By Dave Austin, “Music Professor”
I was driving back to home base earlier this week and had one of the satellite channels on the car stereo, and as I cruised down the interstate, I focused on some of the songs being played. In doing so, it simply reinforced my long-held belief that pop music is in a continuing downward spiral and deplorable state. By no means am I the first to say this. You’ve probably thought or said the same to yourself. So, let’s take a closer look at what’s contributing to this decline.
Any of us in the music business should quickly recognize the above statements as an opening lyric line for quite a few of today’s pop/urban music offerings.
Try to visualize some of today’s pop musicians arriving at the recording studio, pulling out their sheet music, practicing scales, discussing the composers’ intentions, considering interpretation, dynamics and contrasts… Ain’t gonna happen!
We live in a digital age in which the ability to make music is available to anyone with a computer and some software. Add a midi keyboard, a touchpad, mikes and perhaps a few other gadgets, and Voila!…instant artist and producer! No record deal? No problem. Post the tunes on You Tube or other sites and you have an audience. So, some of today’s music is being turned out in bedrooms, basements, small home studios, etc. by people who can’t read a single note of music and have zero talent. Quality control…sound quality? What’s that? Little wonder that much of the current music is so dull and forgettable.
As a result of this ease of manufacture, some say there is simply too much product. Outlets may play a particular track for as little as a few days to two weeks before replacing it with a newer track. It’s hard to impossible for a song to gain any traction with outlets’ tiny playlists, micro-attention spans and an over-saturation of product.
The industry is also being run by people who have little or no knowledge of the music business. Based on what sold last week, that’s what they’ll market to us this week. Popular music, which by all rights, should continue to evolve, has been stopped in its tracks by these know-nothing executives who operate on the principal of instant gratification. Grab a few loops and samples, paste them together, add an electronic rhythm track, write three or four lines of brainless mumbled lyric, then market the hell out of it to convince the audience that it’s the latest and greatest, when in fact, it’s just more of the same inferior product.
It works! The music audience has been so dumbed down by this constant barrage of throw-away music, they apparently will accept almost anything they’re told to. Meanwhile, on a daily basis, young talented musicians and singers are producing demos which never get past the front door because the music execs don’t understand their music and don’t have a clue how to market them.
Radio, which once served as the proving ground for pop music, has become irrelevant as a music authority. Listening audiences continue to dwindle, mainly in my opinion, because the stations and their operators have failed to evolve and no longer offer a product which listeners want. What happened to Top 40-type radio on which the hottest current tunes were carefully interlaced with recent past hits (recurrents) and a few “oldies”? Behind the mike, there was a live DJ who not only was entertaining but often had something worthwhile to say. These stations had news breaks to help keep the audience informed of current events, and one could even get a weather report without having to go find a TV and a weather channel. Now, radio has devolved to a computer with a hard drive spooling out tired old tunes, boring commercials and a lame morning drive segment with a trio of local kids yucking it up.
By now, most everyone is aware of the rocketing sales of vinyl discs and turntables. However, when we look at the sales statistics, it becomes quickly apparent that what’s driving this vinyl revolution is classic and retro albums. Not to say there aren’t current offerings, but the older discs are leading the parade as listeners, both young and old, search for something with musicianship, more intelligent lyrics, a recognizable melody and artists with talent.
As if to validate this, when I do an event, guest’s requests are predominately for older, highly recognizable tunes. I was discussing this with some younger DJs recently, and of course, the word “cheesy” entered the conversation regarding the older tunes. Okay, so some of you young dudes consider the established songs as out of style or uncool, but when I go to one of my events, I’m not thinking about being stylish or cool. Rather, I’m thinking about the kind of audience I have, their style, their tastes and what will get them on the dance floor and having a good time.
So, it comes down to this: you play the kinds of music to fit the audience you have in front of you. If I’m doing a high school dance, you can bet I’m playing tunes from the Hot 100 and mixing in some recurrents and a few highly recognizable older tracks. For a class reunion, it’ll be an entirely different play list with lots of top songs from the class’ era which have stood the test of time.
All this being said, I’ve tried to do some research to determine what kind of future we can expect for pop music. One source opines, and I believe correctly so, that pop music will no longer be the marker or definer of our time and will continue to matter less as a tool by which young consumers identify themselves.
It is interesting to consider the question of whether some of today’s pop music will be performed in the future much like classical music is performed today? Which, among today’s hits, will have the longevity or timelessness to survive into such a future? Of the thousands – perhaps millions – of songs released over the past decade, how many of these will still be played in this hypothetical future…50, 100?
Is there a future for pop music? Probably. There’s not much any of us can do to change it and it will evolve, or devolve, in whatever direction it is led or pushed. Will we like it or approve of it? That is a question which only time will tell.
As for the present, we can only bemoan the sorry state of music and wait for those infrequent gems which will indeed stand the test of time.