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Musicnomics Part II: Decline and Fall

So a while back I wrote an article about the wacky world of music where talent is ignored in favor of prepackaged, overproduced tweenie heart throbs and beauty queens who have little discernible talent other than a voice that would typically rank around 7 to 8 on a scale from 1 to 10. I have a friend who’s in a very good band called The Hoons. Quite a few have commented that they should be famous or that they will soon become famous… You know, when people realize they’re really good. Unfortunately, since being good is not a qualifier for musical fame, I would hesitate to make such predictions.

The problem is this; people really like music and thereby many will dedicate themselves to it even if the odds of financial windfall are small. Who wouldn’t rather be a musician than say, an insurance salesmen? Thus, there are a lot of really talented musicians and bands out there and they get lost in a sea of other music. The market is over saturated. Whereas there is probably plenty of room for improvement regarding the talent of insurance salesmen.  This may have not been the case in the past as much, but it certainly is now. People can only keep so many bands in their heads at any given time. Dunbar’s number dictates human beings can only conceptualize something like 150 people as friends or acquaintances of note. Everyone else is a number. I suspect our tolerance for musicians and bands is substantially smaller.

Record companies know this, so they’re not really selling music, they’re selling a brand. Why do you think every movie that comes out today is a remake/reboot/reimagining/sequel/spinoff/prequel or adaption of a TV show, video game or at least a book (which seems to be becoming more and more rare). The established brand helps guarantee that the $100 million or so the studio dumps into filming our 2 hours of escapism will come to the top of the enormous mound of garbage begging for our attention (and money). And so it goes with music, just make a smaller investment up front and try to sell a charismatic and attractive “musician” who can technically sing and maybe dance a little. Then sell them songs written by someone else (or something else) that have been scientifically tested to be as catchy (and empty) as possible. While the songs are often overproduced, they are also simple, with very few and very predictable chord changes. This makes them easy to dance to, sing along with and get caught in the head. Throw all that together with said “artist” and boom, a famous musician is born… or probably more accurately designed, tested, manufactured and marketed.

This all makes me rather sad. But at least I could console myself that we had so much music at our disposal anyone could dig through and find stuff that is actually of quality. The production side may be an upside down mess, but the consumption side is an oyster or smorgasbord or something like that.

Then I had a recent conversation with my guitar teacher (who is very good musician, and of course, not famous). He mentioned that in Mozart’s day, he was well known for his operas no his symphonies. At the time, operas were the music of the masses. Lawrence Edelson describes it as follows:

The opera house was the first musical institution to open its doors to the general public. The first opera house was opened in Venice in 1637, presenting commercial opera and run for profit!  …It offered new entertainment to anyone who could afford a ticket.  By the end of the seventeenth century, Venice had sixteen opera houses open to the general public. [Bold in original]

Can you imagine Joe Shmoe or some trailer park rednecks going to the opera today? Or maybe some wanksta’s: “Yo Homie, let’s get hella faded and then catch some Pavarotti up in this hizzie!” Sorry, I digress. Sure, it’s great that the masses had a form of entertainment available to them they hadn’t previously had. Indeed, Edelson notes the [positive] change that was starting to take off in the early to mid 1800’s, “During the first half of the nineteenth century, “new forms of popular culture were developing as the industrial revolution generated the two preconditions for mass entertainment: mass production and a mass audience. “

That is great. The problem, is that today opera is considered the music of the snobby elite. It’s classy music meant for a more sophisticated audience. So opera went from being a music for the general public, to a music for the elite. My guitar teacher is convinced this is the trend throughout time, and unfortunately, he’s probably right.

Jazz and blues’s were both considered to be the music of “bars and brothels” during the early 20th century. Now they’re classic. The Beatles made mindless, pop music, now they’re the epitome of classic rock and hugely respected as musicians. And I should note, while I do like the Beatles, the simplicity of their songs and the ease with which they are too play, is rather astounding.

OK fine, I like blues and jazz and the Beatles are OK. And I don’t particularly like opera. In fact, I don’t like it at all. But look where this trend is going! Liberals may worry about leaving a wrecked planet to their children (or maybe I should say child…) and conservatives worry about leaving a massive debt. But we can both agree we shouldn’t be leaving Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to our children… dammit, too late… to our children’s children. They’re popularity should die with us.

Unfortunately, it seems we are intent on justifying our hormonally influenced adolescent musical preferences in adulthood by giving such pop music the “classic” label. And with the way this trend is going, it appears that the likes of Britney Spears and Ludacris will become the “classic” music of the next generation. Hell, today their stuff is already turned into symphony arrangements for college marching bands to make fools of themselves with. It’s just a matter of time. Hence a generation more and Beyonce and T Pain will become the operas of the 21st century. Snotty elites will pontificate about the important matters of the day while embracing the deep themes of how “I kissed a girl and I liked it.”

Or maybe they’ll all just go the way of New Kids on the Block… hopefully.

Or maybe it’s just too much to risk and it would be better if robots just took over.


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