As an amateur guitar player myself I can say that few things bother me more than the world of professional music. It just seems to be upside down as the title of this article would suggest. This was brought home to me some time back when I was invited by some friends to a free concert played at a local bar in Kansas City. Samantha Fish was playing, whom I, like most of you probably, had never heard of. Here’s one of her songs and you can see her website here.
While listening to her I couldn’t help but think “why isn’t this girl famous?” She’s got a great voice and is wicked good at the guitar (check out the solo at 3:49) and even the most superficial, Hollywood types have to admit she’s quite pretty.
I don’t mean to say that the likes of Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Britney Spears and Taylor Swift are hacks. They can sing. Some, such as Adele, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera have exceptional voices. Hell, some of them even help writing the songs they play (which you think would be mandatory, but whatever). Still, virtually all of them are really just beautiful people with good singing voices and a bit of charisma too, I guess.
Try counting the number of different chords you hear in the average pop song. You’ll be lucky if you get past four. Indeed, there’s probably a reason for this beyond simple laziness. I suspect a song that’s musically complicated is actually harder to get stuck in someone’s head and probably less catchy in a superficial sense. Maybe there’s something genius about the layered simplicity of modern pop music. If nothing else, these dime-a-dozen, corporately regurgitated beats can certainly be good to dance to if that’s your sort of thing.
But marketing genius aside, it does seem that musical quality has taken a turn for the worse. Yes, art is all subjective and maybe I just got a thing for bluesy rock (and pretty girls who play guitar) but is anyone going to seriously say that Katy Perry is more talented than Samantha Fish?
At least on the consumer end, there’s more music of every imaginable style available than ever before. One interesting report noted arguing against the idea of cultural decline noted that “The music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven is more accessible to today’s listeners than it was to the listeners of the 18th and 19th century.” True, but that’s not really the issue at hand. Perhaps, the very accessibility of such music is the reason why the likes of Mozart and Beethoven have been replaced with the likes of Perry and Spears.
Without attempting to sound like an elitist snob, music and other arts have very likely seen a decline because of the mass appeal an advanced society provides. Most music wasn’t recorded back in the day and thereby the more pop –like songs were just played at local taverns and events and lost or forgotten to history. Only the best music and that which appealed to the most affluent was kept for posterity. But the modern ability to record and disseminate so much media has flooded the market with, well, the musical version of stuff.
With the utter saturation of art in the world today–music being but one example–marketers must try to build a brand around individual singers and bands. Justin Bieber certainly doesn’t appear to me to be exceptionally talented, but he can mix simple, recycled but relatively catchy beats with a very well-refined brand name that provides plenty of material for mindless tabloids and Access Hollywood drivel. And that sells regardless of what sort of crap he puts on her records (of which, there is, unfortunately, much evidence to attest to).
Indeed, back in the day, musicians had a relatively safe profession. There were gigs all over the place. Then some asshole invented a way to record music and all of a sudden the celebrity culture was born. On the one hand you have Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake making tens of millions of dollars. On the other, you have some down-and-out garage band trying to sell CDs they burned at home after a concert they played in some hole-in-the-wall bar on a Friday night to a bunch of disinterested yuppies.
Thus cult of personality became more important than talent. Maybe this is just the downside of an otherwise great thing; technology. But it’s at least worth pointing out that there is something is seriously wrong with who makes it and who doesn’t in the world of music.