News From The Woods - December 14, 2013


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published December 14, 2013

"REAL Music: Dying On The Vine"

I watched the Nobel Peace Prize Concert last night on AXSTV. The stage was gorgeous, the show well produced, and the cause is first rate (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).

As for the performers.... I just don't get it. Morissey ? Jake Bugg ? James Blunt ? Timbuktu ? WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Yes, I've heard of Morissey but had never seen him perform or heard any of his music. I was speechless of his three-song performance. His "hit", "Satellite Of Love" left me not only completely cold, but I could not for the life of me figure out HOW he became so popular. NONE of his songs could hold a candle to even the lamest hit of the 70's or 80's. As for stage presence... are you kidding me? IMHO he has NO attributes that would elevate him to a "star". I watched his performance with the horror of driving up on a car wreck. Even when I closed my eyes I could not convince myself that this artist deserves the accolades heaped upon him by the media and the industry. I don't know…. Maybe he's like Bono, doing so much good for humanitarian purposes that he transcends the industry altogether. But for THIS fist-time listener/viewer it was a pure waste of broadcast minutes.

To me, this is just further proof that modern music is dying. And the shows hosts were out there after every performer extolling the virtues of what stars these people were. No wonder they choose actors and actresses to act as emcee's !! They are trained to convince you of their sincerity. If I were a paid actor, hosting one of these "sham shows" would be the most difficult part of my career. I mean, at least we KNOW a movie is make believe. But standing out there on a stage and pumping up the audience with industry-supplied fodder designed to convince the folks in the seats and the folks at home that these performers are "the real deal"……. No… I could not do that. Maybe it is because I am a musician and I DO know the difference, and I'd wager that ALL the musicians present in that auditorium had that thought cross their minds as well during one of those performances. Sure, the lights and the smoke and the mirrors are the trappings of a good support mechanism, but what will happen when all that becomes commonplace? Oh, wait! It already has! But the industry has noticed that it doesn't matter any more! Today's young audience was raised on MP3 files played through a pair of Wal Mart $9 earbuds.

In the old days, we did not have to be told that an artist was "worthy" - we could easily see, hear, and feel for ourselves that this was pure talent standing on stage. And that is TRULY scary, because if even the audiences do not know real talent, the actual passion and understanding for REAL music is also going down the drain. I see evidence of this in so many areas. Live performance venues used to be SRO. Today, only half remain in business for lack of support. You have to travel to a regional music scene to even FIND a decent venue that has a manager who knows the difference between a good draw and a lame performer or group. I realize that, living here in the Ozarks, I am not exactly in the center of the music universe, but you'd think in an entire STATE there would be some kind of support for local and regional music and artists, or at least SOME kind of vibrant music scene. But here in Arkansas, the ONLY city with a semblance of a music scene is Little Rock, and it is simply by default because it is the capitol of the state. Ft. Smith, Fayetteville, and Hot Springs are the largest cities in the state and they DO offer some type of entertainment facilities, but they are mostly bars and thinly-disguised saloons catering more to the alcohol consumer than any patron of the arts. I am personally acquainted with hundreds of musicians who are starving in this state because the live music industry here is dying on the vine. Some of the people are the best players and composers I have ever heard, and yet I see them every day walking into pawn shops in defeat and selling off their precious instruments because they have little choice.

I blame a lot of the demise of the music industry on those holding the reigns of the record industry and the huge music publishers. Many people do not realize that in the world of music publishing, the LARGEST percentages of income from music publishing is derived from television broadcasting. HUGE sums of publishing royalty income are paid when a song is broadcast on a television show. This is one reason the TV shows like "The Voice" have become so popular. Large music publishers are pumping millions of dollars into these TV shows, and it is not by accident that certain songs are selected for the contestants to perform in the competition. Millions of people watch these shows, and it is purely by design that "extra points" are awarded to the artist that has the most iTunes sales. The entire show is structured around the music used. Is it by accident that a major sponsor of The Voice is Verizon? Just the downloads ALONE are in the millions of dollars! This is all where the term the "music business" comes into play.

Don't get me wrong. The "music business" has always been more about the business than the music. All this started years and years ago when Colonel Tom Parker discovered how to exploit Elvis Presley's career and image. Of course it was being done before that. The set pieces were all in place stemming from the careers of popular artists like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, but when Elvis and rock and roll hit the scene, the Big Music Business Boys sat up and took notice. It was also at this time that the population of the US was growing by leaps and bounds. An entire generation of music consumers with willing wallets blossomed into retail sales exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars. The RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) created the "Gold Record Award" for millions of sales of product. Rock music splintered off into sub-genres. Country music flourished beyond our wildest dreams. Even JAZZ music had a large audience, which was pretty much unheard of before the 60's. As the music business flourished, so did the support industries like music instrument manufacturers and other music merchandise (record players, tape recorders, etc.). Then came audio cassettes and eventually digital CD's.

Today this train wreck has evolved into digital distribution…… A complete absence of physical property. It's all about the downloads today, which brings us right back to these popular TV shows where downloads count as "bonus points" for aspiring new music stars. But in the process, music as an art form has been dismissed. Back in the 60's and 70's when a new album came out (record albums… remember those?), we consumers would eagerly pour over the cover art and the liner notes while we played the entire album over and over until we were thoroughly familiar with every little nuance of every song. We would retrieve lyric sheets from the record sleeve, thoughtfully provided by the artists, and follow each word uttered by our favorite bands and singers. The lyrics ACTUALLY MEANT SOMETHING, and you could understand what the artist was singing about. Imagine that! Artists back then felt that they had a social conscience and a responsibility to their fans. In large, today's artists could care less about their fans, aside from ensuring the sales of as much product as possible, and making sure they show up at concerts for ticket sales and merch sales after the show.

Thanks to such modern technological marvels such as Auto-tune, EVERY artist has perfect pitch. Instead of actually sitting down with their fellow band-mates and honing their skills and rehearsing a song over and over until they felt they were ready to record it…… properly and correctly….. Artists today walk into a studio and sing to a prepared track which has been assembled by a team of production techs knowledgeable with modern music software and drum sequencers. They sing the song multiple times - using the aforementioned AutoTune to make sure their sour notes will never be heard by the public. When they are done singing as many as 20 tracks of the same vocal parts, they exit the studio, leaving all the "comping" (selecting the very best line from the multiple parts and assembling them into a single "perfect" vocal track) to be done by the engineers. And THAT is how a hit song is assembled in today's music industry.

I'm sure many of the younger generation would simply say "You're a dinosaur, old man. Go back to your oldies". But after over fifty years in the music business I DO know what real talent is (was). I recognize real music when I hear it, no matter WHO recorded it or performed it. There ARE still some real music-makers in today's market but they are so sparse that it takes literally hundreds of hours of listening to find just ONE that would be equal to even the top 40% of the hits from twenty years ago.

It's truly a sad day in Mudville for real music.


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