What Went Wrong With… Music?

A parody of a compilation album cover by What Went Wrong Or Right With...?Music is an art-form which was intended for acoustic and lyrical expression; an outlet for anger, love, political and social opinion, and abstract expression of the state of mind, it was supposed to be a representation of its time and its people. Music has slowly over time been turned into a factory-line in order to reproduce the latest trend in sound. Today it has become a prostituted art-form only concerned with profits.

Over the past ten to fifteen years, digital recording hardware and software has become relatively cheap to buy, giving the everyday and ordinary person the ability to produce and record their own music. The Internet has facilitated the distribution of such music and in theory music should now be diverse, varied, and completely free of corporate puppetry. In truth however, popular music is the most mediocre it has ever been since the Disco-era of the 1970s where everybody clambered to sound like the next person. Instead of expressing themselves, singers and producers whether at home or in the studio have been quick to adopt the latest musical style and sound in an effort to become popular and make as much money as possible. Money-hungry, fame-obsessed musicians have saturated the music industry with bad production, rushed lyrics, and generic music videos. This watered-down music has a very short shelf life due to it’s inability to stand out from the deluge of other mediocre efforts and this in turn has affected sales. Consumers hearing this poorly constructed disposable art have been forcing the price of music to as close to zero as possible. This is a reflection of what consumers feel is the true worth of contemporary music.

The cheapening of music as a product has made the industry very aggressive and closed-minded and currently it keeps its output strict and stays well clear of experimental or emerging genres and styles. These days the industry needs guaranteed hits in order to compete with the ever-growing illegal download threat. If everybody (or almost everybody) likes a song, only a small percentage will illegally download it and any lost earnings are made up by heavily publishing each popular song to numerous advertising campaigns. A song is then kept on constant rotation on all mainstream radio stations in order to garner repeat sales through product awareness. Because of this we keep hearing the same song over and over again in adverts on TV, radio and the internet as well as in films. Competing labels hear a money-making trend in sound and follow suit, and therefore we hear more and more acts sounding alike in order to sell what is perceived to be in demand. In truth this sound is manufactured by the industry itself and is not representative of emerging or popular genres. This model has left the listeners bombarded with musical repetitiveness.

If somebody is old enough to remember a time when a music act was appreciated for its originality, they can hear the difference in what is currently being pushed to the consumer. If you take a random year in music history such as 1992, you will find pop acts such as Madonna and Prince in the charts alongside counter-culture pop acts like The KLF. Ice Cube had released “The Predator” and regardless of explicit themes and non-populist styles, songs such as “Check Yo Self” &” It Was A Good Day” were played on mainstream music television networks. Dance music was making it’s voice heard with the likes of The Prodigy. Rock was represented by Pearl Jam and Nirvana and children were playing Kris Kross and C+C Music Factory. Regardless of what you were into, music was diverse in style, content, and delivery.

Now fast forward 20 years to 2012; the charts are full of hybrid genres and referenced material from the Hip-Pop Club R&B wackness that is Flo Rida, to the wannabe-hardcore-but-need-pop-money Nicki Minaj. Madonna is still in the charts trying to fit in by collaborating with the latest Hip-Pop hybrid Nicki Minaj but unbeknownst to her, Nicki is not the latest Hip-Hop sensation but rather someone who sold out rap for singing in order to sell more records. This doesn’t matter to Madonna because she is the perfect vehicle to diversify her ageing fans. If the 50 year old white gay guy can listen to the same music as a black teenage girl then all bases are covered, surely? Never mind if this helps ruin music and creates a converged medium which is unsure of who and what it represents. Everybody these days whether it’s with a one-verse featured artist or a full blown collaboration, seem to want to cross-sell to other genres. This crossover sell-out method has been the most successful with the Black Eyed Peas. Originally an ethnically diverse (shades of brown) wannabe-Dead-Prez-without-skill Hip-Hop Trio, it added a permanent white lead “Singer” in order to sell to the masses. Moves like this have unfortunately worked and Black Eyed Peas are now a household name, even though adding a lead singer didn’t affect their mediocrity.

