You’re Not Getting Older: Pop “Music” Was Always Awful

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This post title was inspired by Chris Sacca …I started writing it the other day but finished it today motivated by the discussion happening surrounding Taylor Swift and Apple on Twitter. Let’s start with Chris’ Tweet:

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I’d actually take this a step further. Pop music was always terrible, devoid of creativity and by definition doesn’t challenge or inspire. It’s music for people who don’t like music. It’s for the same people who think cheap QSRs (quick service restaurants) like McDonald’s or Burger King make a quality burger, those who believe Bud Light is good beer or those who find entertainment in the mind numbing, intellectually devoid circus that is reality TV.

But what’s that you say, no one eats at McDonald’s or Burger King these days as their quality ‘has slipped?’ Only drunk college kids pound Bud Lights? Or you don’t watch reality TV anymore because it is no longer novel? The actual reality is those choices were always terrible, but many lacked aesthetic or individuality to reject them when they were in fashion. They were all products created for a mass market world: cheap, fast, ultimately disposable, and lacking in personality or substance. They were marketed heavily. You may have risked being “popular” to reject them, and most people are conditioned to go with the crowd from a young age. Too much a risk for a majority of Americans to speak out against.

Those things mentioned above were distractions from anything of high quality and some might say harmless. But I disagree, the low end of the QSR industry (which I lump together with Coke, processed foods, etc) is to a good extent responsible for the current US obesity epidemic / our health crisis. So back to music: pop music, arguably, could be contributing a similar crisis to our collective mental health. For people that like music, it’s avoided like the plague and when forced to experience it, a headache. For the masses, it’s just what they know because music culture isn’t something they have dug into yet.

McDonald’s has already peaked and is on the decline, whereas startups such as Chipotle which are ‘perceived healthy’ are on the up-and-up. Probably just a step in the right direction, but the trend is clear: people are starting to care more what they put in their bodies. The next trend will be people more conscious of the art they consume. For this reason and this reason alone, I am optimistic for the future of music. If you look at the history of music in every culture until current, it has been innate to everyone. We all are creative. Only now, and only in America, do we put a small number of artists producing intellectual devoid and “fast food” art on a pedestal. Well, some of us.

But I’ll be nice: it’s not the fault of people who like pop music that have become so manipulated. Just like it’s not the fault of people who watch reality TV or eat fast food. We can’t really blame them as these industries have, similar to religion, established themselves as what you “have” to follow. The music industry in-particular is a cycle of insularity among genres and manufactured talent the last 50 years, peaking with, IMO the show American Idol, something which is so far removed from actual musicians and meaningful art it’s laughable. This industry should not really have existed in the first place, btw. It’s a cartel that existed for some time due to radio and gatekeepers. Again, we can’t be upset about these things just like we can’t get mad at people who still believe in religion and fairy tales: it’s against the status quo to not believe in them, and in America, from a young age, you’re not taught to question everything. You’re taught to follow the rules.

I actually thought most smart people knew pop stars and in particular the big labels were copyright bullies and antithesis of free speech and artistic expression. But they don’t. Most people, even really smart people, have no idea (or simply don’t care enough) and continue to support the large platforms and labels. And yet the existing institutions of pop music and label-driven art are at almost comic levels of villainy. From continued lawsuits against their own fans to attempting to shut down any new technology innovations, this industry is probably the worst one there is. Mark Cuban says it best:

Again, I thought this was all known, but it’s not. As someone who has been making and sharing art freely online for 15+ years I assumed everyone knew. But it’s become blindingly obvious to me reading all the reaction Tweets this week supporting Taylor Swift redacting her music from Apple due to a promotion they wanted to run, and Swift running a blog post slamming them. This is a complete non-issue, a sideshow to the real problems with the music business (and streaming in particular) and that anyone is upset about it shows how little they know about what’s really going on. While Swift proclaims support of independent artists in her blog post, I can say as an independent artist she in no way represents us. Startup L Jackson nails it:

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First of all, majority of independent artists would not consider anything Swift makes even close to art (her music is popular music, not serious music — yes, there is a difference and while musical taste is subjective I would like to draw a line in the sand and say, for debates sake, you can enjoy anything but quality can be debated by those who dedicate their life to this – if you disagree, then also you are arguing that a McDonald’s burger is subjectively better than one made by Gordon Ramsey). But more than that Swift realized the power of PR early in her career and is purposefully playing on people’s heartstrings (including her own fans – who by the way resorted to using profanity and personal attacks to me in response to my Tweetstorm – says everything you need to know about them).

So I don’t support pop music in any of its forms, or feel bad when pop artists are fighting with technology companies because they don’t get their way. The previous world order favored them. Radio locked out anything new, unique or that challenged us. As a business it would not take any new risks because a formula they had down was one which they easily profited from. Now their monopoly has ended, and like a child having their candy taken away they are lashing out.

The Internet was supposed to change this ages ago. One more industry analogy: the Internet (should have) already done to music what Tesla has done to cars: Tesla sells direct to consumer and skirts the old dealership model. The encumbants have rallied hard against this and it’s a clear anti-competitive system trying to reassert itself in a world that has changed beneath their feet. The only difference here is the music industry has fought back and “put the genie back in the bottle” for independent artists. If this were not the case, I would not be receiving messages from Spotify telling me I’m a pirate (they haven’t the faintest idea what a creative commons artist is). I include this to show you that sure, some artists like Swift are upset about a promotion by Apple. Meanwhile others of us are outright banned from the “new radio” of streaming:

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The current generation of streaming sites basically seeks to establish itself as radio 2.0. There is no upload button on Spotify or iTunes (SoundCloud and YouTube are the only artist-friendly platforms and allow users to upload directly). You have to go through the same artificial barriers as you did on radio (submitting music). Can you imagine if someone had to say yes to you publishing a blog post, a Tweet or a video to YouTube? Exactly. Spotify and Apple’s music streaming services are not free and open, rather closed platforms that have been molded to appease the labels / keepers of the pop music status quo. Otherwise why would they not work to accept new kinds of art and just fold to the labels?

I was chatting with my friend Jesse who shares a more positive perspective on Swift. I wish I could share his sentiment, but to me (and others) she’s the same side as the RIAA / labels (which we’ve covered exhaustively) she portrays to be against. Swift sues her own fans and trademarks lyrics which aren’t even original to her. This is philosophically the same actions that the RIAA has taken against their fans for years (as Techdirt has covered even more exhaustively, they truly are the villains of the music industry). For the record I do agree with Jesse on the need for change in the music business particularly more open platforms. But if they are predominantly there to service “artists” with the ego, greed and entitlement of Swift, I don’t want to be a part of them personally.

The current drama with the labels, pop artists and tech companies isn’t by accident. Make no mistake, this is a battle to keep original, creative and different forms of art out of the system. I have had enough of my music pulled down (original and remixes) from platforms over the years I have almost given up entirely on having my music anywhere but my own domain. It’s clear indies aren’t welcome here. And why should they be? That’s the antithesis of the radio industrial complex that is the music industry for consumers to have choice, or remixes or creative interpretation. They would have embraced Napster years ago if that was the case I believe these are inexorably linked, and Swift is simply the re-creation of the old guard attempting to position herself as the little guy.

Related: also check out my guest post on Hypebot on the major labels working to remove artistic freedoms on SoundCloud, which was shared in a congressional testimony on the music industry.