The recording industry needs to emphasize long-term creativity, not short-term cash and flash
By Clive Ramroop, Contributor
“Today’s music ain’t got the same soul. I like that old time rock and roll” – Bob Seger, “Old Time Rock and Roll”
When Kanye West cancelled his rescheduled concert due to a damaged video screen, my friend cracked, “Remember when artists performed with only their talent?”
I lamented, “I remember when we had artists, who had talent.”
In our technologically advanced society, we have tools capable of creating works that could outperform anything from the past, but technology doesn’t equal creativity. A Lamborghini is useless without a fuelled tank and a skilled driver; likewise, a multi-million-dollar studio with high-end audio software won’t magically transform users into virtuoso composers.
Perhaps the reason so many hits of the last generation have rehashed (sorry, sampled) older hits, is that many performers today can’t compose their own original, memorable melodies—a notion reinforced by over-reliance on gimmickry, autotune, and shock value to mask their shortcomings. There’s nothing wrong with enhancing a performance with special effects like screens and pyrotechnics; but when those enhancements supplant the music to become the show in order to sell albums or downloads, something is very wrong.
Part of me feels that the record labels must shoulder some of the blame. They insist that downloading drains money from their coffers, like they claimed in the campaign Home Taping is Killing Music at the turn of the 1980s. But recording radio broadcast tunes via stereo tape decks didn’t send sales into decline. The industry just wasn’t putting out quality music worth buying, while competing with a fledgling video game boom. Today, it’s common for a popular tune to be in heavy rotation for months, but ignored the following year. I can’t prove it, but it makes me wonder if the conglomerate labels are banking on milking rapid bursts of short-term profit with each hit, rather than cultivating stars to create memorable tunes that could draw long-term money over years, and even decades.
This isn’t to say that the business should completely abandon profit in favour of a purely artsy approach. The purpose of a business is to make money. But the bean counters fail to grasp that music is an art form. While other generations practiced sonic experimentation and innovation, music today risks becoming a mere pawn in air-brushed, slickly packaged, corporate-run franchises. Albums considered truly great were once crafted. Now, bite-sized tracks are manufactured assembly line-style with little soul or substance, homogeneous in their sound, except—compared to other music genres—easily disposable to make room for the next promotional fad.
That doesn’t mean everything in the past was better than today. The decade that spawned “All You Need is Love” and “Hit the Road, Jack” was the same one that gave us “Wooly Bully” and that deeply cerebral lyric, “Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong?”
It also doesn’t mean there are no good modern artists. Adele earned six Grammys for her sophomore album 21, which has sold more than 20-million copies worldwide. But in the iTunes age where great albums seem to be on the verge of extinction, few of its tunes look to be enshrined as cultural touchstones.
Critics slammed Queen for their bombastic style, yet fans still chant “We Will Rock You” at sporting events. “Thriller” is still played every Halloween 30 years after the eponymous album hit the shelves. And one could surmise that, if the industry of the 1950s was run like it is now, no one would have heard of Elvis Presley. That’s a scary indictment.
As it’s said in The Phantom of the Opera, “my managers must learn that their place is in an office, not the arts.” The music industry severely needs new innovators, and a new business model allowing them to flourish. Luckily, there are some standout artists today thriving on talent.