After reading my last, which was my first, entry in this blog, I started thinking that I might have come off as a bit of a snob. It has been 40 some years since music has made any huge changes from what came before. With the exception of rap/hip hop (of which I know next to nothing) and techno and all it's myriad sub genres, music has been staring at its navel with every 'new' wave of up and coming artists.
Does this mean music is dead? Does this mean there will be no new styles or approaches to music that will influence the mainstream like the Beatles did?
I'm not sure.
What are the reasons for this almost incestuous rehashing of styles? Are artists afraid to take chances? Are artists stuck? Are artists so focused on trying to make a living these days that they sacrifice their inner voice for the sake of sales?
I don't know.
Are listeners so overwhelmed by the huge libraries of artists and styles (still all pretty much derivative) that they don't know where to look? Are they overcome by mass media coming out of their TV's, their cars, their pockets and now their glasses and watches that they choose to regulate their listening to background noise?
I believe the reasons for this wholesale stagnation in the music world can be found in each of the questions I listed above. The music world is so fragmented and the new technology for ingesting and procuring music is changing so quickly that I believe that we're too busy coming to terms with the trappings of how music is presented to us that we don't have the focus or energy to either make or listen to something ground breaking. We might not even know when we've heard it!
Technology is a good thing for the most part but when the delivery method becomes more important than what's being delivered AND the quality of what's being delivered is sacrificed because of these new systems, then I believe that there is a major problem. This has happened with the advent of the MP3, of iTunes and all of the various streaming services like Rdio and Spotify. Just like kids who are brought up on fast food, today's young listeners are brought up on music that is processed and stripped of it's quality, of it's truest nuance for the sake of getting if fast and (sometimes) free.
Artists are now completely lost. They, as listeners, are exposed to so much variety that they aren't sure where they should attach themselves. This can be a good thing. But it does tend to slow down the process of innovation. It's as if you went to a restaurant that used to have only a one page menu and now has a veritable tome from which to choose. I believe that artists are still reading the menu and have yet to place their orders.
Sadly, music for the most part has been regulated to a back seat in the listeners lives. We have Sony to thank for that. With the advent of the Walkman and the personalized portability of music, it very often has become background noise which can be occasionally dipped into while exercising, cleaning, walking, etc... Rarely, myself included, do we take the time to sit down with album artwork in hand (album artwork, what's that?) and listen intently while reading the lyrics to a song. If you mention this to today's children, they would look at you like a dog that just heard a weird noise. Of course, they tend to look at me like that anyway.
There is hope on the horizon, though. Many of the technological advances are maturing - finally. Neil Young's Pono music system "Where your soul rediscovers music" asserts that the clarity and purity and fidelity of its technology will bring back the muse of listening.
As far as this jumble of styles and massive variety of music that's available to today's listeners and artists is concerned, might I invoke another culinary analogy: If you were given a huge list of ingredients from which to make the world's greatest dish, it may take many attempts to come up with THE recipe. I believe that's where we're at currently in the music world. We've been served some tasty appetizers but as of yet, no one has come up with a breakthrough main course. Keep your forks and knives at the ready, though.
Lastly, I believe that musical artists need to re-examine what's available to them in visual media. Just as the album cover was the delivery method for albums in the 60's, 70's and 80's, we need to discover a new form of visual counterpart to the music that will enhance the focus on and meaning of an artist's music. Music videos for the most part are a distraction. I believe that a more abstract approach will help keep the focus on the music. Where's my holographic desktop projector, dammit!
Well, that's enough of my hot steam blowing for this week. My feeling is that if I can help stir up this huge kettle of music soup so that the good stuff rises to the top, then I've done a good thing! What do you think?