I’ve been meaning for some time to try to write a post about the state of the music industry, the eradication of any real musical merit or integrity from that industry and the fully completed corporate takeover of that vague arena known as “popular music” in this highly, highly corporate and soulless time we inhabit.
But I struggled to get my numerous thoughts on the subject in order for the sake of a succinct post; fortunately, however, I came across something that explored the subject much better than I could anyway. If, like me, you stopped listening to music radio when you were still a teenager and stopped paying attention to music on mainstream TV a long time ago – and furthermore no longer pay the slightest bit of attention to the music sections in major stores – then this documentary film is something you might find vaguely interesting.
It can’t have escaped your attention that genuine musical variety and integrity has diminished enormously in terms of the mainstream music and media industries and in terms of what is massively pushed and promoted and what, by comparison, is left in relative obscurity.
It is via Alexandra Bruce of ForbiddenKnowledgeTV that I belatedly became aware of filmmakers’ Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen’s 2006 project ‘Before The Music Dies’; which tells the story of American music at this somewhat spiritless moment in time, which can be said to be largely defined by the corporate industry silencing genuine musical innovation, with just a few corporations controlling the overwhelming majority of the music played on radio and distributed for sale at retail stores (with independent record and music stores concordantly dying out).
Of course with the advent of the Internet there’s more music out there than ever to discover – but that’s the point; it needs to be discovered, unlike the music that is broadly force-fed and marketed to the masses via TV, radio, magazines and major retailers. There’s an utterly uneven divide between independent music being made by genuine artists on the one hand and the product/commodity being sold via mass marketing and promotion on the other.
It isn’t just music traditionally in the rock or indie genres that’s essentially dead as far as the mainstream is concerned; rap and hip-hop have in some ways suffered the most in that the hip-hop genre that is currently the biggest selling genre in the world is essentially something that has been utterly hijacked from its cultural, social and political roots and subverted to serve a corporate agenda.
Virtually all top-selling hip-hop in the last fifteen to twenty years has been an orgy of self-indulgent, money-worshipping, misogynist, violence-embracing decadence utterly divorced from its cultural origins. The journey from Public Enemy to Kanye West is a depressing one.
Guitar-based music fares little better these days, with hardly any new bands or artists with any kind of mainstream success in the last decade-plus being even slightly politicized or culturally or socially relevant even in the UK let-alone the US. And don’t say Radiohead or Manic Street Preachers, for example – those aren’t new bands. And the mainstream industry would probably do away with acts like those if they could, but it’s too late to freeze out those with loyal fan-bases from previous eras in music.
Of course it’s always been the case that real music of integrity and of artistic value begins in the basements, the tiny clubs and bars and indie venues and NOT in corporate board rooms, PR, radio stations or TV shows; but never before has the latter’s sphere of control been so total as it is today.
I could say much more on this subject – a subject I’m passionate about – but Shapter and Rasmussen’s film explores the matter in much greater depth and is well worth a watch for anyone interested in the dire state of mainstream music today, particularly in America. In its You Tube format, the film is broken up into sequential segments of video; those especially interested should use these clips merely as a preview and seek the whole film out elsewhere.