Friday, June 22, 2018
  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016
A scene from 21 Pilots' "Ride"
The State of Music In Our Culture: I Can't Hear You

If someone could apply an icepack to my forehead for a few minutes, that would be great.  I’m not sure what I’m feeling just now, about the state of music in our culture at this moment.  The state of our culture in general.  Just feeling slightly dizzy.

I think it’s in my nature to try to find our common ground—the place where we all get together and sing along with the same song.  Dance to the same rhythm.  I promise you’ll be dancing to “Happy” and “Blurred Lines” at the next wedding you attend.  

But I’m not so sure about Drake’s ubiquitous hit “One Dance," with its hypnotic reggaeton & kizomba rhythm (which is becoming the default rhythm for so much pop music right now…enough!).   

You move to it, but there’s something introspective, even melancholy in the lyrics and vocals.  Even in Charlie Puth/Selena Gomez’s sweet “We Don’t Talk Anymore”…I could just cry….

Sure, I celebrate the crazy success & machine gun sound of the duo 21 Pilots.  Yet, again, there’s an undercurrent of darkness in the lyrics.  “Ride”  

Ok, maybe it’s in my head.  And yet…we’re driving along, I see you in your car, windows down, but we don’t know what the other is singing along to.  I never heard that before.  Who’s the artist?  So lonely in here.

Is this musical isolation somehow a reflection of our national discomfort?  Look at us, in the middle of the final period of a presidential election…where’s the joy, anticipation, exuberance?  Only the individual tribes are speaking among themselves—on the internet, at rallies, talk radio, blogs.  And our collective excitement and hopefulness?  We don’t talk anymore. 

So much of popular music has gone tribal in some similar if more peaceful way—a thing we share within our group, but not the world—thanks to the myriad of personalized choices we make with our streaming music outlets, YouTube channels, etc.  Billboard now posts over 90 individual charts, from the traditional ‘Hot 100’ to ‘Digital Songs,’ ‘Streaming Songs,’ ‘Twitter Top Tracks,’ ‘On-Demand Songs,’ ‘Vinyl Albums,’ ‘Social 50,’ ‘Heatseekers Albums’…plus the sub-genres within the hearing/buying categories (Rock, R&B, Pop, Rap, Dance, Rhythmic Songs…).  Where do we all come together now?  I don’t know—bring your earbuds a little closer.

A few days ago I met with one of the founder/partners of Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom in NYC.  He told me Mercury is open 361 days a year, with four bands booked almost every night.  That’s maybe 1,200 acts each year, give or take—in one venue!  If you want to have a career in music you gotta perform live, build your own fan base, sell some  merchandise, promote yourself through social media.  With or without label support.  Keep your day job.  Hope for the best.

So let us ponder what I’ll call The Last Crusade—multi-generational gatherings (concerts) around the musical legends and Hall of Famers who still walk the Earth, and whose songs remain the earworms of the masses.

Bruce Springsteen’s “River” tour has been one of the biggest of his career, filling stadiums around the world with 3-4 hour concerts, dovetailing with the release of his best-selling memoir “Born To Run”—written entirely by The Boss.

And just starting as you read this (ha!) is the Desert Trip music festival in Indio, CA.—a 2-weekend event headlined by The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, The Who, Roger Waters and other legends of the Fall whose average age is 72.  They’re expecting attendance of 150,000.  And it’s selling out (as reported in The New York Times, click here).  With 3-day passes starting at $399 and jumping to $1,599.  

Finally, with apologies for going back to the future for sonic comfort food, Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days A Week” is a reminder of a time when music—and an artist—could be the singular voice a majority of global citizens could share, sing along to, argue about.  

Ah, simpler times!  A few radio stations, boom boxes, no internet blah blah…we’ve covered that before.

Shall we meet up in 2046 for the long-awaited One Direction reunion?  Okay, nevermind….

About the author

Lyle Greenfield is the founder of BANG Music and past president of the Association of Music Producers (AMP).  Greenfield has been a driving force behind the AMP Awards for Music and Sound, which debuted in New York City in 2013.

Contact Lyle via email