How The Music Industry Has Changed

slide-pot-mixing-boardI’m going to show my age here but I don’t care, I’m not ashamed of my age.  Could you imagine what I’d have to do if I were?  Organ transplants, plastic surgery, hair implants and all kinds of other things.  I was watching Late Night with Jimmy Fallon the other night and one of his guests was Tommy Mottola.  For fifteen years Mottola was the head of Sony Entertainment (parent of the Columbia label).  He is a co-owner of Casablanca Records.  Oh, and he was married to Mariah Carey for a while.  At the moment he is married to Mexican singer Thalia.

Fallon and Tommy were talking about Mottola’s career.  I must say, that career is pretty impressive.  He helped Hall and Oates land their first recording contract, and he was the talent manager for a few artists you may have heard of, like Carly Simon, John Mellencamp, Diana Ross,  and Taylor Dayne in the 80’s.  In the 90’s he handled Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan, Shakira and Anastacia.  He represented Jennifer Lopez in the early 2000’s.  That’s quite a list.  Mottola is also viewed as someone who revolutionized the promotion of music through new mediums like music videos and corporate sponsorship for music tours.

Jimmy and Tommy kept moving along with their chat and Tommy said something that made complete sense to me and it’s something I began to notice when the Jonas Brothers came onto the scene.  Well, even before that, but they really cemented the thing in my head.  It was even more apparent when Justin Bieber broke out and began spreading stupidity all over the music industry.  The entire landscape of how music is produced, marketed and sold has changed.  How “artists” are “discovered” has changed.  How bands evolve has changed.  The music industry isn’t what it used to be, that’s for sure.

Even our old pal Joe Walsh has spoken up, saying what a sham the business has become now, loaded with non-talented people backed by the Internet and other newer means of promotion that dilute the talent pool and thumb their nose at music tradition.

Here’s where I’m going to date myself.  When I was in high school it was the late 70’s.  I graduated in 1981.  As far as I can remember, I got into music in the very late 60’s.  I had two older brothers and they were buying singles (ah yes, the old 45’s) and then albums.  The first single I ever owned was Get Off of My Cloud by The Rolling Stones.  I went off into all kinds of musical directions afterward, buying singles like Indiana Wants Me by R. Dean Taylor, some Neil Diamond stuff, The Who, and oh my, I even had a single by Cher.

Give me a break, my mother bought it for me!!

As I got older I began to get into AOR (Album Oriented Rock) and I joined a music club and the albums began pouring in.  Led Zeppelin, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Doors, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Yes, REO Speedwagon, Journey, Alice Cooper, Jethro Tull, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, etc.  I was interested in the bands of the later 60’s and the huge arena bands of the 70’s.  You name the album, I owned it.  After graduating high school I went into radio, became an on-air personality, and continued following the music industry for many genres and I amassed a record collection second to none…until my ex-wife broke each album in half in the front yard when I left her.

Back then, bands weren’t “created” (well, except for The Monkees).  They worked things out in a garage (translation: pissed off the neighbors), they played gigs in smokey bars and if they got a lucky break, they were asked to be the opening act for a famous band when they came to their town.  It really caused bands and artists to evolve in an effort to make it big.  The harder you worked, the better your chances were of landing that highly coveted recording contract.  After landing that contract, you were hopefully assigned a decent producer and recording engineer who wanted to work with you and grow your sound.  Of course, you always had to roll the dice when it came to choosing a manager.

After signing a contract with a record label, bands went to work.  In most cases a group or artist would put out three, four, five or more albums before they hit it big (if at all), with each album being a learning experience, finding the band’s direction, working on their craft and refining their sound.  Obviously, some bands like The Beatles skipped a lot of that phase, but that was a rare thing.  I can guarantee you Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Journey, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, Billy Idol and most of the bands that were huge in the 70’s and 80’s put out several albums before hitting the big time.  And once they got there, they stayed for a long time.

Many of those bands are still touring in one form or another today, selling out small or medium-sized venues.  The difference is, now most of them tour for fun and enjoyment instead of the need for millions of dollars. Also, music fans realize these types of bands and artists have put in their time, have done the hard work, and over time have earned their concert ticket dollar.

There was a beauty in those first few albums for many bands that didn’t get airplay or national recognition.  From my point of view, many songs from early, “unsuccessful” albums were better than some that were produced on the bigger albums later.  I feel Journey was a better band when Gregg Rolie was singing vocals before Steve Perry joined and commercialized them.  Chicago was a better band before Peter Cetera took over the majority of the vocal work.  But that was the natural progression of bands back then.  They worked, they crafted, they succeeded and they had staying power.