That’s not to say that pop-friendly genre hybrid acts or catchy Pop songs didn’t exist back in ’92; the likes of Stereo MC’s, PM Dawn, and Arrested Development did this perfectly but this was not typical of the majority of music. It seemed that record companies didn’t obviously pre-plan and package music for a specific audience. For every targeted demographic (such as Kris Kross for kids) there was something which defied convention such as Das Efx or the Fu-Schnickens. If a music genre was relatively new and untested (Techno and Rave for example) there were Pop-friendly versions like 2 Unlimited, Opus III, and The Shamen but there were acts like SL2, Liquid, and Altern 8 to balance this out. Regardless of taste; a Dance act did not sound like a Hip-Hop act, and a Rock act did not sound like a manufactured Pop act. Every artist and genre gained respect with it’s own look and sound, and did not feel the need to consort with each other for fame and recognition.

The majority of acts from the early-to-mid nineties are altogether ignored today. It seems modern day broadcasters have a very selective memory of this period in music. Acts like Boot Camp Clik with the likes of Heltah Skeltah, Fab 5, and Smif-N-Wessun used to overrun the mid-nineties music video channels but today you can only view them on YouTube. Music Television is now oblivious to this period in Music History. If any TV show claims to be showing 90s music for instance, you’ll never see these aforementioned artists on there. Instead there is a prejudicial playlist catered to making money for record labels who are still active and profiting from “Best Of” and “Greatest Hits” material. It seems we are being forced to forget periods of creativity and the past is made to look as mediocre as today.

There are of course very skilled and diverse acts today too. But contemporary artists and music which is either creative or genre-singular such as No Lay or D Double E, are not promoted with the same vigour as something which is perceived to be a sure-fire hit. You have to trawl through all the social media sites in order to find something which satisfies your musical tastes these days. The underground is much more underground and unfortunately acts are all too happy to change format in order to get money once they’re finally signed. Grime which was Britain’s equivalent to the early 90s New York Hip-Hop scene, has also become a Pop-obsessed genre sell-out. Whoring itself out to the charts with pointless collaborative efforts. Anybody who was a fan of OG’z in 2008 looked in bewilderment at the Cher Lloyd featuring Dot Rotten (and others) track of 2011.

This collaborative trend leaves the chart full of drivel wavering between R&B, Dubstep, Grime, and Hip-Pop with stripped-down Euro-Pop choruses. It seems that record companies are trying to satisfy everybody at once, but instead have created a bland music-by-numbers format which makes the Billboards sound like the lamest mixtape ever. Every song is about clubbing, partying, drinking, and fucking, and every lyric seems to be promoting some brand or label without even getting a cut of the profits. This would be understandable if Gucci was a record label or if this was a clever advertising ploy, but instead it is because ignorant and talentless hacks’ only lyrical references are company identities; I guess that’s all you see when you are a trend-obsessed corporate slave. And songs these days which are not selling a product or selling-out are not readily broadcast.

Contemporary music is now always constructed with the paying-fan in mind. Today you will never hear a song without a chorus or a composition which is a non-vocal instrumental. Instead you will be barraged with music which is heavy in chorus repeatability and catchiness. Songs like Future Sound of London’s “Papua New Guinea” or Cubic 22’s “Night In Motion” would never be released today because of this, coupled with the fact they make no reference to a sellable commodity. You will therefore no longer hear a solely lyrical song like “Broken Language”, you will never hear a seventeen minute song like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, and you will never hear a song with narrative like “Luka” or with a message such as “Fight The Power”. It seems paying consumers do not want abstract lyrics like that of Warren Zevon, or comedically violent lyrics like Big L, they just want something which they can dance or sing along to without thinking and whilst partying.

