Friday, December 15

What Happened to Our Music?

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I’m watching an old music video on YouTube of The Gap Band performing “Party Train”.  When I was a kid I was too young to truly enjoy their music, and a lot of it I took for granted because there was a hundred groups like The Gap Band.  I don’t think that funk music ever received what it was due; at the time a lot of people hated it because it was not as refined as other forms of popular music and clearly, not as complex as what the singer/songwriters were doing but that was the entire point of it.  Just a great time, on a sunny day, in what looks like somewhere in old Los Angeles where the party never stopped.

The actual song goes on for 1:30, and the other three minutes was a never ending chorus, typical of most funk songs.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not 50, I’m only 38 and clearly, I would not have been out there with them.  But music is universal, and a good tune is a good tune.  For some funk may have been the intersection of the best of rhythm and blues, with the party culture of rock and roll, it was an interesting time in music.  It would be easier to lament the changes in popular music with the ascent of rap, but that argument has already been heard 20 years ago.  The problem is not the genre of music, it is that music in general, seems to have lost the originality, innocence, and plain out ignorance that made it great.

Yes I said ignorance, because imperfect ideas are some of the best ideas.  I am not suggesting that there weren’t artists, writers and producers that manipulated formulas to make great music.  But I think that American pop culture had an energy during the seventies and eighties that made music great, and we have never found a way to duplicate it.  Music today is in your face, repetitive, and it wins you over after hearing it thousands of times.  You have to promote it strategically, throw millions of dollars into expensive music videos and top notch producers, use product tie ins, sitcom tie ins, movie tie ins, the Internet and you still may not get anywhere if you do not use guerrilla tactics to get the word out there.

I do not discount songwriters like Taylor Swift.  But there used to be a thousand artists like her that seriously had to compete against each other, and even then, it seemed as though there was only room for the best, not the best marketing, not the best promotion, but the best.  Party Train, while number 3 on the rhythm and blues charts, had only reached number 101 on the US charts.  That means that the song was rejected by and large at the time, except for fans of the genre.  Yet the song seems a hundred times better than any of the overproduced songs on the radio today.  Things are easier from a technological standpoint; you do not need a major studio and can do everything on your PC if you know what you are doing and just use the Internet.  The threshold is a lot lower and you can be heard, even if you do suck, and that is great.  But somehow I just feel that we are listening to a lot of artists that suck, and that the artists that are on the radio are not necessarily any better than anyone else, but better promoted.

What is funny to me is why music has to be so difficult in the first place?  Pop music today is not anything that it wasn’t back in the fifties; the sounds may have changed, but the techniques haven’t.  Is it the labels, are they out of touch with what is going on?  Good music exists, but it exists outside of the mainstream on someone’s computer or in some whole in the wall establishment that is far from corporate media.  A lot of times less is more, that was the genius of funk music, and one of the reasons why you can listen to those mindless tunes today …


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