Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Saving Music?

Here's a really horrifying article from Wired about music that misuses two crucial words: "music" and "save". The title is "Relentless", which already seems unpromising. A sample:
Some music executives want to help talented artists reach their natural audience, no matter how small. Iovine is not among them. He’s after the kind of massive flash points that unite populations around the world and change not just what they listen to but how they dress and move and behave and think and live.
So he wants to repeat the 60s, it seems. The only "massive flash point" in music that I can think of was the entry of the Beatles on the scene in the early 60s that, due to several factors, of which the most important was simply the baby boom, caused an enormous upheaval in music. Before them, believe it or not, Van Cliburn could outsell Elvis Presley. After the Beatles, and all the bands that followed them like the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Grateful Dead and a host of others, popular music was an economic heavyweight. But it all comes back to a huge demographic bulge in society of gazillions of young teens with money in their pocket.

Mind you, the article sets the bar a tad lower by crediting Iovine with four smaller flash points, or as I would prefer to call them, "trends in musical style":
By his count, Iovine has pulled this off four times over the past couple of decades by (1) introducing the world to Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and Chronic-era Dr. Dre, (2) shepherding the careers of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, (3) giving Eminem his start, and (4) creating Beats, the hardware company that turned headphones into a fashion accessory and today accounts for 34 percent of US stereo headphone sales.
So now we know who to blame! But never mind, the article points out that the environment is not as congenial to music as it was:
Teenagers used to fantasize about becoming the next Jimmy Page; now they dream of becoming the next Larry Page. They wax nostalgic about the first time they used Snapchat, not the first time they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
“If you tell a kid, ‘You’ve got to pick music or Instagram,’ they’re not picking music,” Iovine says. “There was a time when, for anybody between the ages of 15 and 25, music was one, two, and three. It’s not anymore.”
Now this is a real puzzler: after a few decades of shameless manipulation of the market (as described in the article) and of the relentless industrialization of music (one hint is the fact that it is universally referred to these days as "the music industry") and of ignoring talented artists in favor of easily marketed showmen (and women) music just means less to the listeners. Instead of something that used to speak to their souls, now it is the background to a car commercial or brassiere advertisement. An earlier generation may have tried to speak from the heart, this generation just wants to shake a booty.

People like Jimmy Iovine are shaping the music business today. Regarding how he promoted his headphone company Beats before selling it to Apple for $3 billion:
What’s not debatable is Beats’ popularity. Like the iPod, its success owes as much to design and marketing as to tech specs. As with The Chronic, Iovine and his partners waged a scorched-earth campaign across the media landscape, methodically hacking Beats into the public consciousness and dropping culture-jamming hints at every opportunity. They signed up a network of high-profile endorsements—including LeBron James, Richard Sherman, and Nicki Minaj., to whom Iovine granted an ownership stake, wore a nonworking prototype around his neck during an interview with Larry King and wormed a reference into the Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow.”
That has nothing to do with music but everything to do with promotion. This might sound like a good thing:
With Beats, Iovine doubled down on the idea of expert curation, assembling a team of music-industry veterans to custom-build playlists to guide listeners through the chaos of an unbridled music catalog.
But I profoundly doubt that this "curation" will actually promote aesthetic quality. Hey, it's all about design and marketing and flash points and moving the needle of popular culture and a dozen other empty buzz words.

Wow, does this ever have nothing to do with music!

So, after decades of this, is it any wonder that young people really couldn't care less about music?


Rickard Dahl said...

Many reviewers have said that Beats headphones are of low sound quality and overpriced. Beats are maybe 90% about marketing and 10% about technology. They are cheap to manufacture so the profit margin is large. It's just a clever marketing strategy and people are stupid enough to fall for it. By the way, have you seen the movie Idiocracy? I've decided to watch it yesterday after hearing it mentioned many times. It's exaggerated (as you can expect from a comedy, especially a sci-fi comedy) but I think it cleverly reflects upon the dumbing down of society.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, I was tempted to include a quote that mentions the criticism of the quality of the headphones, but it seemed unnecessary!

I watched a couple of clips from Idiocracy the other day.

Christine Lacroix said...

You might find this presentation about 'dumbing down' interesting:

Christine Lacroix said...

You might find this presentation about 'dumbing down' interesting: