at major (and indie) record labels bring back music, even if they were the same guys who replaced the Mitch Millers of the world 50 years ago?

Will the influence of satellite radio on traditional FM stations help bring back more interesting formats that mean you don't hear the same stuff over and over...and DJs tell you what they are playing?  Which means you might seek out the disc or platter and actually buy it?  

Here's something Bordowitz may have overlooked.   Throughout much of the history of popular music since the mid-point of the 20th century, when things got congested...when music got stale or too complicated, there was usually a "back to basics" movement that took hold.  The last time this happened was the huge success of the O Brother Where Art Thou  soundtrack.   In another age,  that may have caused everyone to go out and unplug, to delve into traditional music on a bigger scale (remember how Dylan's John Wesley Harding led to the Beatles quieting down a bit on their White Album, and the Stones' transition from Satanic Majesties to Beggar's Banquet).   But O Brother Where Art Thou  didn't have much followup.  The album sold well, garnered many awards.  But "country" music continued to sound like Nickelback with fiddles.   Well at least "country" has fiddles.  In other genres, you seem to only need 5 instruments:  gtr, bs, drm, keybd, and a laptop filled with samples (today, that last one makes you a "producer",  by the way).  

Shameless self plug:  I play in a band full of multi-instrumentalists with a repertoire 100+ years old, a "living history" band if you will.   No, we're not rich.  But we do attract a lot of attention, particularly with the odd instruments we play.  We can have anywhere from 2 to 12 members at a time, and one of them might be our guitarist.  He's usually the only one with a guitar.  

I can safely say there are very few bands anywhere that do what we do.  And whether musicians or not, few people  can name the tunes or instruments we play.   50 years ago Brian Jones could have played each instrument we own.   Kaleidoscope,  The Band, The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Ry Cooder, any of a number of artists back then, could easily come close to doing what we do.  That's pretty exciting when you think about it. 

How did rock and roll become boring?  The answer might have something to do with why music seems to only mean gtr bs drms keybd and laptop.  In an age of information, that is really, really sad.    

  

Comments

Bill H. Added Apr 19, 2017 - 11:34pm
Mr. (TBD)
It looks like you have achieved the ultimate in blog writer pen names!
My opinion is that music reach it's peak of creativity in the late '70s. All styles of music that existed at that time became part of the most interesting musical fusion we have ever witnessed. Many young people I converse with that are in their teens and twenties also seem to agree, even with them not being around during the era.
When we have reached an era where even country musicians are singing thru voice tuners, true music is dead.
Michael B. Added Apr 20, 2017 - 12:24am
LOOOOOL! When I was more active on this site, I attempted to bring more things onto it, like humor, and....music! It's too bad that Writer Beat is more about politics and old men (and some women) from the left and the right viciously trolling each other's posts and getting their last licks in before they croak.
 
To address some of the things you wrote, music is definitely a generational thing, and although I recognize that as such, I still feel that a bunch of hood-rats sampling other bands and making "Album of the Year" isn't the same as Robert Plant and Jimmy Page camping out at a cottage, but that's just me.
Ian Thorpe Added Apr 20, 2017 - 7:38am
A couple of years ago at the Glastonbury Festival, the Sunday bill on the pyramid stage was headlined by The Who (Townsend and Daltrey with the replacements for the two that died). Millions watched these grandfather's and they younger generation were blown away. Next day the kids were asking parents and grandparents, "Where did they come from?"
And those of us that were buying their records in 1966 nodded sagely and muttered things like "real talent is immortal."
Thanks for this article.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Apr 20, 2017 - 9:58am
The big downer were the Eighties with their superficial pop crap like Boy George, 4 non blondes etc. The nineties however were revived by Britpop, Indie and - Progressive
Metal, Heavy Funk, Blues à la Gary Moore etc.
 
People listening to RADIO are not qualified to discuss that subject. They listen to cut'n'paste as they work in their offices by cut'n'paste :)
 
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Apr 20, 2017 - 10:03am
BTW: Google "Ollie Halsall". That guy invented in 1970 what became the mark of Eddie van Halen: Speed soloing. Listen to his band "Patto". Talk about forgotten genius....
Jeffry Gilbert Added Apr 20, 2017 - 10:45am
We were out and about the other evening where the staff kept playing songs from that tall blond who hates all her ex-boyfriends whoeverthefucksheis. I was getting edgy so my wonderful lady tipped them and made a suggestion. Next we heard .38 Special, Deep Purple, Procol Harum, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Everly Brothers and others. We stayed for a couple more rounds and more snacks. As we left they switched back to whoeverthefucksheis. LOL
Jeffry Gilbert Added Apr 20, 2017 - 10:49am
It's too bad that Writer Beat is more about politics and old men (and some women) from the left and the right viciously trolling each other's posts and getting their last licks in before they croak.
 
