Taste Makers and the Soul of Rock N Roll: Parsing the Ether


Taste Makers and the Soul of Rock N Roll: Parsing the Ether

Does Rock n Roll exist anymore? Probably not in the way it was once conceptualized by the masses. Here is why. From my previous post
I expounded liberally on the useless distinction for Indie Rock and really most of the sub genres now I will school you on what has happened, like you don’t already know, which I am sure you do.
We have to go all the way back to 1950 something. Elvis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash were recording rockabilly history at Sun studio in Memphis, Ray Charles was making awesomeness at Atlantic in New York, and Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf were blazing blues standards at Chess in Chicago. Tons of others were also doing the same in their own way. They were feeding the information pipeline of the day: the record store and the radio and then television to some extent and the trade print that their art received. That was just about the whole shooting match. But guaranteed elsewhere there were people all over the place making music in bars, restaurants, garages, basements, street corners, swap meets, basements, and solitary rooms which will never be heard again. Was most of it passable? This depends on the context of the listener and its maker. If the goal was to bring joy and joy was brought then most assuredly it passed muster. Was it worthy of archiving? Most likely it was not. Sure Jimmy Dale sitting in his bedroom off of Union Ave. in Memphis, a few blocks from Sun, probably thought he did a mean Blue Moon of Kentucky but it was probably not worth the tape it would have taken to record it. (Jimmy Dale is a totally made up character but I would bet good money that someone similar, or hundreds of someone similar, abounded.)This leads to the next point.
Fast forward or skip scenes to now. The Jimmy Dale of 2012 has not only the ability to record his Blue Moon of Kentucky, but on better equipment than Sam Phillips ever thought about or dreamt. Sir George Martin would have killed to have recorded the Beatles on this type of technology which can be had for a few hundred bucks. Not only that but the Jimmy Dale can pump his Blue Moon of Kentucky out to the entire planet, forget the local Poplar Tunes record store or Wal-Mart but the ENTIRE PLANET! Someone in Bahrain can get online and hear him, seconds after he hits the enter button on his keyboard. What does this give us? A world cluttered with music which, most of the time, no one really wants to hear. Why? Because it is unoriginal, or not well performed, or boring, or stale, or all the above and just hard to listen to and no one has the ability to start cutting through layer after layer or shovel dirt pan after dirt pan to reach the gems. Why? There is too much digging involved. We don’t have all day to dig and after a bit of it you just become frustrated and go back to listening to the things you used to or the bands new tracks that you already know about and hope at some point something will cross your fancy.
We have entered a conundrum which is so meaty. When the audience first got all access, via Napster and other P2P, they really did not search out new bands as much as steal from the ones they already loved or knew about. The new ones they checked out they were learning about from the traditional routes they always had. At the same time digital recording was really coming into its own and more and more people were flooding the internet with music and anyone that studied on it long enough could figure out how to get their music on all the .mp3 sites. All of sudden there was bombastic overload and the lingering question of “what to do about it?”
This only became a preponderating situation once people could stream music and basically flood the entire internet with their own masterpieces. Music is literally everywhere out there. Good, bad, mediocre, middling, and some absolutely fantastic. But where does that leave the normal passive listener?
People on one hand were clamoring “we want our freedom to listen to all the music we can and don’t you try to stop us” and others “hey I do not know what to listen to because there is too much to listen to.” This is where the record company suits should be provided a time machine, be allowed to go back, exit the time machine, find themselves and kick themselves for being so stupid and not jumping on this in some way, because they really did nothing proactive, on a large-scale, that I can see. Because whether the average Joe wants to admit it or not he wants people to tell him what to like, at least the generations brought up on bland radio and record stores. The record companies did provide a filter they were the last one. After an artist had made it through some touring, put out some things, worked through all the agents, club owners, and manager types and still had enough left in the proverbial bank to cut it the label would release something and most of the time it was passable if not downright great. They took chances on people who need chances taken on them and many of our musical tastes are much better for it. They are no longer serving in that capacity because the big timers are after the big buck and the smaller labels who used to take more chances cannot afford it or are not even in existence any longer.
Enter the taste maker. A taste maker is similar to a music critic but then again they serve the role, in a way, record companies used to serve. Apparently when these cats heard or read the quote “everyone’s a critic” they took it to heart and did something about it. They are parsing the ether to pull out the gems for you. Many people like this because, frankly, they like to be told what is cool because they want to seem cool themselves, they do not have time, they want to out hip their friends, or they simply trust the guidance of the taste maker and go with it because they just want to hear some rocking music prêt-à-porter.
A caveat to all my friends who are critics: you are still critics and I am not belittling your trade in the slightest, especially if you have been a critic of music for over 10 years. Critics have always been taste makers. But due to the large volume of music out there people are screaming to give them guidance and there is really a demand because supply side is through the roof. They want the freedom of mass content but do not have the ability, time, or patience to do the parsing themselves. Kind of like a kid given free rein at a toy store for 30 minutes, where to start?
The taste maker websites will continue to thrive and people will latch on to them, no matter how cool they think they are, because they are incapable of choosing their own music, even the hipsters who were not smart enough to start their own taste making website. The ones that did have to turn in your hipster badge because you are part of the machine! (I Kidding)

