It's kinda like waking up just this morning, and realizing that this George W. Bush fellow is not quite the "uniter" he claims to be. Ordinarily one might be forgiven for this bit of selective oversight, but Selvin seems to be lamenting the slow, sad demise of a past that never really was.
Oh, please. True pop music has always been a confectioner's contrivance; it's always been marketed to the nth degree by corporate assholes who only like music they know they can sell. It's marketed as wallpaper because that's what the average consumer utilizes it as. Average people are not musicians or even music lovers. They are music likers, music enjoyers. They're looking for something that's bland and inoffensive, catchy to the point of being obnoxious but also eminently forgettable, just as companies look for tunes they can rent in order to sell cheeseburgers and tampons.
There is a lot of great pop music over the years that wasn't compromised through the corporate meat-grinder, but when was the last time you heard a radio station play, say, XTC or Elvis Costello? Even the lame-ass Eighties stations don't bother with those guys; they're too busy wanking it to the camp value of Kajagoogoo and Blondie.
I hadn't really thought a whole hell of a lot about how I personally find and consume my musical entertainment choices, but the last few weeks at work have forced me to consider the process. Since I had my own office, I could listen to whatever I wanted, so it was always stuff I liked, a mix of old and new, brought in from home and loaded onto my work computer. Easy enough.
Occasionally I would tune to a niche station on the internets, but I've found that in the office and in the car, I prefer having control over what I listen to. Life is too short to sit through five-minute commercial breaks bookending the ten-thousandth iteration of either a new single in heavy rotation, or a "classic" from a band that really just insults that band by distilling its entire output to one or two songs. I shit you not, radio people -- Black Sabbath did plenty of good songs besides just War Pigs and Iron Man. And nobody needs or wants to hear anything from Steve Miller more than once or twice a decade at this point. True fuckin' story. I got yer pompatus right here, bub.
Being out in the facility the last few weeks, listening to the blaring of the radio, has only confirmed my loathing for radio in general. Tedious morning-zoo programs, full of the same tittering sexual double-entendres and fart jokes, again loaded with commercials. Funny for the first half-hour; three hours is overkill. Then when the music finally starts, it turns out that the Zoo Crew was actually the highlight of the day.
Doesn't matter what station it is. Again, classic rock churns ancient bands with enormous catalogs down to their one or two "signature" tracks, again to the detriment of everything else. Over....and over....and fucking over again. The "heavy" station is okay, but operates with its own set of narrow constraints -- they'll play Tool and Metallica and Slipknot and System of a Down all day, but still have yet to take a shot at proven up-and-comers such as, for example, Mastodon or Opeth. Hell, they hardly even play Motörhead, or any Maiden besides The Trooper or Run to the Hills. Corporate pussies, I tells ya.
And what passes for r&b or whatever it's called today makes me sick to my stomach, and I grew up listening to Al Green and Stevie Wonder. Buncha clowns who can't write or sing, slapping indistinguishable, tuneless catch-phrases around stolen snippets of actual decent songs. And those stations, when they say heavy rotation, they don't fuck around; you could easily hear the same song four or five times in an eight-hour shift. Pathetic, and just about right for their short-bus target demo. If I wanted to listen to Kanye all goddamned day, I'd....well, I'd jump off a fuckin' bridge, frankly.
Perhaps the worst offenders are the "mix" stations, the ones who pretend to have an everything-to-everyone playlist, and manage to fuck even that miserable goal up royally. True story: Other than its use in a local commercial and a parody on The Office, I had never heard that Mambo #2 (or whatever the hell it's called) thing before. Well, the "mix" decided to play it one fine morning, because apparently some closet-case out there needed a novelty track to get through the day, and Macarena would have been a bridge too far.
So I listened -- well, half-listened. Dear God, what is with people? How does something like that even get on the radio in the first place, much less sell product? This thing is the cultural artifact of a severely maladjusted society. I would run out of synonyms for "awful" and "shitty" trying to express my distaste, so instead I would sum it up with an entirely different word -- lazy -- to describe this thing. The verse is pretty much the same nursery-rhyme "melody" as the chorus, and the chorus, much like the title, has utterly no meaning. Folks, this is not music; it's not even wallpaper. The Human League were better than this, and I would rather have a wart on my cock than listen to the Human League. The only thing worse than bad music is boring music.
So of course this faggot "mix" station played the mambo song again the next fuckin' day, at which point I just flipped it over to classic-rock purgatory, where Steve Miller and Tom Petty drink my milkshake every hour or so. Fun times. No wonder people are so neurotic -- they're being force-fed this toxic dreck day after miserable day, each worse than the one before. I'm starting to get the appeal of talk radio.
