Monday, November 23, 2009

Top In Sales, Not In Quality

I recently stumbled upon an article by WizKid Sound "Why I Listen To Top 40". I have about 3,000 jokes lined up for my guess, but I'm going to try to keep this intellectual and shit, y'all. So, basically the point of the article is that he listens to Top 40 Radio exclusively because, allegedly, it's the "best kind" of music. Not his "favorite" music, but the "best", meaning that everything else is inferior.

I disagree strongly, and believe that "Dan"'s attitude needs adjusting.

Let's break it down.
I [listen to Top 40 exclusively] because I like good music. I like well written, well produced, well mixed music. I like hearing the most talented artists. I like hearing the bands and artists who are at the top, because they are the best. This is what top 40 radio affords me.

This statement is pretty generic. There are plenty of talented artists that have gotten the short shaft when it comes to things like awards. So according to this guy, since he assumes Top 40 radio means the best, that the Grammys also represent the pinnacle of music? Then in that case, Jethro Tull deserves his own version of Guitar Hero.

There are certain self-proclaimed music mavens out who would find this view repugnant... They’ve got a music blog where they use ambiguous descriptions like “spatial”, “dichotomous”, and “neo-post-emocore” to describe simple, boring music. If they review an album from a band you’ve heard of, it’s mediocre and disappointing. If it’s from a band you’ve never heard of, it’s amazing. These people get off on criticizing success and promoting failure. Among this community of success hating contrarians, Pitchfork Media is King.

This point I have no problem with. Sometimes mainstream stuff is good, sometime the indie stuff will surprise you. He's appealing to the other extremes for the sake of the point he's trying to make. Fine. I'm just saying that devoting yourself to either extreme is a douche thing to do,
you (mindless, frat-jock, pink polo wearing, Facebook obsessing/obscure and irony worshipping, skinny jeans wearing, trust fund baby) douche.

Check out their Best New Music section. Now take a good hard look at these unknowns because you will never see or hear from them again. Sure, they may continue to record albums for the rest of their lives, but you won’t ever hear about them because they will suck.

Another thing I kinda agree with. Although some indie band names I recognize are all the rage on the campus, like Animal Collective (WEIRD NOISES!) and Bell and Sebastian (a fruitier Coheed and Cambria). Either my school is very liberal (research university, so maybe maybe not), or they get a lot of word of mouth going.
Pitchfork picks losers and parades them around like heroes fighting against the crushing oppression of the music industry and cultural ignorance... Unfortunately, the sad truth is that there is no real oppression, no cultural ignorance, and no conspiracy that keeps these bands underground. They don’t succeed because their music blows. End of story.

Um, every think that the labels of the music Pitchfork reviews are smaller in scale and don't have the budgets the big guys do? Smaller label=less advertising/distribution budget=less money coming in.
It's picking losers, it's picking the best of what you might not have heard of. All the big publications cover the stuff Pitchfork finds "disappointing", so why we can't have a website that exists in it's own little world? There are plenty of bands I read in Good Times all the time, saying that they're huge in their respective scene, or are doing well, does that mean they're total failures because they're not playing along side Rihanna and the like?

If an independent band really has better music than what’s already out there, you don’t have to dredge the gutters of indie blog-dom to hear them. Labels find and sign the best independent artists because they are already setting trends and garnering fans. By necessity, they have to find the next big thing in order to stay in business at a time when music consumers have endless choices.
The difference between "independent" and "indie" is best described here. Plus, there are PLENTY of reasons why an independent band would remain as such: It's the only surefire way to manage all of you own stuff, people might have 2nd jobs, or are still finishing school and don't want to make it big yet. Not the best reasons, but if he were to publish a rebuttal, then I guess I could clarify this point a bit more.

Despite the ramblings of music industry outsiders, record labels can’t control what music people will like. They can’t control what songs people will like. If they could, they wouldn’t spend millions on market research before promoting songs to radio.Major labels still dominate the airwaves because they have a product people want: new music from the best artists.

