If You Wanna Find Good Music, You Gotta Ignore the Trends
This is an article I wrote about the current state of the music industry. AKA its suckiness.
The last four decades can easily be defined by music. The 60’s had The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. The 70’s saw stars like Queen, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. The 80’s had Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Bruce Springsteen. Even in the 90’s, groups like Nirvana, N*SYNC, and even the Spice Girls rocked the nation with their new forms of grunge, boy band, and girl power music. When people look back at the first decade of the 2000’s, however, what will they remember? A drunk Kanye West bashing Taylor Swift? The Lady Gaga hermaphrodite scare? Weezy F. Baby, the Martian? Ashlee Simpson’s SNL lip-syncing snafu? Brokencyde and 3OH!3, screaming at pre-pubescent girls about sex and drugs? These musical abominations are created by the producers who sign them. The music industry has become a monster, turning out auto-tuned artists who appeal to the commercially driven masses. As a result, our nation has been taken over by fame-hungry celebs who can only be classified as performers, and not as true artists.
In the face of this startling reality, college students especially are starting to wonder what kind of a legacy their generation will leave in the music world. Until recently, it seems, musicians would use their songs to express their emotions and use innovation to create new, exciting sounds. That creativity is no longer a focus, and certainly not for lack of material; over the past ten years, we’ve had war, we’ve had social changes, we’ve had political scandals. Unfortunately, fans do not want to hear about that anymore, and today’s artists are more than willing to oblige them.
The music scene has been imbued with auto-tuned performance artists who want nothing more than money, fame and a big following. This generally means that they are dedicated to conforming to the “trendy” types of music (the auto-tuned, performance- and appearance-driven styles of pop and hip hop) instead of trying to break free of them, a rebellion that was praised and admired in the past. “Bands today are conforming to specific genres not so much because they enjoy that certain kind of music, but because they are subscribing to those particular scenes and styles,” says Mike Flanagan, a sophomore at Boston’s Emerson College. “People listen to music because it’s cool, not necessarily because they like it. The same goes for people who make the music.”
This desire to conform and listen to the “cool” new songs has taken the focus away from the music itself. With new technology like auto-tune, music artists and the producers who sign them do not have to be concerned so much with what they sound like. “One can start to lose respect for artists who use a lot of auto-tune to enhance their ability to sing,” says Teddy Weckbacher, a music production major at Berklee. “It’s hard to believe someone can be considered a professional singer, but depend on a digital effect to make them sound good.” Add lip-syncing to the mix, and you have a very deadly combination. “Auto-tune is scary in some ways because it gives record companies the ability to focus more on the image of an artist as opposed to his/her talent,” says Matt McNeilly, a music industry major at Northeastern University. “If used sparsely and in a creative fashion, I believe there is a place for auto-tune, but this seems to be pretty rare.” Basically, as long as the producer can tweak the artist’s voice and sound to fit into a specific genre, they are good to go. That is a scary possibility to consumers who desire artists with true talent.
Those consumers with a more sophisticated ear, however, have been dumped by the music producers and their performers in order to make way for the trend-hungry teenagers of today. “The ones that are very good at marketing themselves know what teenagers want before teenagers even know what they want,” says Flanagan, who is a music artist himself and knows first-hand the pressure to conform in order to find people that enjoy his music. “They write music and organize their wardrobes accordingly,” he adds bitingly. Music producers are eating up the opportunity to take advantage of these young kids who want the trendy music, no matter what that means for the artists they employ who may actually have good intentions. “Record labels have no problem dropping a band that may have had some success in the past but their most recent effort was a commercial failure,” says McNeilly, highlighting the superficial nature of today’s music scene. “Bands are left with the difficult decision to give in to some pressure from their label or risk failing commercially and getting dropped.”
Artists are being forced into abandoning their musical fervor and compromising whatever talent they possess in order to be successful and make a living. “A band should care about their fans but they should be making music for themselves also,” says Johnny Amichetti, a self-proclaimed “music aficionado” who attends Boston College. An artist making music for his or herself is no longer appreciated; innovation has become taboo. “More well-known artists, once they’re famous, will change for their fans to keep being famous,” observes Alayna Savage, a music major at UMass Amherst. This shift from making music for oneself to making music for the consumer is making it increasingly difficult for bands with integrity to make it big.
Pop punk has taken an especially hard hit from this shift. Bands like Fall Out Boy and Metro Station have created a style-driven image with which consumers have come to associate the genre. Instead of listening to pop punk for the musical appeal, kids today are attracted to Pete Wentz’s eyeliner or Trace Cyrus’s tattoos and straightened hair. As a result, great bands like New Found Glory and The Starting Line have been forgotten. Even the most inventive bands have been forced into the cookie cutter of the mainstream, and are being “pressured to add some kind of commercial appeal to their music,” says McNeilly.
Will this commercial appeal be the driving force in music from now on? No one knows for sure, which is generating a lot of anxiety surrounding the future of the music industry. Sure, every artist has a certain thirst for success and fame. And yes, there have always been trends that artists try to conform to. It seems, however, that these two factors have taken more of a front seat in dictating what becomes popular and have made being a music artist into “get rich quick” scheme. What happens to the artists who do not have those drives? “I think most bands struggle to stay relevant,” says McNeilly, “especially those that aren’t mainstream with less dedicated fan bases.” Maybe the next decade will revive the importance of being original and give the more sophisticated music listeners out there a breath of fresh air. Until then, all those listeners can do is put on their noise-cancelling headphones, wait patiently, and graciously put up with what is out there now. “Every generation has its notoriously bad music,” says Flanagan, “but I really hope the next generation’s guilty pleasures have more genuine substance than this generation’s.”