What I’m Doing About It (My Manifesto) Pt 1

The individual posts in this blog are unique from one another. They also double as component pieces which underscore a central, all-encompassing theme.

I’m utilizing this blog as a means to present some of the issues facing popular music as I see them (from as many different perspectives as I can envision). I am stating herein, that there is a problem and this is my way of looking for answers.

The blog is also meant to be a manifesto and this specific post is it’s forward.
Here is an initial premise regarding the degeneration (and the importance) of popular music:

I have borne witness to the spectacle of an entity so beautiful and powerful (and which I love passionately deep to the core of my soul) being corrupted by the twin demons of apathy and avarice into something completely, utterly grotesque and lacking any meaning.

Popular music has become distorted, ugly, infused with weakness and infirmity (an infirmity which masquerades as force and strength via sheer bombast and bluster). It has gone from being diverse and miraculous to being homogeneous, predictable and utterly lacking in personality.

Popular music is an indicator, a signifier of where society exists. Today’s music is cold, disassociated, inexpressive, loud. Poor society. Poor music.

Here, I will pose a few questions. Is popular music nothing more than a signifier of something else (in this case, the society in which it’s created) or can it also be a catalyst?

Is it possible (assuming one has issues with popular music), by altering the intent behind how popular music is made, to effect change on the quality of music?

And further, if music can truly be an instrument for change (assuming one has issues with the society in which this popular music is made), could these changes made to the quality of popular music, in turn, also effect changes on society itself?

In other words, if we do the work to save popular music, can popular music somehow save us?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions with absolute certainty. (That said, music has been immensely catalyzing and is inextricably intertwined with multiple cultures down through milennia.)

This notwithstanding, every molecule in my body simultaneously screams yes to each of the questions I posed. I feel impelled to respond and that response is to make a commitment.

My commitment, is my choice to effect change. I choose to be a catalyst, so that music, in its turn, may also be permitted to be a catalyst once again.

In making this declaration, I am hopeful that other people will also make the same choice.

However, it is not my intent to editorialize about these issues in order to try and manipulate anyone.

People try to manipulate others when they have big ideas but are lacking the courage (or the talent) to implement them. This type of person prefers to first incite a riot, then sit back and watch the fireworks. Which is always much safer than being a participant.

I’ve read enough editorials/ blogs which are bursting with someone else’s subtextual agenda, rather than their goals and their passion. These people speak boldly about what others need to do- not what they themselves are committed to doing in order to effect change.

That’s not revolutionary or forward thinking. Instead, it’s cowardice. Personally, I feel that anyone who is not prepared to do absolutely anything to improve an environment has no business writing (or publicly commenting) about the state of that environment.

My intent here is not to manipulate, but to motivate. And, if I intend to motivate others through my words, I intend to likewise motivate myself.

I’m not writing to simply offer my opinions, but to share my intent.

I’m writing to see if there are others who are similarly inclined and want to do something about the mess we have all found ourselves in.
I restate the premise that popular music is in an abysmal state. If it is not dying, then it is grievously wounded.

Further, no artist has made a truly great record in many years. As a result, we are floating listlessly in the midst of a cultural and artistic vacuum.

How does all of that make you feel? Please take a moment and consider the question carefully.

Like those ingenuous individuals who feel that we are facing an economic recovery, there are those who feel we are seeing a similar correction occur in popular music. They speak as if these “corrections” are naturally occurring phenomena which spontaneously spew forth like manna from the beneficent heart of some unnamed, unseen Demiurge when we poor, oppressed creatures are at our darkest hour.

Some of these people suggest that the internet- the Great Leveler, the Great Equalizer- will be our Savior. They offer that, as a melting pot for new ideas and creative cross-pollination, the internet has the power to open new channels for people to create (as well as acquire) music.

In this scenario, the world will soon be awash in a blinding brilliance that will pour into our consciousness from every corner of the known world. This, of course, will happen without the ministration or actions of human beings.

Behind this point of view lies the implication that the world is of an arbitrary and chaotic nature. It is as if to say that occurrences within the domain of man are actually controlled by mighty forces existing outside of that domain and that man has no power (or rights) in his own world.

Dig deeper and this mentality becomes reminiscent of elder civilizations which lived in fear of their gods’ wrath. To societies like these, a thunderstorm meant that a very large invisible man was angry with them. Likewise, the appearance of the sun meant another very large invisible man (or woman) was showering them with love and adoration.

Applying the same logic to this situation, a correction will magically occur in music when some anonymous deity arbitrarily decides that we’ve suffered enough with Justin Bieber and rebalances the cultural scales (accompanied by an enormous clap of thunder).

This kind of thinking is nothing more than a pie in the sky (and manipulation by another name).

There is no savior, no omniscient power which will descend from on high (or from out of our computers) to save us from our own mistakes. There will be no magical “corrections”.

The internet is nothing but a vast and empty vessel- a tool which can be wielded only through the diverse designs of human beings. Unto itself, the internet is nothing more than a hammer without a master.

