Thoughts on joy, individuality, and the state of the music industry in 2014
In my opinion, most “stars” are pawns in the major labels’ end-game, which is to dominate the market. Monopolization enables the THREE remaining major labels (Universal, Sony BMG, and Warner) to use sheer repetition to make whichever song they choose into a hit, whether or not it’s “good.”
Popularity isn’t correlated to any notion of “quality.” But it is absolutely correlated to repetition. It’s called “cumulative advantage” - http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/15/magazine/15wwlnidealab.t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
The songs that dominate Billboard’s Top 40 chart get played on FM radio stations (which are still by far how the majority of people listen to music, and are pretty much all owned by Cumulus, Clear Channel, and CBS) over, and over, and over. As often as every 90 minutes per station: http://www.radioiloveit.com/radio-music-research-music-scheduling-software/music-scheduling-song-rotation-rocket-science/
The more a song gets played, the more popular it gets. The more popular it gets, the more it gets played. And the more people are familiar with a song, the more they feel a sense of community when they hear that song with others (even if they didn’t like the song at first).
Is this whole scenario “bad?” I’ve decided that the point of life (and my primary goal in life) is to spread as much JOY as possible. So, what’s wrong with people enjoying what they like, as long as they’re enjoying it?
Well, I think the scenario IS bad, and here’s why: by monopolizing the marketplace, major labels are stifling diversity and opportunity. More than ever before, pop songs all sound the same; it’s called Monogenre: http://www.stereogum.com/1506632/deconstructing-haim-lorde-and-the-monogenre/franchises/deconstructing/
By dominating the music marketplace with Monogenre, the major labels are blocking new sounds and new voices from being heard. Yes, sometimes there are new breakout stars that shoot to the top based on a combination of catchy songs and novel sounds, but those are few and far between. People are essentially being brainwashed into liking *the exact same sounds.*
[Side note: There’s also the fact that pop records *literally* sound worse than ever before thanks to the Loudness War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war This is why Kanye’s last record (actually, every Kanye record) sounds like Sleigh Bells (the “indie” band, not actual sleigh bells.)]
James Broughton is the radically queer and experimental poet and filmmaker who inspires me to live my life in a way that spreads joy to other people. One of Broughton’s most famous sayings is…
“FOLLOW YOUR OWN WEIRD!”
Experiencing true joy means living an authentic life—removing the fear of being *different* from the rest of society. Tyler Durden’s assertion “YOU ARE NOT A BEAUTIFUL AND UNIQUE SNOWFLAKE” only applies if you give up on *being yourself*. Each of us is totally bizarre, broken, messed up, crazy, delusional, and fucking weird. (Ironically, I guess our divergence from others is one of the few things in life we all share aside from birth and death.) The point is: we are all different, all unique.
Corporations don’t want 7 billion unique demographics to figure out. They want to target broad swaths of people who all share the same general traits.
By stifling musical diversity, major labels manipulate the masses to all “like” the same sounds. Once conditioned, the radio-listening masses are more easily exploitable consumers.
When listeners are being manipulated and, they are being oppressed. Oppression is a deterrent to joy. Oppression is the means by which humans are exploited for profit by governments, corporations, and the 0.01%.
If you subvert this oppressive system by blazing your own trail—instead of following the beaten path of formulaic mainstream music—you will find unique music that is more rewarding than anything you’ve heard before. It’s one more step towards living an enriching, authentic and joyful life.