Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Musicianship and the Music Business

A lot of what you read about music in the mass media is flat-out depressing, but sometimes a ray of light shines through. This article on The Smart Set is titled Does the Music Business Need Musicianship? and it is actually pretty good. The hook is what has been happening to MTV, but the story is wider than that:
MTV is a good symbol for the larger crisis in music. That network set the tone years ago for a glamor-driven music business, built on pizzazz and personalities instead of musicianship. That paradigm is now deeply entrenched in the entire industry. And it doesn’t seem to work anymore.
MTV was always ambivalent about that M, and enamored with the TV part of its acronym. From the moment of its inception, MTV worked relentlessly to downplay the role of musicianship in music. No organization in history has done more to turn music into performance art, and put the people making the actual sounds out of sight. And not just those playing traditional instruments — tell me how often you see the programmers and beat-makers behind today’s pop hits in a video, or even given credit for their contributions.
And as I have written about many times, this shallow, glitzy approach has leached into the classical music business as well (cough*Yuja Wang*cough).
This formula of glamor-driven pop music has enjoyed an amazing run. For more than 30 years, success at the highest levels of the music business has demanded very little grasp of music. With the right look, the right camera angles, and the right booty . . . well, almost anything was possible.
The astonishing trajectory of popular music beginning with Elvis and the Beatles has led inevitably to, shudder, Nikki Minaj:


(Blogger won't embed the original.) For a truly biting bit of criticism, I doubt you could do better than Ozzie Man. But, warning, the commentary is larded with strong language:


After pointing out that the younger listeners basically don't pay for music any more--they would rather spend the money on shoes--the article mentions that the old guys, the Stones, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, are still notching up pretty good sales, but their audiences are as old as they are. The article laments:
Believe it or not, there is no hot superstar guitarist under the age of 30. There is no next Hendrix. There is no next Clapton. Oh, there are plenty of fine young guitarists out there, but none of them can get the kind of media platform necessary for true superstardom in the year 2016. Mull that over, and think about the implications. The same is true for keyboards, drums, and even all those software programs that create the fabric of contemporary pop music.
I really don't know if that is true as I don't follow pop music that closely, but it certainly seems to be the case that all the young stars are singers. But, and this may speak well for the future health of the music business, there are plenty of up and coming young classical artists. I've been raving about Igor Levit lately, but he is not the only one. There are a host of young violinists like Hilary Hahn:

Other pianists like Daniil Trifonov:

Not to mention the ones that have, just a bit, edged into glamour territory like Yuja Wang:

and Khatia Buniatishvili:

So maybe the strong foundation that classical music has of actual musicianship will serve it very well in coming years.


Jives said...

omg, wow! Just took some time to listen to the Chopin by Khatia B. Riveting, so supple and thoughtful, heartfelt without being hammy. I'm going to seek out some more of her.

Bryan Townsend said...

One of her better performances.