Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It's about the music

That headline right above this text is the slogan for a certain Twin Cities radio station. They also claim to be the source for the best mix of then and now. Funny, I don't hear much "NOW" being played. After randomly scanning the five FM presets on my stereo at work, I am convinced that the concept of new music is somethjing from a bygone era. As I flipped through the stations which stake their claim at playing "NEW" music, this is what I found...

93X: Stone Temple Pilots - Vaseline
KS 95: Fine Yong Cannibals - She Drives Me Crazy
Cities 97: Creed - With Arms Wide Open
KDWB: Mya, Pras & ODB - Ghetto Superstar
Drive 105: Beck - Devil's Haircut
B96: Usher - Burn

I find it interesting that the only station playing anything recorded after the year 2000 (when I did this un-scientific survey)was B96 which happens to be the newest frequency on the Twin Cities radio dial as it was added in 2000 or 2001.

This area is heavy on station which play "gold" music. Gold refers to songs which are more than seven years old as many of those listed above are. In addition to the station I checked, the selection includes Lite Rock station Lite 103, oldies station KOOL 108 and the horrid stations of Mix 104 which plays "80's" rock and Smooth Jazz 100.3. Personally, these are the stations which I wouldn't listen to for a sack full of cash. Considering my financial status, that says alot.

My real point today is why there isn't as much new music on the airwaves as the was a decade ago. I can remember growing up in small-town southern Minnesota having the choice of, at one point, five "Top 40" type stations which played new music. Today in that area there are only two (one of which is fairly new to the airwaves), the majority now play classic rock.

It has been said that today's media companies go with what is safe. That seems to hold true given the events of the past week as yet another innovative radio station, KSYY 105.3 The Spy in Oklahoma City, was shut down ion favor or spanish-language music. Not that Oklahoma is a real hub of Mexican culture and not to mention that a more powerful station already serves the area's hispanic population with the same music.

With hip-hop seemingly the only genre which isn't stuck in a forcefield of classic hits, what will become of the classic rock genre in twenty years? Will it feature the bubblegum pop of today's youth? Will there be a place in classic rock for the smattering of nu-metal from the past five years from the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and the more successful Linkin Park? Will those stations even exist in twenty years?

Frontline, a PBS news and investigative show, recently did a show titled "The Way The Music Died." It covered the stories behind KCRW in Santa Monica, CA as they interviewed Morning Becomes Eclectic host Nic Harcourt. He dove into topics such as the newly-formed band Velvet Revolver which features a cast of former Guns N Roses members and former Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland.

But where it goes from there is anybody's guess. I don't know if it delivers musically. But these types of groups are usually marriages of convenience, where you are putting together some people who, for whatever reason, are unable to do what they used to do. Scott Weiland has blown it so many times with Stone Temple Pilots because of his addiction problems, then that band is probably cooked.

And, of course, the guys from Guns N' Roses, Axl doesn't want to play with them anymore, so that's never going to happen. So you've got people who want to work, obviously, and want to taste it again who said, "Well, look, we'll get Scott as the singer. We'll get these guys and put it together." You're manufacturing something to a certain extent and whether or not there's any soul underpinning that musically remains to be seen. Maybe there is. But oftentimes [with] those things, there's not.

Essentially, a band like Velvet Revolver is just as manufactured as groups of a few years back such as Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. I don't believe that music groups which were the most popular were always manufactured in this fashion. Again, an example this time of a record company playing it safe. Recycling talent which was popular in the past. Does it appeal to the youngest group of the music buying public? Maybe. Will it be even a blip in the history of music in three years? Probably not.

When they say, "Hey, man, we're leading the revolution back to rock. We're going to break hip-hop. We're the new rock revolution," what do you say?

Too old. The new rock revolution is happening with 20-year-old guys; it's not happening with 40-year-old guys. The new rock revolution is kids in New York and kids in Glasgow and 20-year-old people who are forming bands. Most recently from Australia with the Vines and the Strokes and the White Stripes from Detroit. I mean, these are people in their 20s who are really what's bringing rock back. I don't think the middle-aged guys are going to reinvent rock music. ...

It's like well, Guns N' Roses were huge and Stone Temple Pilots were huge, so let's put those guys together and it's going to be huge. And it may well be.

It seems like what killed music was a combination of things. It may have been the greed of the record companies. It likely included the mergers and consolidation of the record companies. The consolidation of radio stations sure didn't help any. MTV also plays a part of the blame by only broadcasting a small selection of videos. Imagine if the radio you listened to was a network - the exact same from city to city. Perfect cross country continuity. Everybody would hear the exact same music. Why would anyone set on making money take a chance with the viewership of millions and millions at stake?

The record companies claim their losses and declining sales and resulting mergers and consolidation can be blamed on the internet...

And to me, when the music business said, "We've been killed by the Internet and by illegal downloading," it's so unfair. Because what's really done them in is their inability to develop talent, and to stick with it. And so that stuff is what pisses me off about the music business.

Maybe the real truth is their lack of developing new talent and the expensive, sub-par products they have produced since the advent of MTV. I, for one, thing twice about spending more than $10 on a CD. I typically sample the tracks on iTunes first before buying anything. Better safe than ripped off. And with 30,000 CDs released each year, why do we seem to hear about 100 artists no matter where the dial lands?

Flip your dial to your computer once you have given up on the stale local radio scene. Today I discovered Bismarck, SD college station KSDJ - they also stream! They sound amazing and play a fine mix of main stream music and stuff I have not yet heard. Not quite a replacement for The Spy or 97X but better than what the area has to offer.

If you are the outgoing type, support your local bands. Buy their CDs and merchandise. Hope that the good stuff out there gets discovered in some way. If not, pray for our ears.

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