Monday, April 04, 2011

The death of popular music

I have written before on the death of classical or serious music. The problem extends to popular music as well. A post by Cerebral Ramblings on the degeneration of music describes the problem.

Music of the 60's was simple and understandable, it was mostly about love. Modern music is quite incomprehensible. The problem is partly to do with the industry itself.

What is happening is that music is being made to formula. Music producers look around for what they think listeners like and then put together bands and songwriters to produce the required sound. The 'look' of the thing is often more important than how it sounds, which is why the music video is so important.

The music video can no longer be funny, it must be seen to be very sophisticated because this is what carries the song, indeed many songs do not make sense unless one sees the video, so what we really have is incidental music to a video.

For example, Lady Ga Ga is marketed on her shock impact; her dress and attitude colouring everything. There is one nice song but that is all, strip away the video and the image and what have you left? Almost nothing. Compare her to the Material Girl of the 1980's Madonna - she was a little shocking too, but I don't think it was only hype and there was a lot more to her music than Lady G's.

The musical thing (it defies description) called Barbara Streisand is the perfect example of nothing packaged as something. It has a beat that can be danced to, a scrap of melody and nothing else.

How has this state of affairs arisen? Popular music in its modern form would not exist without broadcast radio and the record industry. Before the development of radio and recording a popular music did exist but it was mostly traditional folk music, jazz (which is traditional Afro-Caribbean music) or possibly dance music that was performed live. Music circulated in the form of printed sheet music.

Broadcast radio opened music upto a vast new audience, music could spread rapidly and people could listen to at home rather than have it performed live. The recording industry, which developed alongside radio, took this even further. People could listen to music whenever they wanted, rather than waiting to hear it broadcast.

The vast new audience wanted music and this drove the development of bands and music to meet the need. Where things started to go wrong badly was in the 1990's when producers tried to create music to fit what they thought was a need - the Spice Girls were an early attempt at this, their success lead producers further down the road until they have ended up in the dead end that is today's music.

Producers did try manufacture to formula even earlier, the Monkees, were created for television and when the producer Don Kirshner, found the real actors less than malleable, went a step further and created the cartoon band, the Archies. The difference was that in the producers still worked with musicians, rather than defining everything from end to end, which is what I think happens today.

If anyone wants to brighten their Monday after the World Cup hangover try listening to this 50's song, or feel the enthusiasm of the musicians in this 60's number.

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