In addressing this perspective, I say that it is the errors and folly of people which have devastated the priceless treasure of music (as they have devastated other priceless treasures). Therefore, if people’s mistakes have ruined music, the only reparations can be found through people’s well directed and well intentioned labor.

This is about hard choices and tough love. This is about what happens when we leave the irresponsibility of childhood behind and accept the terms and conditions of adulthood.

As children, we accept no responsibility for our actions and therefore, we truly have no power. In adulthood, by accepting responsibility for our actions, we attain the power to act accordingly.

As adults, we not only have the power to build anything, we have the power to fix anything that we break. With the attainment of that power, we can no longer look to others to solve our problems.

And now, the time has come to grow up, be proactive and fix things ourselves.

By choosing to be proactive in order to fix something broken, it is reasonable to suggest we are also subconsciously recognizing the degree of our own complicity in how that thing became broken. By recognizing our contribution (no matter how miniscule the contribution may be) to the state of all things, we are likewise declaring our adulthood and accepting responsibility.

Proactive behavior can be seen, therefore, as a dual acknowledgement of how badly we can screw things up and how much power we have to fix them.

But, if the time has come to be proactive, why is absolutely no one accepting any degree of accountability or personal responsibility for how wrong (and how broken) things have become?

Why isn’t anyone attempting to find practical solutions which can have positive long range effects for artists (and everyone else)?

One obvious solution would be to stop making awful music.

Usually, when a product is perceived in the public eye to be of an inferior quality, those who manufacture it feel compelled to fix the problem by improving the product. Although this would appear to be common sense, such quaint ideas have been completely ignored by those who navigate the music business.

Instead, these captains of our industry continue to churn out their substandard, highly derivative product, not under the aegis of quality but in the interest of total saturation.

What once was birthed from the loving labor of gifted craftsmen is now fabricated on assembly-lines by unskilled workers and marginal technicians. As a result, instead of receiving the sustenance that only music can offer, the world is bombarded with a steady stream of garbage lacking in substance, purpose or sustenance.

What once nourished us, is now indeed, destroying us. Contemporary popular music is now the auditory and cultural equivalent of fast food.

And, for those in the periphery, (record producers, managers, lawyers, etc) the writing is on the wall.

We watch transfixed in horror as our former income streams evaporate at light speed. Not so coincidentally, there is a growing number of “music business professionals” trying to reinvent their businesses (and rebuild their cash flow).

Terror has inflamed us. It gnaws at us and we begin to act like wild animals, even while we conceal our true nature behind a glittering veneer of respectability.

Is there any other reason why the Grammy Awards seem to get more overblown each year as record sales dwindle precariously?

That rabid, panic driven compulsion to generate as much luchre as one can is nothing more than grist for the mediocrity mill. Fear can always be counted on to drive people to become obtuse, insignificant and average.

Fear is a parasite- a virus born of and compounded by fear. It breeds and replicates itself.

And fear, born of irresponsibility and poor decision-making has inevitably set off a lethal domino effect (which has thereby, caused the most sane amongst us to behave with complete disregard for rationale).

This dreadful cycle has already nourished itself sufficiently. It is now a self-sustaining continuum gaining strength and speed from moment to moment as it spirals out of control

There is no other way to put it. It’s all gone completely wrong.

Hence, this manifesto. I will next define my position by presenting some issues in question and then, some premises for the resolution of these issues.

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About Michael J. Beinhorn

I've been producing, directing, analyzing, arranging, writing, rewriting, programming, engineering, orchestrating, performing and mixing music for 35 years. I also make illustrations and just became an author.
This entry was posted in Music, Music Business, Pop Music, Popular Music, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to What I’m Doing About It (My Manifesto) Pt 1

  1. Wicked Mike says:

    The state of music is the product of poor society. Human beings (their opinions, their likes and dislikes, their very selves) have, for the most part, become products. Growing a child equates to an assembly line completed in apathy. And that Apathy is so enormous it’s impossible for to defeat. If a tsunami approaches you would it help to put on a brave face and give it the middle finger? Of course not!

    We cannot fix music without fixing society. We need to put the “human” back into Humanity. But i f fear that that won’t work without revolution, the one things that history assures us will happen. Society always breaks down and when budding it looks for meaning so as to cope with loss rather than a belief in future. Unfortunately, we’re living in the crashing part. All we can do is build refuge, find common souls that appreciate damn fine music and support those that deliver it to us.

    And, contradicting you, there has been fine music. There always will be. It’s just not listened to by the masses.

    • Mike-

      I appreciate your thoughts. My sense is that trying to fix society at the broadest possible level is nearly an impossible task. The primary means to do that (considering the state of things) would be total revolution. Historically, insurrectionists are not appreciated and looked upon as madmen, as opposed to agents of positive change.

      There is no political solution (or one arrived at via force). This is why a more subtle agent of change (which has also been an integral part of every human society for eons) is a means to exact change. Obviously, this would be music.

      As far as music goes, I would say that there may be fine music being made. However, I don’t feel any of it is truly great. There are multitudes of talented people in the world (many of whom are actually making pop records- as well as underground music), however, there is nothing expressive about any of their output. Personal expression is the essence of what makes music unique to an individual. It not only defines the individual- it is the direct access to their very soul.

