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.