Added to this standardized method of making music, labels are quick to pay the latest producer to create a repeat of their last Gold or Platinum effort. Because of this, we have had for the past decade numerous producer-led years from the Neptunes, Timbaland, and David Guetta producing a plethora of music in a single period, making a whole year or years sound like their personal musical trophy-case. If Jellybean had a popular track in the early 90s, you can bet that an act like Onyx or Alice In Chains didn’t collaborate with them. Today we get whole years with genre-varying artists who have similar sounding songs and recently we have even had a trend in similar music videos too. So if a new release with a “Party” themed video makes it to number one, then all wannabe number one tracks must have a party video. We then gradually see more and more tight-ass shirts on muscular men and women posing like lap dancers-on-heat writhing around next to a bunch of forced-together we-are-the-world racially diverse dancers. These videos also try to appeal to the widest cross-section of 18-30 year olds as possible, so every performer is a caricature of what the labels assume is the listener; sexually ambivalent, metro-sexual men, and scantily clad objectified women. Strong females such as Heather B do not exist in contemporary music at all. There is of course the aforementioned No Lay and Lioness in the Grime genre, but the charts only know feminized and commercially compartmentalized female acts like Jessie J, who dress in skin hugging leotards to appeal to heterosexual men and lesbian women, and who alternate styles to appeal to mainstream middle aged listeners and teenagers alike. Speaking black slang in one song then singing like a bird the next. When would a middle-class white girl speak the words “Man Dem” in real-life Essex?

These “musicians” know that their time is limited, because anyone who doesn’t carve a niche in any art-form will disappear in history with all the other wannabe copy-cats. So while they can, all the lame and mediocre acts band together in a musical daisy-chain, bigging each other up and blowing smoke up each other’s arses. Label-created hype keeps these singers feeding the producers and vice versa, and everybody is happy writhing around in their incestuous self-absorbed mire.

So what went wrong with music? The industry did. Music like everything these days has become focussed on the profit and stopped any mainstream creativity. Music itself is still varied and diverse but you have to search for it. What is fed to us by the radio, the TV, and the charts is some of the lamest music anyone will ever hear.

Go and search for underground and truly independent music and once you find it, buy it (if you can afford it). Whatever you do, don’t buy what the labels tell you to.

13 replies »

  1. Great article. I think personally the music industry has destroyed every single great genre all for the love of money. The Rock music, also has taken a big fall. Even before the 90’s look at the glam rock era that sparked in the 70’s. At least back then, no one knew what to think of it at first. The band ‘Kiss’ was a cash cow however, from genius marketing in merchandise. Then a decade later in those glorious 80’s years (that everyone thinks was the greatest music ever) people forget it was the record companies AND industry that pushed the image of men dressing up like prostitutes and writing cheesy songs, and it was made OK. I don’t think there was enough talent in the bands Poison, Motley Crue, and the rest of that junk to be really pushed as far as it was. That image of men dressing up like women, became the standard for Rock and Roll, looking back at it, I want to throw up. Then in the 90’s it was the band ‘Nirvana’ who supposedly “saved Rock and Roll” even though Kurt Cobain was never a craft master guitar player, and grunge was some of the worst music out at the time. Rock and Roll started to fall down in the 70’s and it only got worse and worse as it went on. I blame the music industry. There is many many great guitar players, and bands out there that never get radio play, never get any help from the record companies, but they blow the shit out of everything on the radio.

    The one thing that pisses me off the most is how the industry sells out their image of the music. They have everything in categories and demographics. “Oldies” is for old people, “Rap/Hip Hop” is for the black people, “Heavy Metal” is for young white males, etc etc. Then people act surprised when you see someone (me for instance, I have dealt with this for years) that don’t worry about genres and can listen to a number of different music and find many positives out of it. Fuck the industry!

