Why Is The Music Industry Broken?

This is a post that Ron originally posted on the excellent Steve Hoffman mastering forum (stevehoffman.tv) in March 2009. Unless something unexpected and wonderful happens, it's going to be relevant in a year, two years, five years, and well into the distant future. Musical literacy is still alive, but it's of no value to the mass media.

- Ron G
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Why Is The Music Industry Broken?

Not that anyone cares what an old radio guy thinks, but here my two cents anyway...

I think the music industry died when it stopped emphasizing songs.

This has nothing to do with production techniques, mastering, delivery systems, digital versus analog, loudness wars, Napster, boy bands, musical fads, or anything we routinely discuss on this board.

The problem is that radio and the accompanying promotional institutions, like American Idol, basically dropped the fundamental requirement that whoever was singing had to be singing an actual song.

The music industry has always had trends and fads to wade through and exploit: Beatles, psychedelia, disco, new wave, hair metal, teen pop, you name it. Sure, there was plenty of junk produced to cash in on the trends, but at the heart of each trend were actual songs: I Want To Hold Your Hand, Purple Haze, Jive Talkin', Rio, Don't Treat Me Bad, MMM Bop, to name a few actual songs that correspond to the trends above.

There are plenty of best sellers from years past that still give me hives - Whitney Houston, for instance - but the first few Whitney albums were put together with real songs, assembled from real songwriters. Even the wave of teen pop from 10-15 years back had at its core actual songs: Baby One More Time was a brilliant Max Martin song, and has spawned terrific remakes by Travis, Fountains of Wayne and Richard Thompson.

In stark contrast to years past, I see little or no songwriting ability (self-written or hired) from any of the best sellers of today. The entire industry, including the major labels, radio, American Idol, autotune and the ringtone industry, just doesn't care if there's a song present anymore.

Kanye West may be heralded as a genius, but I've heard the man's recent album and he couldn't write a pop song to save his life. Kid Rock's All Summer Single was such a big hit because it reminded you of actual pop songs, rather than being one itself.

It's the writing, people.

I'm not saying that there are no worthwhile artists writing great pop songs today. I am saying that the mass media is largely to blame, because their emphasis has shifted away from song quality to other things: production, marketing, image, hype, promotional tie-ins, etc. All these other factors have been around since day one, but once you remove the songwriting from the scene, there's literally nothing you produce that has any lasting value.
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Feel free to send comments to ron@crapfromthepast.com.