Thursday, February 09, 2006

Signs of the Apocalypse

This has to be a sign that the end of the world is nigh. I never thought that in my lifetime Barry Manilow would have the #1 record in the United States. It's not that I don't like Barry Manilow. Well, okay, I don't like Barry Manilow. But still, the top selling album in the US? In the age of Eminem, Kanye West, and American Idol? That doesn't sound right at all.
Then again, maybe it does. At first glance it seems crazy, however, when you look a little closer, it does have some merit. Record sales have gone into the toilet since their peak in the year 2000. Let's look at some of the reasons.
One is iTunes. ITunes has pushed music back from an album-oriented format to more of a singles-oriented one. People are buying their songs individually now, cherry picking the best stuff from otherwise mediocre albums. This is certainly partly where I fall, mainly because 95% of all music released (not the singles, but music in general) is dreck. Before iTunes, we had to take the 10 terrible songs to get at the 1 song that we actually liked. Now I can spend $.99 instead of $16.99 and get the same listening enjoyment that I would have had before. That's value added right there.
The next reason is because there just hasn't been any breakthrough mainstream acts. You can tell me that rap is mainstream, but I don't buy it. Of all the people I know, there is maybe 2 or 3 who are actual consumers of rap music. I have a few songs in my iTunes library, but not many. It's not my style, but that's where the big new artists (50 Cent, Eminem, Kanye West, Nas, Jay-Z, and I could go on) come from. The rock scene has been a wasteland for over a decade now. I only get excited for an album when it's from U2. All the other bands I liked are now long dead or have stopped recording (or at least recording music I like), so I haven't bought a non-soundtrack CD (excepting the aforementioned U2 albums) in probably 4 years.
The record companies will say that it's because of the pirating, but it's a red herring. They've become more commercial and aren't willing to allow an artist to pick up steam. Instead, they're looking for an immediate return on their investment. This is what's killing music, because they aren't allowing artists to get their grounding. U2 didn't really make money for Island Records until The Unforgettable Fire and weren't huge until The Joshua Tree. Likewise for everyone's favorite vapid stadium rock band, Journey. They muddled along in the gutter for the better part of 3 albums until the broke through and only became huge with the release of Escape nearly a decade after they first started recording. Until companies are willing to give artists a shot, go with their gut, and eat the costs for a few years until it pays off, music will continue to muddle along with Barry Manilow at the top. Established acts are the way to go, and because Barry's fanbase skews so old, we will see more of him, Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, and Frankie Vallie and the Four Tops Seasons as the singles movement really gets going.


Michael Brady said...

I hope that you are meaning Frankie Vallie and (separately) the Four Tops. I also would like to give honorable mention to Milli Vanilli and Kriss Kross.

Sorro said...

Tops...Seasons...whatever. They all have the number four in them.

Cheeth said...

He who writes the songs that make the whole world sing can be number one anytime he wants. If you think about it, he`s better than, say, Creed or all of its 2001 contemporaries, which exist in my mind as Puddleofadownnickelbizkitcreedstainedback.

Sorro said...

While not a Barry fan, I do think Neil Diamond is pretty good...and you're right, they're both better than almost anything post-1995 or so.