Words by Dan Tull
Every time a pop star celebrity drops an Instagram photo of themselves pouting shamelessly with the hashtag “no filter”, the internet laments the slow death of music. Pop has killed it. The over commercialisation of music has finally taken its toll. Creativity is dead, and with the rise of music streaming, we can all but watch as music crumbles to ash around us.
That is quite dramatic. Probably a bit over dramatic, all things considered in the world. I take some umbrage with these sweeping declarations that music is dead. Particularly because I myself am allegedly a musician and am currently alive. I understand the feelings people have though, shows like X-Factor, The Voice, and Britain’s Got Talent certainly support these thoughts. But yet, I have to say that in my experience music couldn’t be more alive. I suspect that those stating that it has died have not tried hard enough to check for a pulse (That was a cheesy but nevertheless a good analogy).
See, technology has its part to play in the state of music these days. In the “good old days” musicians were forced to master their craft in order to produce music of any decent quality. Even then some clangers came out. Genuinely though, it was much harder to produce an album in the sixties, an effort made harder if none of the artists could actually play. Nowadays this talent and skill can be added in post much the same way a CGI dragon might be placed in Game of Thrones. If an artist is attractive, likeable and more importantly: marketable, their talent can be conjured through a series of algorithms and button presses.
There’s also a real shift in the attitude stressed by the types who appear on X-Factor-esque shows. The cries of “I’ve wanted this my whole life” are echoed year on year by the same deluded 19-year-old wannabes who have more infatuation with the lifestyle of a pop star than the artistic merit of contributing to music’s great tapestry.
Seems rather bleak, right? Well no…no it really isn’t. All that’s happened is the criteria to being a meaningful music artist has shifted. Yes, the market is oversaturated with copycats, saccharine coated money machines and soulless industry moulded wannabes, but all that means is that when the genuine, real talent shines through, it does so with fierce intensity.
I think we should rapidly write off any contributions from those X-Factor shows, as they represent a distorted image of music. The music industry as presented by X-Factor is about as accurate as the business world presented by The Apprentice (Complete b*****s).
Remember when Adele’s 21 first arrived? Like it or hate it, it, that album was incredible. Not necessarily in terms of the content, but in what it did. The album mostly consists of subtly produced piano ballads with a few massive singles dotted around. The focus is solely, unwaveringly focused on Adele’s voice, and rightly so. This is someone who absolutely does not fit the industry mould, and yet here she is smashing record sales records (hah), challenging the perceptions of body image and demonstrating that the industry still holds some respect for genuine talent. This isn’t a review of Adele and her success, this is a statement about the life still pulsing through the weary veins of music.
However, even Adele has her opinion on the “death of music”. She has famously not released her latest album to stream, echoing a similar move by America’s sweetheart, Taylor Swift. Streaming is controversial, mostly due to the small amount of royalties they pay out. Well, both Adele and Taylor Swift are worth millions, both personally and as platforms. I’m sure they are struggling with those feeble royalty payouts.
The artists that should be complaining are the unheard of indie musicians who have just about got around to putting together a four-track EP. They’ve managed to get it on Spotify and aren’t getting paid fairly. That’s pretty unfair right? Well…no. Making an EP is easy these days, as I said before. Anyone with a copy of Garageband can put something together that sounds reasonable. And I sincerely, somewhat cynically, doubt that anyone is subscribing to any streaming service to specifically listen to some obscure, self-made EP by some lads in Brixton.
As I said before, the criteria has shifted. Streaming is here, it’s great for consumers and ultimately that is what leads the industry. I’m sure some hipsters somewhere are quick to declare their hatred for streaming, and that it is the soul invention that has destroyed music, but I offer a counter argument.
Streaming has provided universal distribution for artists. Ignore the payment, that isn’t something to be concerned about unless you’re Adele, and if you’re Adele you have other, far more lucrative income streams. No, let’s ignore the monetary aspect and look at streaming as a platform. Imagine this scenario. You’re in an up and coming band, you’ve had a few gigs, got a few loyal fans and things are going well. You record an EP, it sounds great! It launches to Spotify, iTunes and every other possible platform available. Suddenly, your band is on a radar. Admittedly, at this stage, the band is a small blip on the radar, but that can change. The band is tangible outside of a local indie music venue. The music is simultaneously everywhere, and that is far more important at this stage.
Before any musicians reading this leap into the comments and declare me an idiot for assuming that musicians shouldn’t worry about being paid by streaming sites, calm right down. Other income streams should already be apparent for an artist or band (merch, physical media etc). Streaming is simply something to increase your presence.
I’ve gone on a right rant there….
Back to the point…music being dead and stuff. Look, music literally cannot die. As long as we have people who care enough to declare it dead, it will conversely never die. Confused? Counter-culture will often surpass mainstream culture as mainstream culture becomes oversaturated. It’s happened throughout history, and we are simply experiencing our generation’s version of it. You can see musical progression everywhere if you look for it. If you want to resign yourself to the early death of music, then go ahead. Read a book, watch a film, destroy all your tapes.
Music couldn’t be more alive, and that’s the simple truth.