Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Music You Might Not Have Heard

Since the pop music industry is both highly competitive and equally insecure; it makes the investors skittish. Music producers are always in search of the next big thing but if one bad choice can be very expensive. The safest thing is watch for the up and coming break through performer and then book and record everyone else who sounds just like them. Frank Zappa's song Cocaine Thinking comes to mind.

Putting money on the safest bets makes for a good business model but often it stifles creativity and in the past promoted some of the most bland and pedestrian performers. The breakthrough of the Punk / New Wave movement was a direct reaction to the less than exciting lightweight mix of music from the mid-1970s. This was a period where the record companies were in control of a multi-billion dollar industry and the producers were more important than the performers. It was a serious question when people asked back then "was Rock & Roll dead?

Punk / New Wave was refreshing because it got back to the idea that music can be an act of personal expression instead of studio wizardry. Learn a few cords on the guitar, work up the nerve to get up on stage and bang out a song. What it might lack in refinement it will make up in raw emotions. Of course every wave crests and recedes back into the ocean it came from. Punk / New Wave gave back to music makers the idea that innovation still had value, recording artist who were comfortable in the studio began to create with a different sensibility and inspiration.

The recording industry had many excesses but it wasn't all bad. One thing it was able to do was make some music a mass experience. There is a body music that know around the world and it is almost like an international language. It is something that people from very different background can share in common. There's nothing quite like talking to a man from Indonesia about Sinatra, or being asked by a guy from Austria if I ever saw Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony because I grew up relatively close to Asbury Park, or listening to a women from the Ukraine recount her childhood and why the Beatles were so important to her.

When an industry becomes the promoter of world culture it also becomes the gate keeper. Twenty years ago it was uncommon to be considered a real audiophile if you had a couple of thousand records, which is about half the storage space on the average mp-3 player. The computer and internet have bypassed the gate keepers but taken away the communal experience of music.

A music promoter I knew in New Jersey, Kyle, once compare music to alcohol. He felt you should avoid drinking alone as well as listening to music by yourself.  These days most people listen to music at their desk or while exercising but rarely as a group activity. Music has become for many a sonic wallpaper, something to cover over the silence with -or even a sonic barrier to keep you occupied instead of interacting with other people.    

The enthusiasm for music feels like it's fading. The big concert stage is even more dominated by a smaller handful of acts and many thousands of others can't find a venue. There is so much good music out there and the public doesn't seem to know where to look. The radio DJ is becoming a thing of the past and social networks are more atomized and even alienating. Ten years ago bands used TV shows and even commercials for exposure and now that doesn't even work as broadcast TV captures a smaller and smaller audience.

I hope that people fight back or at least prevent American Idol from becoming the only default venue for introducing new national acts.

As a side note today is Brian Eno's birthday. he is one of the most well known in his category of experimental musicians and record producers.  He has a career that spans over five decades starting with rock band Roxy Music, his creation of Ambient Music and his computer programs of Generative Music. His best known work was with Bowie on his Heroes Album. Most people know the song Heroes but very few have heard the whole album, it might be an acquired taste though it's Bowie's singularly most artistic effort.

Most of Brian Eno's music is minimalistic with a mix of electronic and new wave elements. Often his music has been used as movie scores, one of the best examples is the documentary The Atomic Cafe (1982).  A few years ago Peter Jackson had Brian Eno write the score for the movie The Lovely Bones (2009).

A person like Eno is mostly known as a influence for other performers, which means he's deeply appreciated by other creative people but not a commercial success. Usually I find those people the most interesting and it use to be fun hanging out with a real audiophile that had a few special records from people who were so good they should have been famous but weren't. Sometimes it was bad luck, bad timing or just management. It's fun to enjoy music for no other reason than you like it, though it's a shame someone who deserve fame and fortune didn't get it.

As an influential performer it fun to see who Brian Eno worked with or who tipped their hat to him.


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