April 25, 2005

Where's the Next Big Thing in Music?

I find that I avoid listening to the radio a lot, pretty much all the time. I have a good sized CD collection covering a wide array of genres and decades and styles and whatever. I rip my own music to MP3's and burn them on CD's for play in my car, or my portable CD player, both which play the preferred format. Considering the amount of music I have, legally I might add, there is very little need for to ever switch over to the radio. Although, on occasion I do find myself switching over to the airwaves, usually it is in hopes of hearing some new act that will blow me away. The problem that arises is that it all pretty much sounds the same, I can scarcely tell one act from another. I should mention that I tune to the rock stations, but I think I have heard enough to say that it is accurate across the board. Or course there are a few standouts among the newer acts, but nothing that is mind blowing or threatens to change the direction that music is headed in. This brings me to my reason for writing this, will there be another big thing? Will music continue down the path of homogenization? Is music a disposable entertainment form to be dictated by corporations who only wish to deal with what can easily be sold to the masses? Will the development of truly original talent be eliminated in favor easily marketed cookie cutter music? My initial reaction is I certainly hope not, that wouldn't leave much hope for the future of the business.

Now, before going any further, I am simply a fan of music, I am not involved in the business nor do I have any detailed knowledge of the history. I know what I listen to and the trends that I seem to be and some of the acts that have changed music over the years. So shall we begin?

Every some odd number of years an act makes such a splash in the music world as to send a good chunk off in another direction and the black hole towards homogeny begins anew. In the 1950's there was the emergence of Elvis Presley, love him or hate him, he definitely made a lasting impact on the business musically and through performance, the man would put on a show.

Moving into the 1960's their were The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, both of which have made a lasting impact on music, with the Stones still on the road. In the 70's there was the first push towards metal with the emergences of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, not to mention The Who and Pink Floyd. All of these bands have left their mark on future music. How many rock and metal acts have cited them as influences. But even as they were each hitting their stride, other acts would come up sounding like them.

The next stage is the 1980's. Here I noticed a couple of divergences in these mark making bands. One side saw the rise of glam metal, with Motley Crue being one of the early successes, carving themselves a niche and displaying an amazing amount of resiliency. Another one being Bon Jovi, more to the lighter side of things, but equally influential. By end of the decade there were scores of these bands where you could barely discern who was who. On the other side of the coin was the rise of the heavier side of metal, whose first wave still stands tall as some of the most influential acts of the genre. Those being Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer, four acts at the top of the food chain. But again, there are so many bands to come up that try to sound just like them, bands that probably were signed due to their similarity to those other bands.

The 1990's saw a shift, a few of them as a matter of fact. The glam and hair band set were dying down and the world saw the rise of grunge. Spearheaded by Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and to a lesser extent Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. Suddenly there tons of these grunge bands helping to make the alternative the mainstream, while retaining the alternative tag. As the grunge movement quickly died down, two new movements started.

One of those movements was back towards radio friendly type rock with its frontrunners Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20. Both acts created a number of radio hits with a style that was more or less palatable to the masses, essentially inoffensive. This shift saw a rise of that radio friendly sound, which still survives. The other movement was the rap-rock crossover, while having some earlier hints, was brought to the forefront by Rage Against the Machine and Korn. Again it just started the cycle over, and we are still living through a lot of this.

I know I glossed over a lot of this, but the idea is there. The formula is set and dictated to us by the corporate driven music industry. Every once in awhile a truly unique act will slip through the cracks and get pushed to the moon, then everyone follows suit signing similar sounding acts shoving them all down the publics throat regardless of talent.

The big question now is if the industry is content with what is going on right now, or will we ever see a big shift in the scene again? Are we content to sit back be spoonfed so much swill? Is the music industry becoming lazy?

Again there are aberrations, there are a number of talented artists out there creating music, but none has reached a level to change the direction of what is pushed.

I don't see a shift coming soon, although I would like to. Do you?

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