Actually, yeah they can. The product the major labels are serving isn't what's good, but what's popular. The two don't always coincide. Why? Two words: peer pressure. Entire studies have been done that prove that we will say or do the wrong thing based on the influence of others, such as the Ash Conformity Experiment. TL;DR: 1 in 3 of us will say the wrong thing to go around with the crowd.

Sure, you might say, "I'm a unique flower who likes Top 40 on my own merits entirely". That is a bullshit point.

You know why I don't go around, changing my real name to Rhythm Bastard, wash regularly and walk around in a shirt and jeans as opposed to wearing only a Tie-dye shirt as pants with 50 spiritual necklaces? Because society told me that it was fucking weird, and to knock that shit off. Sometimes these pressures are right: I don't reek, these things called pants fit much nicer on my legs, and (Real Name) will probably taken more seriously than Dick Cheese McFuckStein.
Music is a much more subjective practice. There are no rules. But what Top 40 radio does is IMPOSE rules where there shouldn't be.

He then breaks down the three main criticisms against Top 40 Radio:
“It’s manufactured”
Yes, it is manufactured, in the same way Ferraris are manufactured. Record labels sign the most talented and charismatic artists. Then they hire the very best songwriters. Then they get the most distinguished producers. Then they go into the the best studios, with the best engineers, and have the best studio musicians play on the record. Then the very best mix engineers finish it off. What comes out is as close to musical perfection as you can get.

OK, so then why aren't the songwriters and producers and other people getting all the credit? In fact, the songwriters and artists can actually disagree on some fronts. For example, in her God awful "Party In The USA" (a song the exact opposite of "Anarchy In The UK"), there's a line where Miley Cyrus (IT'S MILEY!) sings "...and a Jay-Z song is on". She hates Jay-Z, and pop music in general.
So in a way, it's not really an earnest piece of creative work, you're getting a product.
Just like, and this was brought up in the comments of that blog post, "McDonalds is a product, a burger is food."
I put more care into my burgers than McDonald's does. That's because I can pick the type of meat I use, what seasonings I put into the meat, the size I make it, and choose how I top it. It's the kind of burger I enjoy because I sought out that particular burger. With McDonald's, I'm getting a McDonald's burger. It's a frozen hockey puck until you use this huge deathtrap smasher grilling thing.
Music's the same thing. I like well written music too, but it's of my choosing within a certain range, like my burger. With Top 40, I get whatever they give me, like McDonalds.

"Simple and Cliched" Good music IS simple and clichĂ©d. Pop songs use the same chord progressions over and over because they sound good. They allow for powerful vocal melodies and hooks. And yes, pop songs often have “trite” lyrics. That is because they talk about universal subjects that people can relate to. A good song doesn’t need an English professor, a classical composer, and some jackass with a blog to explain itself. A good song is self explanatory. You get it the first time you hear it, and you want to hear it again and again.

This I have no problem against. I find a lot of prog and metal stuff a bit masturbatory, but when it's good, it's good.
But think about this "Dan": Pop songs have been getting simpler and simpler. They've fallen into two categories: Either a girl singing over a drum machine ("Poker Face", "Disturbia") or a guy on an acoustic guitar ("Hey There Delilah", "I'm Yours"). There's simple, and then there's minimalistic.

"It All Sounds The Same" Top 40 does not discriminate by genre. On any given day, you can hear Kings of Leon (indie), Kelly Clarkson (pop-rock), Black-Eyed Peas (cross-genre), Beyoncé (R&B), Kanye West (hip-hop), Matt Nathanson (acoustic), and Lady Gaga (electronica). When someone says that popular music all sounds the same, what they really mean is that it all sounds good. They mean it has better songs, better production, and higher sound quality than the music they listen to.

See the point I've made above. In order to boil everything down and make it more platable, it's gotten to the point where only two sounds exist: Club music and "Play at a party to get chicks" music.

