Today was a frantic, frazzled day. My fiance and I decided that we were going to get new bedding. While on the hunt, that took us north, south, east and west of Salt Lake City, I received a text message from a friend of mine. He asked what I wanted to write my next post about. Still unsure, I had a vague idea brewing about music snobbery or pretension when it comes to listening to certain music. I found that individuals differ greatly on what they consider pretentious behavior.
When I was in high school, I used to carry the idea that pop stars could not be real musicians. They did not write their own music, rather they just danced around to other people’s music while singing other people’s lyrics. I listened to “real” bands, or so I thought, because they played their own instruments, they wrote their own music, and sang their own lyrics. They were not blown up by the media as “the next big thing” and were genuine. With a capital G. And I believed all this, despite me knowing all the words to every Britney Spears hit, and all the while owning every single N’Sync album.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized the fundamental truth of music. The big secret is this: music is music is music. Whether or not a certain artist wrote the lyrics did not take away the fact that he or she had to have the voice to sing them. All because someone didn’t know how to write a wicked guitar rift, didn’t mean that they were not capable of creating music. What I find truly amazing is that some people still hold the belief that an artist like Lady Gaga cannot be considered a true musician. Even though she is classically trained.
With pretension aside, I began to listen to all music. I took recommendations from anyone who would be willing to give them. I found bands from the late 90s who would be described as the creator’s of “emo,” listened to up and coming pop stars, and rapped along with Diddy and Hova. Through the kaleidoscope, I saw music as both a forum for self expression and as a way to earn a living. I think this is where the debate begins presenting itself.
My original thoughts for this post centered around the notion of musical snobbery and not giving “pop” music a chance. And furthermore, how that can effect the idea of “selling out”. While wandering through my murky thoughts, I made the comment that it seemed ridiculous that people would complain about popular music, only wanting to listen to underground bands, but would only illegally download their albums rather than spend the $0.99 or $1.29 on iTunes or Amazon. This began a debate between my friend and I.
Money goes to labels, and labels request profit from their artists rather than allowing them to write the music they want to (meaning they want quick turnover from one album to the next). Does that mean that artists have to give up the concept of their music if they are going to sign with a label? Or can a musician sign with an independent label, produce the music they want, but then question becomes will they be able to survive in the music jungle? Without a major name behind them, they cannot get the benefits of certain artists like Lady Gaga, who’s record company pays radio stations to play singles. Is word of mouth enough to make it in the industry? And if not, how can a band or singer-songwriter maintain integrity to their musical vision when labels require them to churn out single after single in a short time? This is the great debate.
Should people spend a dollar per song, that ultimately goes in the labels pocket, or can word of mouth maintain a band in this ADHD world without the help of big name backers? Or is it just a fruitless argument? After much discussion, it appeared that I was on one side and he was on the other. We were not going to agree with one another. He believed that musical integrity was more important than making a dime, while I believed in the “you need to give some to get some” theory. Write an album you love, churn out crap for the label, write an album you love, churn out crap for the label. But even if we could come to an agreement, there is still intention.
What I mean by that is: WHY? What was the intent of the artist when he or she began making music. Did they hope to make a living, and therefore it should be obvious that certain concessions should be made. Or were they performing because through their music they hoped to spread an idea or concept, and therefore they would knowingly enter into the industry as an underdog?
One of the most truthful things I have ever read was in a Rolling Stone interview with Lady Gaga. She was talking about a new album she was working on and how it would be different than the two previous she had produced. It was brought up that she sang about getting drunk and being in clubs and would this album follow in that vein. She responded that she had been paying her dues, but once she truly made it, she would begin writing music that she wanted. The Fame, indeed.
Once my friend and I agreed to disagree, I was still toying with the idea of musical snobbery. And it kept bringing me back to the unknown. Who are we to judge the intent of musicians? And who are we to disregard those artists who choose to work the system to find a means to an end? But most importantly I was left questioning why my friend and I had been arguing when it was clear we both had found fault with the music industry.
However, the debate will continue to thrive while the problems still exist.