Saturday, January 10, 2009

Major Labels, the internet, and the new prospect for diversity in music

Major record labels, the internet and the prospect for diversity in music

Since the late 1960’s, the empowering of the major record labels within the music industry has undermined musical diversity, resulting in a market driven atmosphere and grave implications for the timbre of popular music. Today, more than ever, the richest five or six (or whatever) conglomerations exploit one another’s successes, providing the masses with little quality, but plenty of familiar formulas. These predictable songs do nothing to challenge our musical palate, as if we were presupposed by the industry to be bland, unchanging automatons. This, of course, is not true—and the fact that mainstream popular culture is inundated with only a few types of music is trivial to explaining human nature—for when one familiarizes him or herself with the breadth of musical experience a vast array of styles presents itself. What, then, is keeping this diversity from the ears of the hoi polloi? It is not my intention here to discuss payola schemes or the monopoly of clear channel, rather to look at music as a complex system evolving, and what trends within music allow it to evolve naturally (read: freely), and which trends enfeeble its artistic integrity. Such reflection is pertinent in the here now, at a time of crescendo of global counter culture movements. Student demonstrators in Greece, for example, warm up for their weekly marches on parliament by listening to the punk band The Stranglers. A markov process is a term biologists use to describe the process by which the future comes to be. The future, according to this view, is a synthesis of the past and present states. In order for the future state of anything, in this case music, to come to pass, it must first have had a past. By looking at the past, but more relevantly the present, one can identify the ingredients, so to speak, of the future. When it comes to music, the implications are grave—so many bands just sound the same! Artists have always emulated each other, and so that is not exactly the problem. And it doesn’t seem to be the problem of artists, or bands, not hiding their inspirations of their own sounds well enough. (After all, fifty Eddie Vedder impersonators on the radio is hardly occasion for inspiration.) Let’s go on a thought experiment for a second and ask ourselves, What is pop’s recently history? For brevity this will have to remain an unsatisfactory list, but I think you will get the point. In the 1990’s, Interscope offered us Nine Inch Nails, and then outdid themselves by serving us Marilyn Manson. Sony had Korn around the same time, Epic had Pearl Jam, and so BMG countered with Creed(!), and then Sony packaged Silverchair to our delight. In 1998 Sony gave us (not only the music, but the the soap opera of) Britney Spears, and RCA gave us Christina Aguilera. The same techniques employed to record these artists’ results in homogenization. It’s like the whopper and big Mac of music, except instead of unwrapping our genomes with plastic foods, our intellect is drained by overtly predictable tunes. Selling music is a tough business; an art in and of itself. It’s safe to go with what works in the now as opposed to taking a risk on talented musicians and letting them develop freely. The “skeptic” interjects: But if people like it, and that is what sells, then something is working out right. People like it, the industry is just giving the people what they want, right? Wrong. We will take what we can get, and for the vast majority of music listeners, they are unaware of the vast reach of the underground music scene. They see only punks and goths in funny clothes. Normal is safe—normalization has made money in the past and therefore will in the future. But sameness is the death of systems: The system will come to a standstill, trapped in itself—unmoving, a sitting duck. For the future to be multifaceted and versatile—two conditions which seem to allow for perpetuation—the past must offer it a wide array of diversity or variation. When radio stations become more alike, then our senses of the musical spectrum will come to resemble the American political spectrum: awfully conservative. We conform to that which we are given, cutting innovation off at the knees. Essentially the line of reasoning (a very thin line indeed) we get to justify one-sided culture is the age old argument that if one is in a position of power or authority, there must be a perfectly logical reason wherefore. A major label artist is an expert we convince ourselves, for they are the ones making the music. Well, the internet has turned that logic on its head. Instead we discover that we are all artists, perfectly capable of pursuing creative endeavors at the same level of our “expert” counterparts. (though perhaps “expertise” is a devise of our own making in order to make us feel comfortable in our finite minds.) The diversity doesn’t apply only to the timbre of the notes, tempos and pitches, instead it penetrates the lyrical world as well; that is, the new age poetry. Instead of listening to (value meal) songs of the majors hollowly clinging to past notions of traditional relationships, traditional Gods, and traditional bitches and hoes, the underground we enter offers us a world of disenchantment with the hopeless humdrum of the everyday. More pertinently, those involved in the creative endeavors are not apathetic about it. Their meaning arises from their participation in culture, even if their cultural gait cuts right into the heart of the dominant forces. Pick up your guitar!

I'd raise welts for kreative kontrol
I'd give up sex for kreative kontrol

Kreative kontrol
Kreative kontrol
Kreative kontrol

I'd drink piss for kreative kontrol
I'd cut off my dick for kreative kontrol
Bolt the toilets to the floor
Making a run at the shithouse door
Fuck the industry lockout
It's an all-fucking-media-knockout

Kreative kontrol
Kreative kontrol
Kreative kontrol

I'd cross the seven seas
Join the merchant marines
Contract a horrible disease
I'd even say please

Ah, fuck it
--Hot Snakes, San Diego Punk band

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