    • The article shoots a bit wide of the mark but your post is completely clueless. Nirvana really did save Rock & Roll, and Cobain was a master of the craft of singing of and songwriting and all the things that matter to being in a band – the style and image, the album artwork, the ‘message’, the promotion, etc. He was a master of all of that. His guitar playing was good but not great, but that doesn’t matter. Most of the great bands are not the greatest guitarists either, Cobain was far better than George Harrison for example. Also grunge music was amazing. If you can’t appreciate Tad, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Nirvana’s big songs, then you have no business commenting on music. Your last paragraph is just idiotic.

    • Interesting piece but perhaps you are putting all the blame on the industry and none on the consumer.
      It is the consumer’s tastes and ability/willingness to process new music that lies at the heart of the problem.
      If the consumer WANTED harsh, challenging atonal experimental music, the industry would sign the acts
      up and lavish as much money on them as they do the trash we currently get served up.The music business
      is NOR a public’s a business. What HAS changed things is the internet. Those days of browsing
      in record stores, devouring reviews in NME or being persuaded by a friend that you HAVE to listen to a band…
      then buying the album and appreciating the artwork, studying the lyric sheet….those days are gone, We no longer
      have the attention span or time to invest in allowing a band or their output a meaningful place in our lives.
      There was a time where musically we ate one square meal a day…the album. Today we trawl through You Tube
      and graze on a succession of junk food snacks in the form of ‘classic videos’….we THINK this keeps us in touch
      with real music, but it doesn’t. Robbed of its context it’s all utterly meaningless.The move from analogue to digital
      was a very mixed blessing and while cheaper, high quality electronics might have briefly brought a greater democratisation,
      in the end we castrated music and created an audience unable to listen to anything less than multi tracked perfection.
      Yes, the business can take some of the blame, but not all of it.

  2. You are right in every word. In my country nobody ever goes to the market to buy a song? In Nigeria a twelve year old got a Blackberry phone, so you download or bluetooth a song in twinkle of an eye. In Nigeria, you pay a DJ to play your song, you pay Radio presenters for air plays. You literally beg people to hear your song youu spend a lot of money to do. I’m tired. But God knows I will never ever play song from TV, Radio or Chart point of view. I will keep doing what I Love. Thanks again for this page.

    • Thanks for your support. You are right, the music industry always keeps the talent out of public view at the same time as copying it. History has proved however, that every original and longlasting piece of art including music comes from the underground. The struggle against the establishment will be worth it in the end, so keep doing what you love. Peace.

  3. This article has a very good point on what killed music. I have always believed it officially died in the 80’s. All this 80’s nostalgia crap is annoying as kids don’t remember all the bad things we had in that era. MTV came out and it changed the entire course of direction in music the minute looks became more important than the music.
    Sure the 80’s weren’t completely terrible, we did have the birth of hip hop, Prince, Living Color, and a few gems, but for every good album we had in the 80’s, there is thousands of turds. Hair metal and terrible pop dominated the charts while artists were chasing the looks more than the sounds.
    This was the decade when record companies stopped even trying to find success out of something that was bizarre and not being done at the time. In the 60’s, they tried ideas just to see if they would work and a lot of times it spawned unpredictable success out of artists. Every rock band in the 80’s was a flat sounding joke as they all copied the hair metal garbage that sucked major ass. All the popular trends in the late 70’s from Disco to Glam Rock to Punk was the marketing piece and had to be sold.
    That’s pretty much where we are with music today, it started in the 80’s. The big corporate giants controlling everything, and now music has been pushed and dominated into the course of what’s popular. I blame MTV really, they controlled what people listened to at the time, and like I have said before, anything that was a gem in the 80’s is incredibly overshadowed by the garbage pile.

    This is a great article, and I highly suggest if you want to write more about the industry, you could easily go into the 80’s, a “What Went Wrong With…” would certainly work there 😉

    • I agree.

