Saturday, June 18, 2016

Revenge Of The Real

Maybe the biggest alternative to today's popular music is my style of music.  That is, the kind of music that I make, not necessarily the music I listen to that is made by others.  My music I write and record is a blend of the many types that have influenced me, like everyone else.  I tend to think I don't come anywhere close to the greatness of music I've chosen to have in my collection.  We've all got our tastes and opinions, and regarding my own music, my only claim is that I think I can write and record an interesting and pleasing song from time to time.  I consider many of them to be good songs, anyway.  All musicians have influences, even if the music they produce doesn't necessarily sound like those influences.

If that's true, then what in the world are today's mainstream artists listening to?  It's got to be other mainstream artists of this most recent era.  The styles all sound so similar to me, as if they're all copying each other.  I don't seek it out, but it's unavoidable.  When I'm stuck in a traffic jam, or can't find anything to watch on TV, I sometimes out of curiosity tune in to the popular music of the day.  You know - to hear what the kids are listening to.  It's far from what was popular in my day, and by "my day" I'm referring to those peak getting-into-music years from age 10 to age 30. 

So, since 1996, the past 20 years seem to be a big decline and somewhat drastic departure from what was cool in my range from 1977-1997.  I'm almost 49, by the way.  Aside from the obvious:   the auto-tuned vocals, the all-electronic instrumentation, the perfection that technology allows, I hear a lack of daring to be different.  Seems these major label artists are using algorithms to make cookie-cutter music.

It could be this happens in every generation.  I'm at the age where people are complaining about the new NBA not holding a candle to the 20 years that featured Dr. J, Bird, Magic, and Michael.  The quality of play and the passion for the game are waning, they say.  I find myself in partial agreement.  Comparisons to basketball aside, maybe the big-band swing and classical fans never warmed up to rock and roll, and maybe the folk revivalists still don't like the bluegrassy Americana of today.  We know they all hated disco and new wave and hair metal, right?

The pop music is definitely cookie-cutter, and so is country, which wasn't cool back in my day at all, but now despite its popularity and it sounding way different than country used to, is even more cookie-cutter than pop.  The songwriting might be better in modern country than pop, but that ain't sayin' much these days.  Thank god for classic rock, one like me may think, but how about some deep track album cuts once in a while instead of playing the same fifty songs over and over again?  I'm sick of that now, too. 

Maybe each generation experiences the same, that's there's been a steady decline in the overall craft of songwriting since their time.  So, luckily the internet is my only salvation, and discovery of old music that was popular before my golden 20 years is my passion now as a music fan.  Hate to admit it, but YouTube is great for this type of discovery.  No videos per say, but people will snap a photo of the 45 label and throw it in there.  The old standards, the old blues, the old folk, dixieland jazz, the early R&B, that's what I love now, and it's a far cry from today's pop.

It's manufactured, it's formulaic, it's even robotic, this pop and country.  It all sounds the same to me.  Even when you discover these little pocket trends of acoustic music, you know the ones where young people in bands try hard to make mandolins and banjos sound hip, they take it way too seriously.  Most of it seems to lack daring, and despite being different enough, stays within the confines of what radio and TV will allow.  No drawing outside the lines for the crayola-wielders of the current popular music scene.

Again, maybe it's always been like this, and I just didn't really take enough notice along the way.  Record companies and songwriters have always followed trends, and now they have computers to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them.  More than ever, businesses are data-driven, and it seems now more than ever, they're afraid to take risks and dare to be different.  They're polluting the air waves with what they think will sell, but to me, it's mostly garbage.

Maybe that's why not using synthesizers, virtual instruments, hit-song prediction software, click tracks, drum loops, auto-tuned vocals, etc. is truly rebellious in the this music climate.  Maybe by not having a bunch of virtuoso instrumentalists who technically play great but don't have good songs is brave.  Maybe having good songs but not playing them all that well is bold.  Maybe using standard acoustic instruments instead of the trendy ones is being different now.  Maybe releasing music with a few imperfections here and there is gutsy.  Maybe having a poor singing voice and using it anyway is daring.  Maybe by not having dance moves and good looks in the music business is wild and crazy today.  Maybe not ever creating a music video is bucking the system.

So, yeah, guess maybe I'm blatantly referring to myself in this previous paragraph, in case you hadn't already noticed.  I'm the "alternative" to today's popular music.  Anti-mainstream.  Real and honest in a time of fake and insincere.  In a world of polluted music, mine might just be a breath of fresh air.