      There is no contemporary music (of any kind) which is truly expressive. If this not the case, then where are the artists who are capable of rousing the human soul? Why isn’t music still the viable instrument of change that it used to be? Artists like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones provided the soundtrack for an entire generation- why is there no one now who can do the same thing (even on an indie level)? Where is music which can convey the same raw beauty and emotion as that of a Baptist shout, Ethiopian polyphonic singing or an old blues song?

      It is obscured because the emotional intensity (and expressive component) of current contemporary music is utterly diluted compared to that of other periods. The issue with this runs deeper than mere artistry- it is societal. It goes back to the apathy you described in your email.

      This means that if music is emotionless, lack of emotion is a by product of apathy and apathy is rampant in society (as well as in the artistic community) then the artists themselves are at the effect of apathy (as well as everything else).

      Since apathy is a primary symptom of what ails music (as well as society), it seems logical that one should select the smaller of the two venues to address (especially since both also exist symbiotically with one another). If people making music are clear that something is missing (but unclear about what that is), it further seems logical that this can’t be addressed pedantically. Instead, it is necessary to create new contexts and new points of reference to help them understand and reconnect with themselves.

      As I’ve stated in my blog post, that is my commitment.

      -Michael

      • wickedmike says:

        You realize the mountain you’re about to climb so salutes to you! That trip can’t be a lonely one if you’re to get to the top. Many souls to find.

        As for the music, bands like The Beatles always seem to be a similar reference. It was a different world then. There were far less bands! But i can agree in that emotions are core. Fear, love, happiness, aspiration, hope, joy and hate etc. never change…and it’s to that which music has to direct itself. Popular music has to become more “simple”.

  2. Mikael says:

    I do believe that some transcendent music has been made. It’s being made constantly. It’s just not being produced or marketed for common consumption. Whether this is a function of a numbed public or a jaded industry, I do not know. I do know that artists and producers and microlabels perpetually toil on the fringes with little regard for sales figures in order to perpetuate Craftsmanship… a concept which has all but disappeared from nearly all sectors of our society.

  3. Pingback: The Death of Modern Music? | Wicked Mike

  4. wickedmike says:

    After i read your first installment, i posted a blog about it and included the links. Today i came back to read parts 2 and 3 but found that they do not exist. I think that you may have scheduled them for future dates which is why they appear live to you and not to everyone else. I could not find your contact form which is why i post here.

    • Mike-

      Thanks so much for posting my link in your blog. After posting all three parts, I realized that I’d serialized the post for a reason and that the point would be better made if I added them weekly.

      -Michael

  5. avataria says:

    i’m with you, let’s do this.

  6. Brian Kehew says:

    I look forward to reading (and digesting all of this). We think alike – a fear and goal-oriented thing has happened. Both kill off freedom and creativity.

    I also agree about ACTION. Time to do things, sponsor and create greater art. Not for success, but so that it exists (period) and can be used as an example, to lead and inspire other great art.

  7. Chris Shaw says:

    It’s all about the money unfortunately. ‘Tis easier to manufacture the swill that the business requires and take the money than to create truly great art and convince them that it is great, marketable, and profitable. At the moment it is the only way that many of us can survive.

    When the business went into it’s current death spiral (thank you, Shaun Fanning), artists, producers, and record labels jumped on every little short lived fad until it was completely milked and moved on to the next one. Ten years later and the current crop of adolescents have no clue as to what great music is. There have been a few positive trends – the current crop of music video games expose them to better music that they never would have listened to before, but this is a case of too little too late.

    I advocate the things you are proposing – and are about to propose, but I feel that it should be a simultaneous top-down and bottom-up approach; eviscerating the middle men. It is the middle where the greatest entropy, malaise, cluelessness , and fear of change lie. These people care for nothing else than the security of their job. There are many at the top who are old enough to have a clue but are beholden to their shareholders. I think they want to make great records but won’t. Connect them to the artist directly, pair them with a great producer, invest in them heavily, take chances, and watch magic happen.

    How many records have we done that have been shelved because they were deemed too risky, against current trends, or too far to the left of where the artist is currently at? How many have been ruined because of inadequate budgets and meaningless deadlines? Why must we compromise the sonic integrity of an album because there’s no money to work in a proper mix room, delegating it to be mathematically blended by somebody (or ourselves) “in the box”? In this day and age of everyone demanding pristine video (1080p, HD, surround, 3D) why are we settling for lossy MP3s?

    Finally, just because you have the ability to make music and serve it up to the public doesn’t mean you should. As it was said, the true definition of a gentleman is one that can play accordion, but doesn’t. We need better A&R (in the truest sense of the word).

    Sharpen your swords, let’s make a change.

    -Sorry to hijack the comments thread but you touched a nerve. Great commentary Michael.

    • Chris-

      It is a pleasure to see people as inspired and passionate as yourself putting their feelings into words. Thanks for your commentary and for being so committed.

      It’s time to join forces and start implementing our ideas.

      -Michael

  8. Pingback: The Death of Modern Music? #1 | WICKED ROCK

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