I am deviating a little from the norm here and am going to talk about something I never really talk about and that is music. I never really talk about music because it is the one thing I love that I am really self conscious about because I know so many people who are musicians, were musicians, or just know music like mad, where I am just a fan that likes what I like and know what I know. But, being a fan of music I do have some thoughts on, go figure, and suddenly I felt the need to write about it. I happened across an article today about a classic rock icon and his serious concerns at the state of modern music. Reading the article and his view reminded me a lot of some of the things I have said myself. That was until I was driving around with the windows down and Nirvana playing in my CD player, then I remember why I loved music in the first place, and that there is no one truth in music. All there are, as with any arts, are opinions, are voices trying to give informed views on something that is truly all about taste.
I remember being in my early twenties and so downright angry at punk music that it made me sick. I didn’t get it, I didn’t want to get it, and I was mad that people I knew had such a connection to the stuff. Anything and everything punk made me downright angry. Now, a long time later I can only laugh at myself and my anger because once in a while I still feel the same way about certain things, the only difference is that I can step outside of that and see why I am so passionate about it. What it boils down to is the same things that attract us to some music are the things that push us away from other stuff. Music is sometimes more personal than we imagine and when it connects with us it is some sort of strange magic. For me, I just never connected with punk music, it didn’t speak to me, so in my inability to understand why people I knew loved the stuff I got frustrated. It was like seeing a color and being told it is the color green when I believe it to be the color blue. I fought it instead of just going with it and getting over it. And we all do that, we are myopic about what we like and love and feel passion for and cannot understand why others don’t see the same things that we do, feel the same things, and get mad when what we love is criticized. It is the same thing that makes us act stupid when there is music, or whatever, that we don’t like, naturally because we are all such keepers of the flame of taste, ya know.
With every era there comes new music trends, new bands to the fore and the old stalwarts start to fall from favor and this is just the nature of things. This is what happens. Kids don’t wanna be into the same music their parents aren’t into. Sure, they make come to appreciate the stuff as they get older and can discover it themselves but who wants to feel as if their parents understand them? No one, baby. And just as the seasons change, so too does the music industry and now that computers have become such a strong part of modern music styles are shifting at an increasing rate. With the internet, Twitter, My Space, Facebook, and all the other social networking out there trends come and go almost over night. Social media allows us immediate interaction with one another, and with the artists so we can post the song, the video, links to the band websites, and links to concert tickets. But with that connection to the artists and each other we are losing the connection to the music. The life of a single now is judged in weeks, not months, and not years. The radio used to turn us on to new music but now it just follows trends and milks each single until we cannot stand the song anymore. Hits, like blockbusters are predetermined, as are the stars. Music is about the machine, not the songs. That is the trouble.
It is easy to blame the computers and the technology but that is not what it killing what the older generations grew up listening to. Music will last, will survive, but the scary part is that the artists may not. We are in an era where the corporations are strangling the industry out of fear of piracy and they are not giving the artists the chance to find their audience. New artists are signed and dropped in a matter of months and the pressure becomes so strong that their single hit it is no wonder that the Internet and social networking is so important to these musicians. Without the luxury of MTV and a music television network sites like You Tube become the de facto outlets for videos and when you are an up and coming band and trying to get your video out there and have to compete against a video of a baby falling over, well, that makes it awfully hard to break through. The advent of the MP3 and digital music downloads has brought new revenue to the industry but better than that it has allowed musicians to take ownership of their music and so they can release, market, and distribute new work whenever they wish and can control it completely. The Internet and digital distribution lets the artist go around the industry but while that is a great start, the real money comes from live shows and that is still locked down when you get into bigger venues.
The shame of the short life of singles is that we are not connecting as deeply with as much music. Sure, we still connect, but the modern pop seems like a passing fad and we don’t pay as much attention as we used to. We are already told what songs are going to be hits so the magic of them rising up the charts isn’t there. And with the advent of the digital single downloads we are losing the art of the album. Once upon a time album art tied into and was part of the album and it went hand in hand with the music, the lyrics, and the photography to create a spell that, when you connected with a record, really tied you to the music and the band. Too often now releases are a mix of singles with no connectivity and at times little connection to the musician. And with that sort of trend rising, and no real feeder system to support new artists I can see why things would seem so dire.
What of the passion? Some decry. Where is the outrage? Where are the modern voices of protest? Still there, still there in the music. I admit that pop music is far more about partying and having fun that it used to be but that is probably more of a signpost for our times. We are in an era where terrorism seems rampant and every few months there is another mass tragedy that rocks the world. The economy is bad, the jobs dried up, and as a nation America is at a crossroads so is it any wonder that our music is more about having fun and letting loose? Past that though there are still the riotous anthems, the angry voices, and the fists in the air. Hip hop has long been a place to foster these voices and while you may not find them in the mainstream they are still driving the industry. Just as heavy metal and punk have always maintained the fire. Much of this sort of music is shrugged off by the critics because we seem to have less respect for personal politics and for ‘angst’ (the same stuff acts like Nirvana were applauded for and made millions on) than we do for music about the broader politics but it all leads down the same road. The fire is there, it just changes, and sometime fades over time. I still listen to angry, political music, but I don’t feel the same need to go fight the big, faceless enemy and instead work towards rebuilding the world in how I act and move forward.
Sometimes it really is hard to see the silver lining in the modern music industry and in modern music but then, we cannot judge music by what is always popular or played. That stuff serves its purpose, and is still valuable. Heck, pop music is as it has always been – fun music that you play at parties. But if we look past that, and some of us want and need to, we will find the music that still has the fight, the flourish, the cockiness, and the magic. For me, the band Goirillaz reminded me of what it was to fall in love with music, and how much wonder still exists out there. Yes, music is changing, it is evolving, but that is what it does, and has done since the beginning. How many decried the use of an electric guitar as the death of music? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Music will always be a powerful way to tell stories and to show us the world through new eyes. What we need are more places for music to be found. More video outlets, more places to learn about the music, and artists with the guts to buck whatever the trend is and to just do what they do the best they can. As fans we obsess over sellout artists but the real sellout is the industry that forces artists into retirement or to change themselves because of what the passing trends are. Yes, sometimes music frustrates me but when it does I can always return to the stuff that reminds me how damn powerful the stuff is, and reminds me why it will last forever, no matter what it is made with and who is making it. And that is why music and books are similar, because how we get and enjoy both is changing, but that doesn’t make the works any less important or powerful.
And now…let’s remind ourselves why in some cases art will always beat industry, one way or another, just look at Ani DiFranco and the other indie artists out there who made careers by their own hands and own rules. Music will last because we need it, and always will. Music will last because it is love, and hate, and war, and peace, and hope, and dreams, and heartache and is everything it is to be human, and that will last as long as we last. And that is a pretty great lesson to end with, if ya ask me.