Wednesday, September 27, 2006

One-Hit Wonders, the Wave of the Future

I alluded to this in one of my pointless musings, but the current state of the music world is really starting to bother me. Due to numerous factors, many of which I'm admittedly not even familiar with, the quality of albums and singles in general seems to be declining. In fact, I'm finding myself tuning to classic rock stations more often in an attempt to get away from the audible crap that is being piped over our airwaves.

As I mentioned in my pointless musing, the great Bob Dylan even pointed out that modern music is mostly crap. Now, while he went so far as to say the last 20 years have been mostly crap, I'm only going to claim the last four or five. Mostly, since the turn of the century.

Before everyone starts jumping on me, I'm not claiming that all music is garbage... just a lot of it. A higher proportion of it than there used to be. Yes, we still have our superstars knocking out decent to great hits, we still have our "rookies of the year" blowing us away with startling debuts, and we still have our underground movements pushing the mainstream to the brink of experimentation. But... we also have a lot of crap. A lot of it. Usually it goes by the moniker "emo" or some such variation, but they're hardly the sole culprit, and some of it is even quite good.

Here are some of the problems my barely educated opinion has identified:

The proliferation of digital downloads. This is actually coming to a head with the recording industry, as various musical artists are arguing that the art of the album is disappearing from mainstream music. "Albums tell a story" is usually what is said, but again, this statement normally comes from established, "artistic" musicians. The digital era lets us buy music one song at a time, making the necessity of creating 10 to 12 solid tracks less necessary. A band can shoot to stardom with one solid single, and quite a bit of the time, newer bands seem to release "albums" with one absolutely kick-ass track, a couple of good to okay ones, and a ton of crap (OK Go comes to mind, and I'm actually a fan). And, because of the digital era bringing in digital distribution, more and more bands can pull a Kinks on us and just release a ton of stuff, hoping that a few of the songs catch on (sorry, Kinks, I love you, but it's true).

Here's the biggie... I have a lot of friends who are in bands at the moment, several of them signed, close to being signed, or otherwise on their way. Their main problem? They can't read music. Seriously. Now, I understand that talent and "ear" go a long way towards making a rockin' song, but not being able to read music? This is, most likely, the single most predominant reason that modern bands become one-hit wonders. They can knock out that one rockin' song, but lack the musical knowledge to create a distinctly different follow up.

See, how it normally works is that "jam bands" improvise their songs together. But after a while, their improv loses variety (as improv usually does) and everything starts sounding the same. Take my favorite band, U2. Early on, they weren't all that great at reading music, and most of their stuff sounded the same (the stuff that didn't benefited from having Steve Lillywhite onboard). By the Unforgettable Fire album, however, they took the time to learn formal music, and soon gave us The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, two very different albums that benefited from studying music, not just emulating it.

Jazz and Blues fans know what I'm talking about. The stuff that's "jammed" usually sounds the same, and it takes performance and talent to give it that nuance that makes one Jazz/Blues song different from another. But... it still sounds quite a bit alike. However, for Jazz and Blues, this is usually the point, as John Fogerty has testified to. For modern pop and rock, this only leads to disaster. That one hit, followed by a slow fade into obscurity, playing local bars and colleges to your fans who are probably your drinking buddies anyway.

So, come on, people now, smile on your brother and learn how to read music. Learn how to properly write music. Study the shit... that's what will let you avoid being some flash in the pan. That's what will make you great.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely! I studied classical music as part of my training as a violinist.
One of the downfalls of my band was the fact that they couldn't read music. I did teach them some basic ear training, and it improved their performances dramatically.
About U2 - you're correct again! Their music did get better.
I'm doing the same thing that you are: not listening to commercial music and going for the classic rock stations.
Even Mr. Bowie (my hero!) appears to be creating the same-old-same-old.
Scary, isn't it?

Posted by Manda on October 8, 2006 - Sunday - 6:31 AM

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