We witnessed a distinct shift in the musical universe on last Sunday night’s Grammy’s. It became obvious that Urban music is in decline and the age of the “next big thing” in the music business has arrived. How do you categorize Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers? Singer/Songwriters…not exactly. Country…not at all. How about just a bunch of talented musicians that unlike many of the songwriters of the last few years, actually know how to write. Not trite, formulaic Hip-Hop or mindless pop. But great songs, that may never get played on Top 40, but are destined to be mass appeal.
The Avetts have been around for quite awhile. Their fans will tell you, that this record, produced by the eccentric Rick Rubin is not their best. It is damn good however. I think they missed an opportunity the other night. They should have performed the title track from their album. Not their latest single. They were influenced by the archaic old-school thinking of record labels when it comes to television.
Mumford & Sons, just killed. Nothing short of that. There are a number of artists in this realm that are about to explode. Artists that have been around for quite some time. Writing great songs, slowly gathering fans. Amos Lee, had the #1 album in the country a couple of weeks back. Lee is an incredible songwriter. The airline commercial that features is song “Sweet Pea” may have made him familiar to lots of folks, but while it is a good song, tracks like “Arms of a Woman” and “Keep it Tight” are classics.
These artists have to toil in obscurity for a long time. Their music does get played on the radio. But primarily at a format called Triple A. Great music for the most part, skewing towards adults. But at it’s core is classic rock and as a result they do not play many new artists a lot. If you get 7 to 14 plays a week at one of these stations, you are doing well. It is very hard to make an impression with this kind of repetition. There are also not a lot of these stations and some of those exist are either NPR stations, or outlets that have a lot in common with NPR. They just tend not to have a large number of listeners. The listeners they have are fiercely loyal. But, in three of the largest cities in the US (LA, Philly, New York), this music is only heard in block programming elements on NPR or college radio stations. The other problem is that young people in their 20’s, where the fans of this new generation of artists are, would not be caught dead listening to a Triple A radio station. They find this music online. But it is hard to sift through all the shit online to find this stuff. It takes something like the Grammy’s to give them the attention they so richly deserve.
Hopefully the geniuses that program contemporary radiothese days, will read the handwriting on the wall. Their backs are up against that same wall. Advertising is getting harder and harder to sell. Their market share is dwindling at a rapid pace. Satellite radio is getting better penetration as people buy new cars. It is easy to bring your iPod in your car. So, unless their is something really interesting on the radio, most people tend to listen to their iPod. A radio station, with limited commercial interruption that plays these artists and appeals to young people, could be a huge money maker in time. The question is, will the monolithic radio chains of the day have the intelligence to take the leap.
Urban music is totally lost. People are tired of all the angst. How convincing is a rapper screaming obscenities about how hard it is to be black in America, while he is draped in jewelry and leaves the stage to hop into his Bentley. The greats of the genre have been replaced by people just interested in the fame and fortune.
Hard rock music is suffering from the same problem. There is just no more originality. Most of these bands have been influenced by Disturbed, Papa Roach, Sevendust etc. The problem is they have gotten very good at sounding like them. They just haven’t brought anything new to the equation. I also think in general, people are once again tired of the anger. Things financially and politically are worse than they have been in a century. But, people are tired of hearing about it. They get it 24 hours a day on cable news channel. They are looking to music to calm them down and excite them at the same time. Contemporary Modern and Active Rock does not satisfy the masses any longer. As a result these stations ratings are declining sharply and as a result are disappearing.
The good news is that finally there is something new and interesting going on in music. The future lies with acts like the Avetts, Amos Lee, yet relatively unknown artists like Megan McCormick, Ben Kweller and many, many more. There are lots of talented young artists out there. They just need a place to get heard.