Wednesday, October 20, 2010


As legendary 80's Saffa band No Friends Of Harry so memorably sang (albeit in a faux-Goth accent), "it's a raw deal, for the competition rules". Granted, that's probably out of context, but it helps me make the following claim with a certain amount of grim satisfaction: modern commercial music is actually nothing more than a blatant trade in commodities, and worse, it's starting to sound like it.

We've all known for decades, of course, that music in the West ceased being music somewhere around Bing Crosby/ Frank Sinatra. It went the way of everything pure and free and natural and good (especially post-WW2): it became a consumable commodity. Elvis was the apogee of that process, and it's all been downhill since "That's Alright Mama".
The Beatles perfected it, and there's a straight line to be drawn between their epoch-changing Ed Sullivan TV appearance in February 1964 and Lady Gaga in a meat dress in 2010.


One of the many anti-music skills I was told to learn during my years making music in Nashville was how to shrink-wrap songs. Music labels have staff-writers (they have for years) whose sole function is to sit in a room and craft hit songs for artists. That's called a laboratory in other fields of human endeavour.

And in the studio, giant leaps in technology have brought the process of sound recording into our bedrooms: everyone and their dog can buy a laptop and a version of Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase or the like and be uploading their 'songs' to myspace in a matter of hours. This democratization of the music-making process is a great thing, by the way, but that's for another blog.

Modern Top40 commercial radio fodder (this morning: Rihanna, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Usher, Ke$ha) blatantly sounds like what it is: jingles for products. You could have made a case a few years ago for Eminem being worthy of some kind of genius, but not anymore. And I don't think I'm being old-fashioned grumpy bastard: when the Beatles were brand new, at least they could actually play real instruments, really sing, and write their own songs.

We just listen passively to test-tube music now. Lady Gaga (sorry to keep going on about her, but she's truly a new frontier) is selling Lady Gaga, not CD's. All artists are brands. The music is competitive: each artist competing for rapidly-disappearing chart space, WalMart shelf-space and Twitter followers in a war of popularity attrition, like some kind of never-ending audio Pop Idols.

It's becoming like listening to ad jingles all day, and it will eventually drive us all insane.

So, viva indie music, indie labels, bands with guys with beards and girls who don't give a shit, great songwriters who've never had a Top40 hit, kids learning guitar in their bedrooms because they love it, people who make music because they absolutely have to.

And death to Top40 radio!


  1. i look forward to the day when the recording industry disappears up its own arsehole; anyone who wants to hear a band will have to go to a live concert. viva world tours :-)

  2. Yay to taking the R out of b(r)and!

  3. I agree totally. THe Indie scene in SA needs to get together and help each other. Bands, promoters, managing agents and clubs need to stick together and make a huge effort to help each other.

    Once you look in the background of the industry you see that people are constantly trying to backstab each other. If a company or band gets a break or starts to make money and fans they get lablled as sellouts or abusers of the industry. Where is the love?

  4. You took the words right out of my mouth. Thank you for saying what every true artist is thinking.

  5. This is the most inspiring thing I've read in ages! Thanks John...
    I think the general public are also so used to being spoonfed what is cool or considered "good music" (usually top40 crap) that they really can't even tell the difference for themselves. Long live Live Music!

  6. thanks john for this, I really appreciate it.. I'm going to repost. write more more!

  7. Wow... what a spot-on post! Here's to putting soul, emotion and integrity back into music.

  8. Indeed. Especially true about Eminem being unworthy. What are those lyrics? - "I guess thats why they call it window pain." Capital LAME.

  9. Yeah, mostly agree. A bit less sure whether Indie music will be our saviour, though. All genres (remember "rap"?) get adopted into the mainstream eventually.