This past year has seen a lot of awful acts make a lot of money in music. I’ll let you in on how they’re doing it.
We have all been shower rock stars. You know, we use the shampoo bottle as a mic, hit all our freshest dance moves that we can do in the four or five feet of space in the tub. We were all aspiring to be rock stars at one point – the only difference between most of us and some of the artists that exist today is that, at some point, we realized we were bad.
Maybe it was a family member, a friend who didn’t want to see us embarrassed, or maybe even Simon Cowell, but someone told us that we were not good, and we found something else to do with our lives.
Unfortunately for our eardrums, no one told some people they were bad, and they became artists, or rather, rich people who do music for a living. Some would argue that their “money is still green” and that “numbers don’t lie.” But let’s get to the root of why those people are getting money, and why they’re selling more than the talented artists…
In the curious case of hip-hop music, for example, we find that its roots began with kids who wanted some music that related to them, something they could dance to. The lyrics were sometimes profound, sometimes all in good fun, and sometimes nonexistent but very sonically pleasing. At the time, the music belonged to the people. Record companies regarded it as nothing more than a fad. The more popular it became, however, the more labels paid attention to it and started signing hip-hop artists.
This is where it begins to fall apart.
Record labels are owned by people who want to make money. They are businessmen and women who don’t have to care about music. They care about what is going to sell. So, when someone comes along who has the potential to accomplish that, that person gets signed. It doesn’t matter if that person has a heart for music, has a desire to create a quality product, or has the potential to create for a long time. Labels want an instant hit to make money quickly. The untalented can make money with their looks, their personalities, and their willingness to be puppets. Thus began the emergence of all these crappy rappers who are calling themselves hip-hop artists because they look “urban” and can kinda rhyme.
If you look the part and play nice, your label will make it work. It’s that simple.
As we see every episode of “Behind the Music,” “Rock Docs,” and biopic, when labels take control of music it turns into something that it was never meant to be – less art, more commercialized drivel, less music, more product. The numbers still don’t lie, but the art is no longer true.
I recently had the misfortune of crossing paths with a hopeful rapper who argued me down about Drake being better than Tupac, and told me he makes music “for white girls.” After I returned my eyes to the forward position, I asked him what his process was and how he was managing to target that audience. He said, and I quote, “It’s really whatever. I’m trying to make money.”
Words cannot express my frustration. First, I just saw him being a PR nightmare to some poor publicist, and second, I immediately lost all respect for him. I am a music-lover. Musicality is the highest form of talent to me. To defile something I am so passionate about by relegating it to an occupation, like he was an accountant or a secretary, was extremely offensive to me.
Reluctantly, I listened to his music (which sounded a lot like everything I hear on the radio) and when I asked why my face was blank, I told him I couldn’t write about it because it didn’t make me feel anything. First of all, he called himself a rapper but literally sang everything. Second it is likely thatI felt nothing listening because he felt nothing writing it. I tried my hardest to glean some emotion from him about his writing process and, unsurprisingly, there was no story behind some of his lyrics. It was all because this artist did it, or that artist is just like it, and it sells.
My question to you is, does selling make you a success, or does quality music?
We have dedicated IATI to indie artists, mostly because that’s where the real music is. A lot of the trash music we hear comes from big labels. The artists who are making the thought-provoking music, the really talented musicians, are independent, for the most part. Fortunately, artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are getting noticed and still remaining independent. But those kinds of artists are few and far between. Why is that, you ask? Well, you’ll have to wait for part 2 to find out my hypothesis…