Songs and albums are produced differently now.  Back in the days before iPods and earbuds, music was produced and engineered for playback on speaker systems that were built into huge cabinets.  Speaker cabinets were so big they were major pieces of furniture in your home and always needed to be accounted for as far as where you physically placed them.  Woofers and tweeters were engineered for maximum output, decibels needed to be maximized and the same was true for car audio.  You wanted to feel the music through the floor when you went to a party.  You wanted volume, clarity, low THD (total harmonic distortion) and more volume on top of more volume.

earbuds-suckToday, music is engineered for earbuds.  Because of that, the full spectrum of audio recording has been reduced to a few frequencies that can no longer be reproduced on large-scale audio systems.  Don’t believe me?  Check out what Neil Young has to say about that subject.  Neil insists that only five percent of the data created in the recording studio goes into an MP3.  It’s true and it’s sad.  That’s why Neil is working on a super high-definition digital format.

So the engineering has changed.  Well, so has the “talent” and how they go about getting their “music” across to the masses who no longer have to go into music stores to buy their crap.  It’s just downloaded off the web now, using that same compressed audio engineering I just referred to.  If you can work a video recording device or a smart phone, you can now have that star-studded recording career instantaneously instead of rehearsing in the garage and paying your dues.  You post something on YouTube, it goes viral, and there you have it, the world’s next music sensation.  You can become the next household name, make a billion dollars, drive the stupid chrome cars, not give a damn about your fans, become tabloid fodder and live the life of your dreams.

But it doesn’t last like it has for those artists and bands who put in their time to do it right.

Can you blame morons like Justin Bieber for taking advantage of how things are now?  I guess you can’t.  But I put more stock into what is real.  Can Bieber write a base line?  Can he even lay down a bass line playing a real bass guitar?  Can he write basic guitar or vocal progressions on a blank piece of sheet music?  Can he write harmonies?  Can he write his own name?

Go ahead, call me an old fuddy-duddy.  But I miss those old days.  I miss being able to turn music up loud in my car.  I can’t now because the stereo wasn’t built for it unless my iPod is docked.  I miss investing in artists and groups and getting the payoff of a long-time listening relationship with them.  I miss having bands around that experiment and evolve.  Yeah – all the great ones have done it.  The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Led Zep, The Doors, The Beach Boys, all of those groups kept evolving and taking chances, releasing music that was different from their last album.

Do you remember the flack The Beatles and The Doors took for incorporating a horn section into their music? Or when The Stones released Some Girls and everyone thought they turned into a disco band?  It was fun to listen to them grow and change, but they always came back in some fashion to be the bands we knew them to be.  Their roots always drove them and still drive them today.

I am tired of idiots coming onto the scene, getting rich off of what could best be described as average talent, and then disappearing.  Yes, I am pointing the finger at Justin Bieber a bit here, but I’m also directing it at all who have done it the same way he has.  Do you think this guy will be on the music scene five years from now?  I doubt it. He doesn’t have enough raw, pure talent.

Ok, sure, that’s the world we live in today.  People younger than I probably couldn’t even begin to understand where I am coming from here or they might think I’m just an old guy complaining about “today’s music”.  It goes beyond that, though.  It’s about the integrity of the music and the production quality.  It’s just another sign of how a society is losing a small yet important something as a result of technological advancement.  But I’d prefer to see Grand Funk Railroad or David Gilmour or Eric Clapton or The Stones or even (gasp) Madonna ANY DAY before I pay one dime to see Justin Bieber or any of these other yahoos who make up the music scene now (especially the pop scene).  I’m just sayin’…

In the words of Roger Daltry and The Who, The Music [Industry] Must Change.

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2 Comments

  1. Nicole

     /  February 12, 2013

    Ok Kdawg, you forgot to add my favorite band of all time Aerosmith!!!! I have engrained into my childrens brain every Aerosmith song. Every time one of their songs is on I ask them who sings this song? ” They have now figured me out so they always answer Aerosmith!!! Even the 8 year old knows Aerosmith is moms favorite band!!!! ROCK ON

    Reply
    • Ha ha ha! Every afternoon after school my buddy and I listened to Toys In the Attick over and over until we wore out the record and then we bought it again! Good times. My Boston friends will give me an even harder time for forgetting to mention The Bad Boys!

      Thanks!

      Reply

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