Now, I think my little digression, however intemperate, is illustrative of the syndrome here, and it's a two-stage syndrome at that. Radio has been niched and heavy-rotated into irrelevance as a genuine mode of promoting and disseminating significant amounts of new musical product. Only a few truly new tracks, regardless of genre, get premiered in a given week, and their rotation rates come at the expense of other potential newcomers.
It has always been thus, of course, but niching has amplified the shut-out rate, it seems. That is, since every new single is only going to be allowed to play on one niche station in a given market, with no crossover to speak of, if a more established band takes a coveted rotation slot, the other band loses its chance for exposure, unless a DJ on a more flexible shift takes notice and finds a spot. And this, friends 'n' neighbors, has been the vaunted industry's promotion model.
The other part of the syndrome, naturally, is the major labels. You could remove illegal downloading from the equation, and they'd still be taking it in the shorts here, because they have little to offer anymore. Where labels once offered financing, production facilities, promotion, and distribution, about all they can do now is increase your profile and bankroll you on tour. Big fuckin' deal -- you can pull a higher margin self-producing your music and your swag and touring the clubs, and you don't have to worry about some cokehead A&R jagoff recouping his 5% out of your end and hosing you out of your royalties and/or your publishing.
Between that and the labels' hideous revenue model, they're lucky people buy anything from them. We're talking about people who kicked down 80 million bucks for one-note jokers like R.E.M. and Mariah Carey; they wouldn't know a pig in a poke if it bit 'em in the ass. And all that money, the huge signing bonuses and promo budgets of the '80s and '90s, came at the expense of other, smaller bands. Again, that's not a revenue or promotional model worth preserving. Didn't these chumps ever hear of diversifying their portfolios?
They're buggy-whip manufacturers, and it's because of their own greed as much as technology. You can only get away with screwing people out of twenty bucks for three decent songs for so long. Eventually they figure out how Limewire and iTunes work. The final nail in the coffin is mp3s killing of CDs, and thus the "album", so it's really back to the singles model of the '50s and '60s. Plus ça change and all.
And while I'm old enough to remember and appreciate the era when rock was spectacle, when Zeppelin could draw 80,000 people to Long Beach arena to watch twenty-minute drum solos and violin-bowed guitar interludes, when teenagers grabbed an eighth and a fifth, piled into TransAms and went to Cobo Hall to hook up in the parking lot and watch Gene Simmons breathe fire, I also know that that time is done. Modern stadium shows are priced for yupsters and their spoiled progeny, safe, sane, predictable outings with predictable set lists, with six-dollar bottles of water and ten-dollar glow sticks, and the act plays the songs exactly like on the mp3, suspiciously so. Packaged rebellion, as the song says. People who actually want to listen to music, as opposed to be at an "event", go to smaller venues.
Selvin's right about how many, maybe most, long-lived bands would never get signed these days. Record companies were actually pretty decent about letting bands take four or five albums to hit their stride and find their voice. Obviously that's done as well, but that's been done for a long, long time, even before big bad Napster changed the game. The first harbinger of the change was, believe it or not, the success of hair metal in the late '80s. Even worse was the impact of boy bands.
What do those two genres have as a common target demo? Teenaged girls, the most fickle niche market evah. Brilliant. The quick and easy success of these cheesy paint-by-numbers pasticheurs was a clear signal to the marketing assholes that they could go back to the Brill Building ethos of safe, quick, assembly-line product made to order by trained professionals. And the same technological strides that gave them Pro Tools, smoothing out every tone-deaf voice-cracker in order to further accessorize spoiled mallrats, also refined the production/promotion/distribution model to the advantage of actual musicians, who would no longer have to go into hock to some thieving marketing douche just to make an album or play some shows.
That's really the beauty of it -- the labels either don't get or refuse to admit just how much they cut their own throats. But the fact is that much of their product is overpriced crap, and the actual musicians who couldn't catch a break with the majors can now compete with them on a more level playing field.
It doesn't matter that the Talking Heads or whoever couldn't get signed these days by the majors, just as it doesn't matter that their onanistic award ceremonies are even more pointless and self-indulgent than ever. They're dinosaurs sinking into tar pits. The mammals are taking over, and the chaos of a million garage bands, not having to worry about corporate pinheads or bullshit trends, is truly democratized bliss.
I like today's fractal cultures, the constant dissemination and exchange of new ideas and new sounds and songs, just as much as I enjoyed the larger commonality of the past. It's a technology-fueled maturation of the process that's better for musicians and the music they create. The remaining majors will consolidate and retrench in swag and tour promotion, where the margins have always been better in the first place. Musicians get to do exactly what they want, which is why we picked up our instruments in the first place. That and chicks.