      In retrospect, people can forget the bullshit from any era, and instead focus on the time as a whole. If you just think of the eighties as Rubix Cubes and New Romantics, that’s a pretty blinkered way of seeing a time without recognising the garbage. After I wrote an article on the Noughties, I realised that every decade/era had its crappy parts, so I’ll probably do one on the eighties and nineties at some point!

  4. To be fair, the music industry started to suffer in 2000s when illegal downloading websites became popular. The industry paid the price for not adapting to the times and still believe that people buy albums.

    As far as the quality of the music goes; there is still good music being made, underground and mainstream. Not all mainstream music is bad, however the majority of musicians in the mainstream are garbage. It is a real shame because the mainstream does have talented people like B.O.B, Pusha T, Common, Jhene Aiko, John Legend, Lupe Fiasco etc.
    It is corrupt media such as the radio; and shit music tv channels like mtv, 4music, and BET; that is pushing the garbage.
    I only recently a rap group called the flatbush zombies on youtube. Despite listening to only a few of their songs, I could tell that they are dope. I’m really surprised that they are not promoted by the mainstream media as much as crap groups like migos and rae sremmurd.
    It is the music industry that is responsible for the decline in the quality of the musoc. The industry refused to change and becauae of it; everyone has suffered, from the artists to the fans. They are so desperate to relive the golden days that they shove the same bullshit down our throats instead of trying something different.

  5. @ jr

    I advise against bashing the person who runs this blog . The reason being that he is often correct . I first came across his blog three years ago . He has a prophetical perspective on pop culture . Mr. Cobain was a talented musician . His death was extremely tragic . He died way , way , way , way before his prime . I think if he were still alive he would have quit music in the late 90’s and become a writer , producer , director , cartoonist , painter , sculptor or actor . But Kurt was hardly original in his musical approach . Grunge music – in one form or another – has probably existed since at least the 1950’s . Even earlier . Lou Reed , Alice Cooper , Iggy Pop / The Stooges , The Ramones , Neil Young , Leonard Cohen , Sixto Rodriguez , Crosby , Stills and Nash , The New York Dolls , Led Zeppelin , Mott The Hoople , Big Star , Simon and Garfunkel , Deep Purple , Cream , Steve Earle , Daniel Johnston , J.W. Farquhar , Jandek , Half Japanese , Dinosaur Jr. , R.E.M. , Sonic Youth , The Sex Pistols , The Dead Kennedys , Henry Rollins , Black Flag , The Byrds , King Crimson , Genesis , Television , Yes , Blue Oyster Cult , Emerson , Lake and Palmer , 54-40 , Jane’s Addiction , Patti Smith , Devo , Wall Of Voodoo , The Tragically Hip , Jackson C. Frank , Bob Dylan , The Grateful Dead , The Rolling Stones , The Band and countless more rock musicians / groups predated Nirvana and came out with gritty material . Material that was very similar to grunge . Cobain never saved rock music in the long term . It is more accurate to say that his band mate Dave Grohl and many , many other 1990’s and 2000’s rock acts couldn’t keep mainstream rock music relevant in 2017 . Nowadays mainstream rock music falls into the “indie rock” / “indie pop” / “folk rock” / “baroque pop” category or the more streamlined Imagine Dragons / Fun. / Maroon 5 category . Rock music is not doing well . Mainstream country music , pop music , EDM and shitty mainstream rap music is where the money is . I don’t even like new rock music . I listen to underground and independent hip hop exclusively .

    I do appreciate grunge music . WHEN IT IS ORIGINAL AND WHEN IT WAS IN IT’S PRIME AS A GENRE . THAT MEANS THE 1980’S AND 1990’S . True grunge music hasn’t been relevant since 2000 . That’s 17 years .

    Kurt wasn’t original . It is like claiming that the late , great Pimp C (Rest In Paradise) was the first ever American rapper from The South . It is simply not true .

  6. I’m glad this article was written.Ive been trying to get recognized and heard for a very long time.Its just that the direction the music has falling to just feel like I can’t fit in.

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