One can't imagine whom you're referring to. :-)
Jeff Michka Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:42am
Whomever writes: Will the influence of satellite radio on traditional FM stations help bring back more interesting formats that mean you don't hear the same stuff over and over...and DJs tell you what they are playing? - A well done FM station will do as you suggest, but look at labels and their "...if it will sell at Walmart, then it's a hit."   If you the balls or time to cruise a Walmart CD section, note it conforms to whomever's article.  The "Day of the Label" ended some time back, for many reasons, yet they still have a stranglehold on the biz and distribution.
Jeff Michka Added Apr 20, 2017 - 11:47am
Michael B complains: left and the right viciously trolling each other's posts and getting their last licks in before they croak.- You mean all those baaaaad people writing their Nazi-love articles to be "shocking" or stealing someone else's r copy (you know that one MB) in the hopes of "controversy".  Your music credibility is gone.  Dissappeared with the "necessary" invention of "Slade Hartman" and your plagarism.
Dino Manalis Added Apr 20, 2017 - 2:52pm
We need the Eighties superstars to start singing again, too bad some of the best have died!  You have to take care of yourself and don't become addicted to drugs!
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Apr 20, 2017 - 3:48pm
Dino
 
Which superstars ? The only one deserving that name was Prince and he's dead !
 
Jeff Michka Added Apr 20, 2017 - 4:53pm
whomever: In my work selling music related accessories, we have relationships with a number of "sponsored" acts who are all 22 or under.- Are they some form of "artist endorsements," or some local promo you could do a workshop on at a NAMM Show?
Jeff Michka Added Apr 20, 2017 - 4:57pm
SEFa gets snarky: People listening to RADIO are not qualified to discuss that subject. They listen to cut'n'paste as they work in their offices by cut'n'paste :)- Only if the radio audience is a cut n' paste radio audience.  If it wasn't for radio, there'd be no "popular music" industry, anywhere. Like labor unions in a way ("A union is only good as its members."), a radio station is only as good as those that listen to it.
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Apr 20, 2017 - 7:56pm
Jeff
 
Radio was ok when the music was still music and not computer generated autotune recycling ;)
 
Patrick Writes Added Apr 20, 2017 - 8:10pm
Music died in 1990? You cast away the entire 90's Grunge era?
 
I'd argue it music mostly died when the Grunge scene died in the mid-90's. Late 90's was when you got Spice Girls, Britney Spears, Celine Dion (especially her Titanic song) on endless repeat. 
 
But Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and other lesser known bands of that brief era all making some great music. 
 
Some of the late 90's British bands like Radiohead were decent (which was really a Grunge band that drifted into the now popular British sleepy, light rock sound that's still popular today from Coldplay and their many imitators). 
Patrick Writes Added Apr 20, 2017 - 8:22pm
I suspect every new medium symphony, Television, films, there are always the greats. The first to do whatever well (Mozart, Beethoven, the Beatles, Cecil B. de Mille, Hitchcock). 
 
So you always remember them. That's the pattern anyway. Maybe in the 70's, 80's and 90's people could still pretend their new music was on par with the greats from the 50's, 60's, and early 70's. But now we know better. They were the greats. Others have to fight to get into that crowd. 
 
I'd argue the Police, Blondie, Bob Marley, possibly Nirvana, many others all are in that crowd as well. But today??? Maybe Adele (I know...she's a bit overrated but better than Celine Dion, people go crazy for Adele). 
Peter Corey Added Apr 20, 2017 - 9:29pm
>The big downer were the Eighties with their superficial pop crap like Boy George, 4 non blondes etc.
 
You obviously have a tin ear.
 
Gum-chewing, pop music is great (especially if you happen to be chewing gum). 
 
Listen to some fine examples of the genre:
 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmcA9LIIXWw
Boy George: Karma Chameleon

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NXnxTNIWkc
4 Non Blondes: What's Up

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djV11Xbc914
a-ha: Take On Me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cv6tuzHUuuk
The Bangles: Walk Like an Egyptian
 
Stone-Eater Friedli Added Apr 21, 2017 - 8:33am
Peter
 
With the exception of the A-ha song no thanks ;-
 
I prefer stuff like...
 
Caligula's Horse
 
I always need NEW music, and certainly not stuff I was forced to hear 1000 times :-)
 
...or this one....as an old Beatles fan this one comes VERY close to - George Harrison !
 
Grass Show
Bill H. Added Apr 21, 2017 - 11:01am
 
If you want to make any of the top tunes in today's digitally-raped music listenable, it needs to be routed thru a Mullard or Telefunken ECC83 driving a matched pair of Gold Lion KT66's or a single-ended Western Electric 300B.
Jeff Michka Added Apr 24, 2017 - 11:07am
Bill H audiophiles folks: Mullard or Telefunken ECC83 driving a matched pair of Gold Lion KT66's or a single-ended Western Electric 300B.  -Hmmm.  the equipment won't restore what was digitally taken away: disc master cutting eq.
Jeff Jackson Added Apr 26, 2017 - 10:27pm
I do not consider "rappers" musicians, nor whatever it is they do, music. I recognize them as artists, in a vague sense of the word, but not musicians.  The music scene has deteriorated rapidly in the past few years. I used to like MTV, but now? Ugh.