Saturday, May 5, 2007

It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing

The top five on the pop charts just isn't that impressive any more. Sales are tanking: January 2007's top five recordings sold about 1/3 of what January 1997's top five sold. That's quite a drop. Total sales aren't quite that dramatically down, but still sufficient to raise eyebrows.

On the one hand, I agree that the pop music coming out now isn't any worse than what was out a decade ago. On the other hand, today's pop music isn't any better either as it's been so long since the recording industry supported any artistic innovation - instead preferring to play it safe with rehashes of decades past. A lot of the stuff my son is listening to reminds me of Cheap Trick or Pearl Jam out-takes with maybe slightly slicker production gimmickry, but without quite having the soul that those bands had in their heyday. Too many years of getting by on that strategy and the potential audience will begin catch on, and once they do, they'll hold on to their wallets. Nothing against the Dream Girls soundtrack (what I've heard sounds just fine and dandy), but why would one want that when one could simply listen to some vintage Motown? If we're going to live in the past, why not hold out for the real thing?

The real action is with the indies, as usual, regardless the genre one might consider. Most of what I'd be familiar with would come from the jazz and hip-hop underground, but I'll hazard a guess that other genres have some tremendously creative artists worthy of listening to again and again over the long haul. I'll also guess that support in the form of CD sales for independent artists and their labels is probably staying consistent relative to what's coming out of the conglomerates (keep in mind that's only a guess), given that overall music sales haven't plunged to quite the extent that the Top 5 has. With money getting tight in uncertain economic times, $15 on a CD of rehashed retro retreads is a luxury that one cannot afford. There's no lasting value in a Nickelback or Daughtry recording (I'll get a lot of flack from my wife and son on that statement, I suppose).

What we're seeing is the slow implosion of a moribund industry. The world of corporate music has been degenerate for a very long time (in the sense that the industry, like mainstream American culture continues to live in the past). The empire is crumbling, but pay it no mind. There is still a lot of great music to be found, by artists who put themselves 100% into their craft, and by small recording companies that aren't try to support some CEO's bloated salary. Seek outside the mainstream and ye shall find. Bet on it.

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