Several weeks ago, the world was graced yet again by Prince saying things.
Prince’s argument this time was that “It’s a bad time for music in general. There’s not a lot of pop music in the mainstream that makes you feel scared, that makes you wonder what’s happening.”
It’s an age-old argument that frankly has been said and overstated again and again. Musicians continuously come forward to speak their minds on how ‘music is dead’ and that the music industry is completely lost. They worry about music for coming generations, reflecting back onto how the music they grew up with changed them in their youth. They lament on the state of music now, and shake their head at popular musicians.
However repetitive the statement might be, it does beg the question; atrocious as pop radio might be, is it worth the heavy criticism? Are the self-proclaimed ‘experts’ correct in the over generalization of the entire industry?
Even further, is a musician decades past his prime capable of speaking on some authority over the matter?
To answer the question, it’s important to understand why music evolves the way it does, and there are many factors. In this age, popularity is the highest of those factors. What are people most frequently listening to? What is the most popular style and genre to the industry’s target demographic for pop music?
The truth is that modern pop music evolves, and has always evolved, from rising trends. It’s easy to see that today’s modern pop radio is heavily influenced from the Pop Rock and Hip Hop movements of the 90’s. You can’t listen to Top 40 radio without a dozen appearances from rappers and ‘one-liner musicians’ who jump in to announce their name, spout a few pointless lyrics, then fade into the background. It’s one of the most profitable genre’s right now because the majority of those listening to pop radio aren’t looking for virtuosity, over-complex instrumentation, or complicated lyrics written like poetry.
People listen to different music for different reasons: Pop music is about feeling a part of the in-crowd, reminiscing about time spent with friends, and an image of yourself that you want others to see. Similarly, Dance music is about about energy, adrenaline and a specific setting, be it parties, dance halls, raves, etc
Understanding this, it’s easier to have a grasp on why Pop Radio is the way it is, and why it won’t stay that way. A decade ago the music we have now wouldn’t have worked in today’s society. Similarly, a decade from now it will have evolved to a new genre and will have changed dramatically. Is that any different from how music was two or three decades ago? Unsurprisingly, it isn’t.
The conclusion is that, primarily, the music industry isn’t dead: in fact, it’s hardly changed at all. It’s just evolved to a newer audience.
Furthermore, if you’re someone like Prince who appreciates technical skill and more complex music, then Top 40 isn’t for you. It’ actually quite curious that on the subject of the article, Prince seemed to only judge the basis of his argument on Pop Radio: this is a glaring flaw that should not go unnoticed. The fact is that it remains to be that creativity, virtuosity and complexity isn’t gone. It isn’t even the case that ‘good’ music by Prince’s standard has depreciated or become less common.
Let’s take a look at the Indie music industry for a moment. In the last year, we’ve seen incredible albums from artists like Foals, Death Cab for Cutie, Of Monsters and Men, the ever underrated My Morning Jacket, Florence and the Machine, and many others that don’t make up what is considered ‘mainstream indie’.
These are albums from artists that are highly-revered for putting out music that does not align itself with Pop Radio. Artists are unafraid to test their creative limits and showcase musical abilities, pushing themselves harder and harder to the acclaim of critics and fans alike. This is behaviour that is not only welcomed but encouraged in an industry that is no longer identified by its independence or underground nature. This music is out front, at the top of Alternative and even some Rock charts. These are bands that tour and put on incredible live shows full of energy, an attitude that pushed their peers to do the same.
This is just one part of the industry. Alternative music, with artists like Muse, Against Me, METZ, Queens of the Stone Age and others refuse to put a damper on the quality of their music or live shows, either.
Musicians continuously blame Pop Radio for the shortcomings of the industry. Sometimes, we even see artists blame it for their own failure to adapt to new audiences. Is there any truth in it?
No. Music is alive and well. We now live in an age where any style of music can be popular. Anybody with a computer can record the sounds of guitar, sing, or put together an electronic track and get heard on Youtube, without the need for a recording studio, record label, or any overhead cost.
The music industry is far from dead; it’s more alive than it’s ever been and there is something from everyone if you’re willing to look. It’s time for musicians like Prince to stop complaining and open his eyes, because it is a new age for music and it’s better than ever.