Today, more than ever, the constant labeling, stamping, and pressing of music has reached an all-time high. The used CD bins tell the truth at any hour, any day, in every city you travel. When does it end? Never. With the price of personal CD burners crashing to the floor, almost everyone and their brother can manage to save up a little cash, purchase, install (or plug-and-pray for Gates fans), and magically, they are their own manufacturing house. Granted, their quality and quantity is nowhere near that of a presser’s, but that’s another thousand that isn’t worth spending in many eyes. What does get “burned” onto a million CDs a day? Crap. Total useless, repeated crap. The financing comes from the band’s pocket, and if not, it’s the label’s backing deciding what flavor of the week has optimum “marketability.” We are caught in a trap where ten bucks will get you a low-budget CD and twelve will get you a mass-production nightmare. Are you caught deciding between today’s best evil? Where are the safeguards? Where is the originality? More importantly, “where’s the beef?”
Throughout history, musical trends have followed a set pattern: “avant-garde” music is ignored (at least ten years too soon), and the current trend is a candy-coated-pop rendition of “progressive” (alas, at least five years too soon). Musicians can be grouped into categories based on money equaling market: pop, “jumping-on-the-bandwagon,” progressive, and avant-garde. This leaves no room for creativity, money, or originality, in my eyes.
So where DOES it end? Many a shallow man will say major labels, but majors are the worst. Have you ever seen a complete list of every artist on a major? It is enough to make a grown man vomit. Half of them will never release a “product,” due to the benefits of sandbagging for a larger deduction with the IRS. The other half is split: has-beens and wannabes. Without pointing fingers, we all know the has-beens. They are usually riding out a name while producing inadequate, low-quality material that shames in comparison to their previous works. The wannabes are usually the big names touting multi-million dollar advances. The saddest part is wannabes found the catch, hook, or marketable approach to an “underground” style on the downfall. Thus we have acquired POP music, complete with the “bandwagon” accessory kit. The wagoneers merely copy someone else’s pop rendition of progressive, hoping to cash in on “the next big thing.”
On a whole, indie labels tend to fall into the progressive category. They are neither too far out nor too close to pop. My success rate is higher when dealing with indie labels, but often time indies have a sound. They have something specific to their label. Over time each band seems to sound more and more like the others until the names and songs are no longer distinguishable from each other. They do have quality, but like any search, the journey is long and tiresome and requires searching the back-catalog from the beginning. To be honest, about seventy-five percent of my collection comes from indie labels (often distributed by a major). You can rest assured most indie labels can offer at least one or two truly unique artists to satisfy your hunger, and they more than likely are the token groups. Nothing is wrong with that, for someone has to pick them up so the populus knows what is coming.
They ARE the side-splitters! I sat down for a day to take a look at every self-produced CD and tape I’ve collected over the past few years. My estimation is somewhere in the neighborhood of five hundred, and some survived the test and reside in my collection permanently. About ninety percent were horrible renderings of today’s pop; the rest covered the entire spectrum of music “categories.” You start to get humor just by using the name, or album title, to guess the style of music. One by one I eliminated them into the dreaded outbox (trash it man, trash it). Slingshots, saws, hammers, crowbars, and a good cooking left my pad littered with pieces of tape leader, CDs, and melted plastic. For three weeks the wreckage of “doom’s day” required constant attention in order to clean house. A few stitches later (my compliments to the band that decided to package their cassette with a few razor blades) and the journey continued.
Blaming and a Solution
Why can we not go to the local record store and pick up a release of solid music? The stuff that stands the test of time? Too many people think they are an artist just because a harmonica and a few bits of metal might sound cool through an effects processor for 3 minutes. The home “burners” combined with all the “labels” on the market today creates a full-time job just trying to keep up. You will probably have to hire a few assistants to help you (Interns: dime a dozen, I assure you, I’ve been one). I found that the Internet can help wade through the garbage. Nights at clubs, to hear DJ’s or bands, helped immensely. When you find a something that warrants acknowledgement: TELL PEOPLE!!!! Word of mouth, “bootleg” copies for friends, and many other forms help aid others in their search. It’s all about communication. Just remember, the more open your mind, the more you can find.
What a joke, isn’t it? The older and more jaded you become, the more it all looks discouraging. We live in a life riddled with long hours, low pay, and virtually no perks. It’s the life of a musician or living “high” on the music industry. We all love it from the outside until we get inside the beast. Label, produce, promote, and revolt. Send me your poor and impoverished. They usually make the best music. ◼