Corporate Radio Suicide

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

That's it. They've done it. The final piece is in place for a musical renaissance. But pay attention, because as a more erudite friend told me, "This revolution will not be televised".

Read this and come back and visit me: Electric Dreams?! Electric Nightmare.

There was a time when radio played good and current music. Where you could tune in and here The Beatles or Led Zeppelin or any number of 60s/70s greats. Somewhere in the 80s, however, good music and pop music separated. This separation led to increasing commericalization and the development of a "music industry". Radio play became more homogenized as radio execs started dictating playlists instead of disc jockeys, and in turn major labels began only producing music that "would sell". This has culminated today into not only what type of music will sell, but who can sell it. You see, it's not enough that the music (and I should be using quotes around the term as it applies here) is formulaic, derivative, and can only be signed if it sounds like something else which has already proven successful. Now, thanks to MTV, you need a sexy female (or in cases several homosexual male) front to pedal the dreck. And so we come to Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys. When you can't sell the "music" on its own "artistic" merit, you sell sex. Brilliant.

So we now are at today, where the music industry is a means of selling sex and promoting horrible role models for young girls in particular. Where bands don't write their own music, sometimes where the frontman/woman doesn't do anything aside from dance and lip sync, and where songs by one band sound indistinguishable from another. And, for some reason, piracy runs rampant because, guess what, people don't care about these so-called-artists. Especially when the RIAA, which allegedly represents these 'artists', starts suing them. They want the latest popular song because their friends are listening to it and they don't know where else to go for music. Some are so tired of this that they've turned to oldies stations playing the last good music that the radio ever played from the 70s and maybe a few tracks from the 80s.

I was made aware of the final nail in the coffin yesterday. Go read the article, but in summary, the majors have taken to using a computer program to electronically weigh the potential success of a song before it is even printed. Yes, that's right. A computer decides what music is going to be made in the commercial world. And this is before the robots in radio decide what will keep people listening to drive advertising. What's worse, this robot evaluates a song's potential based solely on previous songs' successes. Invented a new genre of music? Forget about it. The only music that can ever be succesful has already been invented. If this doesn't sour you diehard commercial crap listeners, I don't know what will.

So what is the future of music? It's indie. It's music that's created as art, not as a marketing tool for soulless radio stations and a money maker for clueless major labels. We're already seeing the beginning of this renaissance. Watch an episode of The OC, you're liable to hear strains of The Walkmen (or so I hear). Go rent Garden State, and you'll hear the characters raving about The Shins. Listen to a pop satellite radio, and you might even find the occasional (admittedly big-time) indie acts that have become pseudo-mainstream without selling out, like Franz Ferdinand and Modest Mouse. Heck, the Pixies' reunion tour in 2004 was the most successful indie tour ever.

With the internet, the proliferation of MP3s, free indie music 'zines like Pitchfork and TinyMixTapes, and countless music communities, it's easier than ever to tap into real music which as little as ten years ago, would have been utterly inaccessible without devoting part of your life to the pursuit of new music.

As the formula gets tired, people are going to move in droves from mainstream to indie, to a point where, finally, a decade late, the mainstream execs will finally get it. What happens then is anybody's guess. Will indie become mainstream and derivative again, allowing the cycle to repeat, or will we find a balance where we can balance music as art and profitability for the 'industry' folk. I don't know. But I'll see you there.

In the meantime, just a few good places to hear great music:

KEXP Radio
KCRW Radio
CBC Radio 3

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