These are strange and intense times. It almost seems the very soul of Rock N Roll and music for that matter depends on this. It was just that no one knew it was so big.

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Soylent Green and the Myth of Indie Rock


The Myth of Indie Rock
Indie Rock, if you take the term literally, has been around since the inception of Rock N Roll. The term Indie is short for Independent and fits many situations. Sun Records for example was an Indie label in its time, believe it or not, because it began operation outside the mainstream. Of course it is synonymous with other American Icons now but in its inception it was definitely Independent. I understand that Indie Rock, the term itself, distinguished many other acts from mainstream music beginning in the 1980s? But is that relevant now? It is not and I for one and absolutely ecstatic about it.
The hipsters are quick to throw around terms which are losing their meaning. The genre classifications and subgenre classifications and then the sub genres of the sub genres became fun sport over say the last 20 plus years. This parlor game is losing its muster.
When I talk to young people about how they acquire music, listen to it but more specifically, what they listen to, the gamut is ripe with diversity. (Note to artists you better be paying attention to the up and coming listeners because they are your audience.) The “young-uns” care less about genre and more about accessibility and things that make them groove or speak to them in a certain way. Theirs is a much different experience than listeners from decades gone by and I can honestly say it is a beautiful thing.
What makes them special is that they have everything within the tips of their fingers, literally. In the old days people used to have to go to a store, pick out an album, take it home, and then experience it. I used to think I would long for those days but I do not, I am actually happy they are over. Why? The audience for music has broadened to a level that we are just now beginning to understand or at least conceptualize.
Record companies and the suits could manipulate people into buying this band or that band because they had ‘gamed’ the system to their advantage. Then came Napster and file sharing and then streaming and now Spotify and their seemingly impenetrable fortress proved to be little more than a house of cards. It was hucksterism on the highest level and we all used to eat it by the spoonful. We went from being handed out our music like Soylent Green to a brave new world in what, ten years? It is not stopping and the labels are doomed to fade if I cannot see their image becoming transparent now.
Sure there will be major label acts on what appears to be a label but in reality that label will merely be a front for a major corporation to make its jingles to go along with more of its Soylent Green: music to sell stuff to the masses with. But real music, made by real artists, will become limitless and there for the consumption of the people. There will be many changes which will happen with much rapidity. That is the mistake analogous minds make converting to a digital world.
In the old days things progressed at a slow clip, then an innovation, then a plateau of sameness until someone else invented the next super duper mousetrap and then sameness for a while, but the speed at which we progressed was picking up. People longed for the sameness and found solace in the respite before the next thing came along. There is no time to catch your breath any longer. Get used to it and merge your art with it.
But the idea of Indie Rock is silly. When you have 3 million gabillion bands not just in the US but the entire planet all making music, albeit most of it bad, then any genre distinction only serves to quantify it for the listener who by the way doesn’t want to be quantified or classified. That is why there will be no more “movements” in rock, which arguably, if not really, were all just press release scams dreamt up by publicists from the bygone era when Rock N Roll became big business and the machine lead the public around by the nose. So where does that leave us? I can tell you one thing for sure:

If you are all Indie then no one is Indie. Get it.

Two Lights not treated Too Fairly


Two Lights not treated Too Fairly

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2094921_2094923,00.html

Apparently the brothers Abner and Harper Willis have stirred up a kerfuffle over a piece one of them wrote for Time magazine. They front the Indie Rock band Two Lights and in the article shared what the experience of being an up and coming band in this day and age encompasses, warts and all. Where the message of this piece seems to have gone awry with many people is that the message “it is really hard to make it and it is not what you think once you get there” has been flipped to read “we spent a bunch of money where is our rock superstardom?” which I do not believe was the original intent of the article.
I came across the article in a much read blog I subscribe to and then read a couple of the accompanying articles linked to it which pretty much painted the band as rich kids who were whining, which is not the case if you really read the article from a musician’s standpoint. Also if you are a musician, just starting out, this is a good place to start reading if you are considering entering the field of rock star, performer, musician, or whatever you want to call it.
Another thing is this: go listen to their music. http://www.myspace.com/twolightsband

I did and thought it was good. It was rock n roll which is always a firm place to start in comparison to a great deal of drivel spewed out these days.

