The End of the Music Industry as We Know It

Find my latest American Idol article here.

This week we were treated to another example of the musical apocalypse that is already upon us.  Paula Abdul’s new song is a hit?  Ryan Seacrest reported that her new single off Randy Jackson’s album was the most downloaded song on I-tunes.

Amazing.  Simply Amazing.

For me it just shows just how far the industry has fallen in such a short amount of time.  Of course the internet gets most of the blame, but is it solely to blame for an entire industry’s implosion?  I say that the Abdul song is evidence to the contrary.

I saw this happen once before to another genre of music.  I used to really like Contemporary Christian Music (CCM for those really into it).  Dallas had a radio station that was probably the best in the genre (KOJO later to become KLTY).  At the time, there was difference in the tone of CCM, not just the lyrics.  When tuning past the dial, I could tell when I passed KOJO, just by the style of the music without even hearing the words.  The songs were strong on melody, with often powerful or fun choruses that were easy to sing along with (and no, I’m not talking about the ‘praise music’ that came along about a decade later).  Artists like Michael W Smith, Phil Keagy, Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant, and later the great and greatly missed Rich Mullins.  These artists put out good songs, and were good (in some cases great) musicians.

The problem came when KLTY was bought out by Word music, the biggest producer of CCM which was based in Waco, and then Las Colinas (Dallas).  When this happened, the music on the station changed.  The station simply became a clearing house for anything Word music produced.  At the time, I referred to the music as “bubble-gum.”  It was largely a collection of monotonous, upbeat songs that reminded one of anything else that was being pushed on any pop station.  The melodies became cute, and less pleasing to the ear.

I dropped out.  The station began to insist on playing the same sub-par groups and music on an hourly basis, most of the time twice an hour.  I moved on musically.  Later, the “praise music” crazy swept through CCM, but the producers never got it.  Far about a decade the same dozen or so songs were recorded and released by everyone in the CCM industry.  What a beating.  The producers never understood that aside from the religious overtones of the praise music, these songs were popular because they had strong melodies, and often very powerful choruses.  They could also be sung, in contrast to most Mariah Carey songs.

CCM preceded pop music into the same abyss.  It is popular for people in the music industry to criticize the 80’s.  These are often the same producer types who have been shoveling the same pile of musical s— at the public for the past two decades.  They are all style over substance.  It is more important that music reflect attitude than music.  Whenever the odd sing-able tune is released, it usually becomes a mega-hit (Arms of the Angel, Sarah McLachlan, for example and there are others), but the musical consumer is lucky to get one of the songs per album (and oddly, album sales are really in the toilet).

There are no more Chicago 17s out there, an album that produced a string of hits, and was listenable from cover to cover.  The industry needs to go back to the 80’s and reintroduce America to good music with strong melodies produced by groups that are musically superior, not just good looking.

Will all of this save the music industry?  Probably not.  They have already lost a generation, and the internet is currently dealing it a death-blow, but there is still money to be made out there and creative ways to do it.  The place to start the reinvention of this industry is with the music, however, and there are artists out there already producing the music (see Ben Folds).  All industry needs to do is find them and promoted them.  Paula’s song is not terrible but it’s not that great either.  It is like anything you might hear from Britney Spears in the past few years (this would be the music that I am criticizing).  Its popularity is a reflection of the dearth of choices out there right now.  I’ve got a friend who coined a phrase a few years ago that would apply well to this situation.  I paraphrase:  “Her song is just the shiny turd in the bucket of s—.”

The popularity of American Idol and its artists show a desire from the public to hear good music, but you’ll notice that those who do well Idol, not only sing well, they choose good music.  This can be seen in the 1 billion times a season that someone talks about “song choice” on the show.

   

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3 Responses

  1. well written and great thoughts. totally agree!

  2. […] On Music Jump to Comments A friend of mine posted and article recently (you can find it here) on the sad, sorry state of music these days. To a certain degree I agree with the article […]

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