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!