I read and re-read the article and realized that Two Lights are not saying that “look we spent $100,000 and we are mad because we are not getting what we deserve” it seems to me they are offering up a road map that used to work for musicians. (a side note is that when they come up with the sum of $100,000 it is misleading to present the issue as: they handed over $100,000 to a bunch of suits and expected them to make them stars. They begin adding it all up from the time they were kids, which is good Intel if you are a kid and even thinking about pursuing a vocation like this.) The title of the article, Want to Be a Rock Star? You’ll Need $100,000, is where the thing gets off on the wrong foot. $55,000 of this money went to lessons and gear alone. I could have clipped the gear total down a bit but I am cheap.
The major problem these guys face seem to be where they chose to live: NYC. It is expensive. I can see the point of wanting to be in a major, or the major, metropolis in the world but again this is from the “used to work” ethos. With the internet and the direct link artists have to fans it would seem like a wiser move to be somewhere else less expensive and throw your funding more heartily at your career.
This is what I would tell any young artist: reach out to your fans and make new ones, daily! The people who “used to” know how to make things work are not so good at making them work anymore. The Clive Davis and Ahmet Erteguns of the world do not fit as they once did. I find this sad because those two gentlemen alone sprung forth a ton of sonic greatness so mammoth we are still digging our way out. Yet it does not work the way it used to. First you have to believe in yourself, not listen to your detractors because they are lurking around every corner, and make great damn music. The one thing at the end of the day you can depend on is that. Great music cuts through the other entire BS that people are trying to throw out about analytics and the new improved mouse traps. Make music and you will have an audience. Put it out there to them and make them accessible to you.
I will also use this as an opportunity to rail on one other thing. People who comment on other artists but make no art themselves or are not involved in the creation of art in some capacity are weak and tired. It is so very easy to tear things down when you are not capable of building things yourself. The hacks that troll on blog comments, those that make no art, never surprise me in their internet bravery. They are generally a failed something and what comfort they find in ranking on others that are doing their thing I will never know. But then again they fuel attention to the artists which I guess is not that bad after all. So maybe I just made my own argument for their existence. I will leave it to them to fight it out under the bridge.

THE POWER OF SONGS


The Power of Great Songs

I usually rail on this issue but am just as guilty as the rest of the self promoting musicians out there. Promoting your music to the world is part of the game and the entire responsibility generally falls onto the act itself which usually means one person, who is solely responsible for pushing the word out about the music.

Something struck me the other day and after I let it rumble through my rumbling thought process it made me realize something. The first something was this: There are many accounts of Chuck Berry and the way in which he did business through (I am guessing on the exact time frame) the early 60’s on through to maybe even now (don’t hold me to that last bit.) Mr. Berry would show up to an event with his guitar, expect payment upfront, plug-in, and be ready to rock with whatever band the promoter put together to back him up.

I thought, being a person who has tried to do many incarnations of bands in the past, giving up years ago of any real hope of holding something like that together, how great a concept that is for the artist. No headaches of keeping everyone happy or at least motivated and well paid. With this arrangement that was the domain of the promoter. Chuck just needed to show up and be Chuck. But then I realized I was lacking something that Chuck had, and much of, GREAT SONGS!

I do not consider myself any slouch as a songwriter but only a limited amount of people have ever heard one of my songs, Chuck Berry on the other hand has piles of them and people back in the day knew them all or at least were very familiar with them. These were his laurels and he could literally rest on and let them do the work for him. Even if his back up band sucked, which I am sure some of them were not up to par at all times, it didn’t matter because he was Chuck Berry and you came to hear him do those songs you loved so much.

Let me keep this simple. This one example, if it does nothing else, should point out to you how important great, timeless material is. In this instance, to use a baseball analogy, you are not hoping to get a flare or a ground ball with eyes, you are swinging for the fence every time you come up to bat. Sure you are going to whiff, most of the time, but mediocrity and weak song craft will never hit one “outta the park” , which is what you have to do if you want to get people’s attention in this world. Want to promote your music? Write some great songs, record them to the best of your ability and then let as many people as you can hear them. They might just do the job for you.

