For so many of us, music was a way of life. In the 60’s and 70’s, when rock music truly started to take hold of my generation there wasn’t much to do. We could go outside for a drive, ride bikes, play ball or just hang out. We could go to the movies or the mall (which had not yet reached the status of National Pastime) or we could go bowling. Staying in the house offered us about 7 TV channels and our music to keep us engaged.
Boy has that changed!! Now with so many different things to pass the time, music has lost its prominence in our lives. Not that people don’t listen to music. But they don’t LISTEN to music. Now it more like wallpaper, than a lifestyle. No one listens to albums, just playlists they made. When was the last time you heard of a heated discussion about which band or singer was better. To be truthful, nobody seems to care that much. Album sales are falling off a cliff. Albums used to work their way up the charts. Now, the first week is the best week and it is downhill from there on. Most recently, the decline is precipitous. Sure people go to concerts. “Hedge Fund” guys buy the most expensive tickets. You know the one’s that come with the meet ‘n’ greet. They are trying to make up for the fact that they are geeks and want to live the life that record promotion guys used to live. They want to be rock stars. They don’t have the knowledge of music nor taste in music to pull it off, so they BUY access. About a year ago I overheard a middle aged attorney boasting that she had gone to see two Bruce Springsteen concerts recently. She said “boy he was really good”. Now there is an insightful individual. But seriously, people just don’t know much about music any more. Not like we did. We knew everything!!
Cold Play-“Magic” Sales plummet in second week. They also had to have a TV special to help promote their new release.
I guess there are many reasons for this. It is harder and harder to hear new music these days. Other than Top 40 Radio (whose demos are quite precise) most radio formats play new music only a small portion of the time. The radio station playlists get more and more conservative as ratings and revenues decline. The goal of most radio programmers is to have a “Tight” playlist. That is a station that plays the hits the right amount and only the most promising proven developing records. The biggest compliment you can pay a radio programmer is to tell him his station “sounds tight”. These guys have a job to do. Unfortunately, it flies in the face of creativity and artist development. It is not their job, but it is our loss. For the most part we never get to hear of the best new artists, just the ones with the most money behind them. There are always exceptions. But this is clearly the rule.
So while contemporary artists and developing artists are struggling for airtime, the great artists of the past are not heard at all. While Paul McCartney, Elton John, Paul Simon, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and many other iconic artists are still releasing new music, it is abundantly clear that no one seems to care. There are literally no radio stations that play new music from iconic rock bands. U2 has wisely held off releasing their next album, because they see the writing on the wall. Billy Joel hasn’t released a new song in over 20 years. James Taylor is about to release his first album of original music in about 13 years. James has not been reliant on airplay to sell records for a while now. It will be interesting to see if he will buck the trend established by his contemporaries. My bet is that he will.
Many of the most popular bands of the 70’s and 80’s are still touring, though they have not released new music in a while. Fleetwood Mac is giving it another go, while the Allman Brothers seem to be winding down. The Eagles are still touring as are a host of other acts. But they do not have new albums out. Why go through the effort and expense of recording a new record, when all people want to hear is your old stuff? I get it. But are we experiencing what our parents went through? When all of a sudden, Sinatra, Dion, the Everly Brothers and a host of other acts were not “cool” any more? Most would argue that Sinatra was always cool, but his music stopped getting heard on contemporary radio. Are The Eagles and Stevie Wonder just oldies acts? We are in uncharted territory here. With a very few exceptions, like Frank, most of the acts from those days had the good sense to disappear. The Stones may book a tour as band members approach their 80th birthday! This October, original member Bill Wyman will be 78 years old! Many of the most successful touring acts have leaders who are approaching or over 70 years old!! Bruce used to have an intermission that would last about 30 minutes so he could re-energize. Bands like the Stones will need frequent bathroom breaks in order to play long sets. Who was the first iconic rocker to take the stage in Depends?
Do consumers not care, because the new stuff from these great artists is not good? I think the biggest part of the problem is that most fans are not aware that these greats actually have released music recently. There are no radio stations to play them and no record stores to browse. They don’t show up on any charts and they are too big to appear on TV. Late night TV also continues to prove its impotency in selling music. But that is a topic for another blog. Or were artists like McCartney, Simon and Elton John, born with just so many good songs in them?
Paul McCartney “New”- He still tours to rave reviews and no empty seats!
If this trend continues, we will literally have no music to listen to. A slight exaggeration, but think about it. Years ago, kids used to dream of being in a band, playing in front of large crowds and making lots of money. They also coveted the women and the perks that went with the job. It was difficult to get a record deal in those days. But, if you were really good and wanted it, you had a chance. Now, the odds of having a successful music career are about the same as getting struck by lightning and just as painful. Almost anyone with any common sense and any intelligence will figure out that there are many other ways to be fulfilled and happy, besides slinging a guitar on your back. There is no question that the best talent will go in other directions. As a result, we won’t be left with the best talent, but the best marketers.
So where do we go from here? I don’t know about you, but as I close in on 60 I am as hungry for great new music as ever before. I find stuff I get excited about. I have to look much harder for it than I did before. But as a music professional I tend to shy away from taking on a lot of projects. The new stuff h as heartbreak written all over it. It is difficult for a team (management and act) to spend a year or two putting a project together. Then to see it take form as you would like and watch it vanish in a flurry of disinterest is tough to take. For me to get involved it has to be special. It has to be worth the chance that I will have my heart broken. Iconic acts are more fun to work with. The money is there and you are dealing with real pros and it is always interesting. However, as much as you would like this next project to be a milestone for the great artist the deck is stacked against you and them.
So we are kind of left with what we have. Occasionally we find a jewel amidst an ocean of shit. A new shining new artist that rose to the top of the crap heap. I guess I will have to keep listening to my old Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin albums. There is not likely to be anything new to add to their discography in the foreseeable future and certainly no one new to take their place.