You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2009.
Holy cow… I was SO SICK yesterday. A 24-hour bug or something. I had to cancel all my lessons and spent the day in bed, which of course turned into a ripping headache from having a sore neck and not eating anything. Awesome.
But today… today I am back. I’m back to feeling like the usual me again and writing on this blog. Whew. In fact, I’m currently weighing the pros and cons of traveling to Los Angeles next week and auditioning for the Smashing Pumpkins. That’s right, Jimmy Chamberlain has quit the band and they’re looking to the general public to find a new guy. Read the whole story here.
I’m guessing I probably don’t have enough tattoos to get the gig…
My friends at Food For The Beloved wrote a great post yesterday about Pop Music and the ambiguity surrounding that term. They’ve invited me to weigh in on the conversation, so that’s what this post is about. It’s probably best to read Lars’ original post before reading my thoughts below.
Ok, here we go…
In any discussion about Pop Music, I think it’s helpful to acknowledge and define the multiple uses of the term “Pop.” It seems that there are three:
The first definition: “Pop” as it refers to the sound/style of certain music. In this sense the term describes a genre – the section of the record store where one would go to find particular albums. These “Pop” albums, currently, would sound like something close to U2 or Phil Collins. However, “Pop” as a genre description has been and continues to be used quite broadly, at times referring to artists who have VERY different styles and genres. Wikipedia describes the “Pop” sound as “a lighter alternative to Rock and Roll… features a noticeable rhythmic element, melodies and hooks, a mainstream style and a conventional structure.”
The previous Wikipedia quote touches briefly on the 2nd definition: “Pop” as it refers to a level of commercial success. This usage is best understood as the shortened form of the word “popular,” and it’s almost perfectly synonymous with the term “mainstream.” Pop in this sense is a very unhelpful term, in my estimation, because popularity hinges on so many factors outside of actual music. Era, promotion, politics, reputation, appearance… there are plenty of ways to achieve massive popular success without having a Pop genre/style, not to mention the quality of the music. Furthermore, the whims and trends of culture will shift at least two times each decade, only adding to the difficulty of labeling music according to it’s popularity. These often abrupt shifts in pop culture also make predicting the next “Pop” trend nearly impossible.
The third definition expands on the idea that music’s popularity is predictable: “Pop” as it refers to the commercial intent of music. For this definition I prefer to use the term “calculated music.” Calculated music is a business model, a market play, an investment. Calculated music attempts to use the flow of culture’s “hip factor” to determine what genre/style of music will be the next big thing, and jump on that bandwagon in time to turn a large profit. Calculated music will reflect any given genre/style, but by definition the calculated music will only be found in a genre/style that has potential for mainstream success (i.e., NOT jazz or classical or avant-garde… but often Pop).
As I said initially, a conversation about Pop Music will inevitably weave it’s way through these three uses of the term “Pop,” so it’s good to get them on the table at the outset. Now that we have that taken care of, I’ve got some general observations and responses regarding Lars’ post from yesterday. For clarification’s sake, I’ll use “Pop” only according to my first definition, and I’ll use “mainstream” and “calculated music” in referring to the other 2 definitions…
– Pop music is fine. I like it. Coldplay, John Mayer, Justin Timberlake, etc… a lot of Pop music is super cool. In fact, I have no principled objection to ANY style of music. Every genre offers both quality and crappy art, so I just do my best to sort through it all.
– I have nothing against mainstream music. Just because music is liked by tons of people doesn’t mean that the music lacks depth or artistic integrity. However, in the same way, just because music reaches mass popularity doesn’t mean that it is automatically awesome. My comment regarding all the various genres of music and the fact they all include both quality and crap – this applies to the mainstream as well.
– Calculated music, although often succesful in the business sense, is annoying to me because it betrays the original existence and purpose of art.
– Pop music contains many appealing and accessible qualities, and for this reason the majority of today’s mainstream music can be accurately placed in the Pop genre. This accessibility in Pop also means that the music is often easy to understand and digest. This is not a problem, but it does somewhat represent the lagging state of the current mainstream. In past generations, a highly complex and less accessible style of music did not immediately eliminate the possibility of mainstream success, but unfortunately that is the case today. Does this mean that today’s mainstream has dumbed down it’s comprehension and preference for music, or are many music fans just getting lazy? Possibly both.
– Ironically, it seems calculated music rarely achieves the long-lasting mainstream success that it seeks. This is most likely due to the fact that passionate music fans can sniff out calculated music, and it annoys them for the same reason it annoys me. Your “every-day-Joe” (the guy who just listens to the radio on his work commute), will respond equally to music that is calculated and music that is truly expressive. However, the genuine music fan will only REALLY respond to genuine music (i.e., artistically expressive music… whether that be Pop or Rock or Hiphop or whatever). This means that an artistically sincere musician who successfully creates cool Pop music will attract both the genuine music fan and the every-day-Joe, while the calculated music will only ever be able to snag the every-day-Joe.
DISCLAIMER: Please take all of my thoughts on this issue with a grain of salt, obviously. I definitely don’t know for sure about any of this, these are just observations that seem to coincide with the music world that I’m regularly apart of. I’d love to hear differing viewpoints on these issues.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a series of video drum lessons that I did for Risen Drums a while back. The next episode will be available soon… but… don’t ask me what I mean by “soon.”
Anyway, in an attempt to stay relevant with the video lessons that I do, I occasionally browse the thousands of similar video drum tutorials in the YouTube world. This one was too funny for me to not post here. The drumming is, as you will see, pretty impressive… and then there’s the rest of it…
PS. Be sure and read the user description in the upper right of the page…
Although I don’t share the worldview of the author, the thesis/content of this article is pretty well spot on.
The other day I came across a website called New Music Strategies. It’s a site devoted to successfully participating in and accurately analyzing the new and rapidly evolving music industry in the digital/internet age. Lots of great stuff on here to help freelance musicians adapt to the ever-changing playing field of professional music. The article that initially caught my interest was an interview with Steve Lawson about the commercial value of Twitter for musicians. I have a Twitter profile, and I admit I don’t fully understand the potential of it, but Lawson’s insights have certainly helped in that regard. If anybody else has other helpful hints or suggestions about how to get the most out of the Twitter world, hit me up.
In other news…
The Newsboys just announced that lead-singer Peter Furler is leaving the band, to be replaced by DC Talk’s Michael Tait. Those of you who pay attention to the Christin music world probably agree that this is a strange development.
Random related trivia: I played a gig here in Minneapolis with Michael Tait a few years ago. He was pretty nice, and he thought my daughter Betty was really cute. I don’t blame him for thinking that – she IS pretty darn cute.
I’m playing a couple cool gigs next week that I want to make sure everybody knows about…
2) Friday (3/27) is the release show for Elizabeth Hunnicutt’s new record, On The Way. The show will be at Church Of The Open Door in Maple Grove. Tickets are $8 in advance, and $10 the night of. You can hear some of the tracks from this record on Liz’s myspace page and on her new website.
Gary Gauger is the man responsible for the revolutionary drum mounting system known as RIMS. Gary pioneered the first RIMS mounts right here in Minneapolis, back in the early 80’s.
Since then many other companies have offered variations on the RIMS system. A couple years ago Keith Anderson (owner of Risen Drums) wrote an interesting article on Gauger’s website about potential problems with these imitation or “after market” RIMS-style mounts. Check it out, it’s worth the read if you’re a drummer.