My favorite criticisms come directly from the shitty artists that write shitty music that nobody likes except for assholes that have record players. I often hear this statement from such turd makers: “I could write crap like that [commercial music] if I wanted to.” If you had your shit together, you would have a manager who might be connected enough to get you an audience with a major. An if you really truly could write and perform commercial music, you would get signed and get a chance to be on top 40 radio, where millions of people would actually give a shit about your band. But you don’t have any of this. You don’t have anything.

Now is when he really starts getting into insults. There's also the notion that not everyone wants to make Top 40 music because there's always a style that sells at that time. As you mentioned in your previous point, Top 40 is decided via focus group testing and what not. Some artists want to write whatever they want to. These people aren't concerned with writing POPULAR music, they want to write music that they ENJOY.

I'll never write anything that intentionally sounds like Nickelback or Pink or Rihanna, because that's not music I enjoy. I enjoy songs that have power chords and solos in them. I like to listen to stuff you can work out to. I like to listen to stuff that catches me by surprise, like stuff about Gay bars and Star Wars.

That's not what Top 40 radio gives me. And it really pisses me off when just because it's "Top 40" that everyone will enjoy it everywhere. I have to put up with shit in my gym everyday I wear shorts without pockets. I asked around "Do earnestly like this stuff?" Most who were forced to listen to it said "No" either because nobody wants to listen to an acoustic ballad while they squat, or they've heard "Poker Face" 20 times today.
See, the problem is not that bad indie bands don’t want to sell-out, it’s that they aren’t good enough to. Their best songs aren’t good enough. Even if they sat down specifically with the intent of writing a commercial song that would become a smash hit on top 40 radio, they would not be able to. These facts are bad news for the “true artists” who don’t want to “sell out”. Good music leads to money and fans. Not wanting to “sell out” is a self-fulfilling prophecy that can only lead to destitution and obscurity.
Yes, most bands that wear the "indie" label like a swastika suck and revel in their obscurity. But by simply labeling all bands outside of a narrow range "not good enough" then, you're also excluding other artists you might enjoy. Like Kings Of Leon you say? Some of their harder stuff sounds like "The Hold Steady" and "indie" band. Nerdcore rapper MC Lars loves dissecting rap music such as Kanye West and Jay-Z.

But you'll never hear about those guys, because they're not on the Billboard Top 100.

Assuming you only go out and buy the singles, you're also missing out on the other tracks on that album. I've mentioned in a couple of the reviews I've done that I wind up liking a lot of non-single tracks more than the ones released as singles. I'd rather have a CD comprised entirely of great songs, than one comprised of popular, three well-written-by-committee songs that are heard all over the place, and the rest of the album is shit filler.

We need to stop pretending that the top artists are not the best artists.

The top of the charts are determined by music sales, not quality. They're just the best selling. I could write the world's greatest song, but only release it here where only me and some guy from Alpharetta, Georgia hear it.

Next time you want to hear good music, skip the hype and noise from the chain-smoking Pabst Blue Ribbon crowd. Just do what I do.

Spider Jerusalem was a chain-smoker, good sir, and I will not sit by while you diss cyberpunk's greatest Gonzo journalist by lumping him in with hipster fags.

1. Turn on your radio and find the Top 40 station (or stream from that station’s website).
2. Enjoy.
Or my advice, and here's where the insults start for me:
1. Don't listen to cock suckers who work for studio production companies and only listen to what is popular.
2. Listen to yourself.
3. GO EVERYWHERE. Like a certain genre? Troll around Myspace or the Newgrounds Audio Portal for some stuff you might like. Also, Pandora Radio is your friend.
4. Download
5. Enjoy
6. ???
7. Profit
8. Long Time Thursday.
Don’t waste your time on losers.
Such as Nickelback, and Owl City.
Oh wait.

Hey, Phil from Accounting, I found a guy who sucks at life more than you!

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