Power to JA People


Today Wikipedia, Google, and even my beloved blog host WordPress is standing in solidarity with many others in protesting SOPA and PIPA. I will not bore you with trying to explain the bills but would like to point out that this will mark a moment in time. The results from today, seen in the outcome of voting for both pieces of legislation, will start to show Americans that they really do have a leverage on the power base.

Votes are more valuable than money when it comes to elections. I will be watching very closely to see what happens with these bills after this moment. And you should too.

Comfort and Conformity


Video Here

Someone sent me this video and it is pretty good especially if its intent was to get me thinking. I obviously agree with much of it and while I am not the conspiracy guy I used to be, (forgive me oh gods of common sense), I do not disagree with most, if not all of the themes of this video: the corporate elite acting as a sheep dog(s) to the huddled masses, us, the sheep. It has been like that for millennium. What got me to thinking was this: what is the feature or features of their plan that work so craftily into duping so many people into not only just going along with their agenda of control but defending those who question the power structure?

I got tickled a few weeks back when I read an article scathing a company for pulling all the jobs out of a region and basically leaving the area with nothing realistic for anyone to do, at least not 80% or greater of the workforce that had been working. That was not what tickled me, that made me sad for the people who lost their jobs, what tickled me was that below this well written article were several people, I assume from that region, defending the company when others commented things like “big corporations suck” and “they are money grubbers.” The main theme of most defenders comments were “these corporations make our jobs.” Well, sure they do, and they also take them away from you.

At what point do people realize that the power structure that is here now does not give one whit about anyone in the middle class? Everything is centralized to benefit one thing, the bottom line of the corporate coffers. They do not care if they turn America into one rural wasteland or urban prairie, terms I would have never grasped 10-20 years ago, which is what they are doing today.

But what got my mind racing is how we so willingly participate in their duplicitous behavior and then I remembered a quote by John Steinbeck I had read years ago which both explains and proves much of what is going on today, yesterday, the day before, the year before, the century before, millennium before, etc.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
John Steinbeck**

 

*** Brief Aside. John Steinbeck wrote that at least 60 years ago. When you look at a humanistic issue, the division of wealth or resources, and trace it back through time and see the same themes reemerging, again and again, then that dog hunts. I dare anyone to prove me wrong on that one.

This is part of the rub I think: people actually feel a kinship with people who would not stoop down to spit on them much less let them into their club and letting others get a bit of the wealth that they are so accustomed to. In the video one of the speakers talks about how people come home from work, don’t speak to their children, and plant themselves in front of the television to be further programmed to think that they are a part of the big scheme of things or have a shot one day of becoming a millionaire. Which brought my mind to this. All this speaks to one central principle explicitly found in all of us: the need to feel good as opposed to feel bad. If you believe that no matter how mundane your existence is, that one day you will reach a level where you are a gabillionaire, then you can continue on within this charade, why? Because it comforts you. They are comforting you. “Sure Crash Davis you can play in the big leagues with us one day, just keep plugging!” But not really Crash you are doomed to the minors.
What is so wrong with the minor leagues? Middle Class?
The Middle Class was what people used to aim towards. Because with a strong middle class everyone got a fair shake. You worked hard, did your time, and were able to provide for a family, most of the time with just one parent working. Now with two people working full-time we can barely sustain even that lifestyle? Granted our consumption is through the roof but still not equal to a whole other person working full-time.
Is being rich bad? Not on its face value and especially if you are willing to shovel back the majority of your wealth at the end of the board game to causes which help others.
It is definitely bad and evil when it oppresses a majority in favor of a small, elite class just so they can have landing pads on their high rises. And it is damnable when it can take money from a pool created by the masses, stealing it and calling it a bail out, and then go right back to the same practices it was engaging in that caused the theft to begin with. It is almost like, well it is exactly like, laughing in the poor’s faces for being poor.

Am I for storming the Bastille? Not yet. But I think it is OK to hang around it just to remind them that all of us are still watching.

“The best trick the devil ever played”, if you believe the movies and this quote, “is to make the world think he did not exist.” The French Revolution, the American Revolution, heck the Fall of the Roman Empire, were all attacking the same thing, rebelling against the same thing. Just because Caesar did not have C.E.O at the end of his name does not mean that the same game is not being played today, and I would argue it is being played better and more craftily because most of us are too stupid to even realize it is even being played at all.

I do not worry about anyone being offended by the last sentence because most of them will never read this anyway.

 

** I want to make it perfectly clear down here at the bottom that I am all for a democratic society, a true one and not a corporate oligarchy masquerading as the same.