Congratulations, You’ve Been Brainwashed
As I stood at SOBs on Wednesday night with my friend Dyalekt at Hot97’s Who’s Next live music series we both realized something, almost everyone in the place had been brainwashed. We were among a crowd of music consumer zombies that couldn’t handle the idea of seeing and hearing artists that they didn’t already know and hadn’t been told they like yet. Commercial radio and MTV have become so prevalent in our lives that the vast majority of the country is tuning out anything they don’t know or haven’t been told is hot.
I thought about this for a while. What’s happened to the music consumer in America? We all know the main reason certain artists get millions in sales is that they not only have the best marketing campaigns, but also the most rotation on major radio and MTV. Trusted radio personalities tell us that a particular artist is hot, or a particular song is “the jam” and we being the zombies that we are turn it up and even if we don’t like it at first it gets engrained into our brains via an obscene amount airplay until we feel we have no other choice but to like it. There is no other way to explain many of the songs that have become hits over the years (Laffy Taffy anyone?).
With the way the set up is now up and coming artists stand little chance without the endorsement of MTV or a major radio personality. Artists can’t simply put out a great record and expect people to gravitate towards it, this was proved at the Hot97 event earlier in the week. There was a halfway decent crowd at the club, but each artist that went on stage and performed found it impossible to elicit any kind of reaction from the audience. The crowd stood there just looking at the artists with an expression on their faces that screamed “who are you? We haven’t been told what we think about you yet.” Rather than listen to these artists perform and potentially get into the groove of something new all these supposed music fans could do was wonder who the artists were and what they were doing there. Hey geniuses, they were there to perform songs for you! It’s what they did and some of them, most notably Elan, did it well.
No one wants to be a trendsetter in 2006. No one wants to be told they’re crazy for their choice in music. When it comes to our musical tastes we have become a nation of followers rather than tastemakers and although our consumer dollar still has an impact we have essentially given that impact and that power right back into the hands of the giant corporations that churn out cookie cutter, here today gone tomorrow, artists that leave no lasting impression on our lives. Listen to a major commercial radio station today. I know that’s rough homework, but give it a go. Do you feel any of the songs you’re hearing are timeless? Do you feel any will be played even a year from now? Nope, they’re not and they won’t.
If we as consumers and fans of music start finding our own way in this sea of artists and discover who we really like we can take the power back and create a nation of informed music fans once again. There’s nothing wrong with turning on an independent radio station, or surfing the web for new music. There are a lot of artists and bands out there and there’s no way your tastes should be limited to what you’re told you like. If you see a $5 or a $10 show near you this weekend I implore you to look up the band on the web, check out their music and if it interests you at all go see them and give them a shot. Just because someone on MTV or your favorite radio station hasn't co-signed on them doesn't mean you won't like them. And even if the band you see never gets airplay on major radio stations it doesn’t matter and it certainly doesn’t make them any less talented. All it really does is make them your little secret, something that makes you your own personal radio programmer because now you’re telling you what’s hot and what you like. Novel idea, don’t you think?
Around the seventies however the format of radio changed wherein, playlists were no longer made by DJ's themselves exclusively, who were essentially the tastemakers, and often "broke" new artists. Program managers began to exert the most control and they were beholden to corporate sponors, and or a corporate office, who looked to format radio more uniformly.
Coupled with what happened with the telecommuniations act I believe in 95 which essentially created monopolies of mass media, the circle was closed and complete. Where you had more diversity, more to choose from, and actually had independent artist who could create an impact by simply putting the record in the hands of DJ's who were always looking for the next or new sound, style, now venues, radio, tv and the labels all work in a symbionic harmony to push a particular "product".
This is why the internet and independent labels are so important and crucial to lifeblood of music at this stage. Without them, their wouldn't be a way to at least push yourself into the public consciousness. I think as these avenues continue to grow, and independent labels thrive, and independent media (like your blog) grow in stature, you'll have less zombies.