Music Man–The Splinter Groups

[ 4 ] July 27, 2009 |

I spent the week at home in Atlanta re-building a fence in my front yard that was recently crushed by a 150 year-old oak tree. Thankfully, as far as my property is concerned it was just the fence that was ruined. My neighbor, as well as my neighbor’s neighbor on the other hand, had major damage to their houses and have spent a lot of time and money re-building. Anyway, while in my yard re-building said fence, I thought a lot about the state of music and the music industry of which I’m a part, and from which I derive my living. The thought that kept coming back to me is, who are the rock stars of today, and where is music headed, what does it sound like?

The great thing about technology is that new music is much easier to discover and digest then ever before. Word of mouth via blogs, and social media have recently turned otherwise undiscovered artists and bands into of-the-moment rock stars who can sell-out clubs and theaters with ease, at least temporarily. This is a good and a bad thing, and it makes me wonder if the days of stadium or even amphitheater filling bands, are a thing of the past. It seems the ones who are able to effectively sell tickets to shows at these types of venues are nostalgia acts or jam-band based tours that have sold for the past 30 years. Sure, plenty of acts play these venues, but do they actually sell enough tickets to make it worth their effort? The past few arena shows I’ve been to were not even half full.

It was only a short time ago that bands at the top of their game were selling out sixty-five thousand capacity venues, or at least twenty-five thousand seat arenas in the U.S. With the exception of a few (Coldplay, U2) it seems like newer artists are struggling to fill seats.

I personally am not a fan of big arena or stadium shows, I prefer the intimacy of a smaller venue, but that’s not the point. The point is who are today’s rock stars? Who is inspiring the next generation to pick up an instrument? If the days of packed arenas and stadiums are indeed gone, then the inspirers are the club bands, the acts that are a part of the splintered off sub-genres that are so much easier to discover now thanks to the Internet, and maybe that means the next crop of artists, the ones that are holed up in a garage as I write this, will be more innovative with the music they create because they’ve been exposed to a mass variety of styles. Either way, the good news is music is alive and well, if not thriving. And if you happen to be a prophet and know where it’s headed, please let me know, my job depends on it.

See what happens when I build a fence? Ramble ramble ramble…



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  1. JW Cole says:

    The arena act was the product of gate keeping & was only ever important from a commercial standpoint. In terms of the cultural impact of music, it was detrimental. It gave greedy people something to co-opt… it turned Led Zeppelin into Poison, & though Nirvana broke the cycle for a moment, even that eventually turned into Creed & Nickelback. The roles these kinds of bands play in the lives of consumers can easily be filled by & are being filled by video games, television series, blockbuster films, & amusement parks. Heck, even sporting events. As a consumer, it doesn’t matter to me whether Joe Six Pack is watching Nickelback or Transformers 2 on any given Friday night. All I care is that he’s not standing next to me (or worse yet, in front of me) at a Ben Kweller show.
    In my personal opinion music has been getting better & better since Napster. I can be exposed to new music by people who have no financial incentive to promote the bands they’re schilling… that’s wonderful. And there’s something for everyone… bands with no commercial appeal whatsoever are able to find a fanbase & survive, & they should be able to; bands with commercial appeal are able to thrive even without mainstream notoriety; lowest-common-denominator bands keep the lowest-common-denominator of my hair.
    But it’s all cyclical. As major labels continue to try & compete with spectacle-based big budget entertainment, people on the fringe will move towards other big budget entertainment (music doesn’t lend itself to spectacle the way that movies do… it lends itself more to Velvet Underground/Stooges-type spectacle, so it will continually lose ground in this race until it finds itself again) & people from the core will continue to move towards these niches (where music is affecting, as it should be) & so the industry will continue to shrink. But eventually someone will co-opt something fresh & marginally-authentic & make it mainstream & then commercial growth will return. And that marginally-authentic sound will be turned into it’s equivalent of Creed or Poison or whatever. And that’s just how things work. And though these acts will never be “90’s big,” they’ll be big enough.
    What’s most important is that we have the tools to define our own musical climate because this is essential for something fresh & co-optable to grow. I just hope to god that the next mainstream revival doesn’t come out of brooklyn. Unless it’s the Films or Rosewood Thieves.

  2. JW Cole says:

    There’s going to be rock stars, but there doesn’t need to be rock stars… thats my point. That there’s not a lot of rock stars just means that we’re on the down side of the cycle. The soil must be churned, which is beginning to happen. They must form from a new aesthetic. And bands like Animal Collective (as lame as they are) are working towards a new aesthetic.

  3. Music Man says:

    Love the passion JW Cole, and the insight…I agree with you on the whole cycle theory…I’m not sure I’m with you on the elitist-sounding mentality of not wanting Joe Six-Pack at “your” shows…I think Ben Kweller would strongly disagree with that one…isn’t it about exposing people to great music, not excluding them?

  4. JW Cole says:

    It’s a concession, really. Part of me wants to say “If everyone turned on the radio & Bob Dylan was playing, after a while they would all start to ‘get’ it.” But I know that’s not true. Even when Dylan was the artist of the moment, only a percentage were really understanding what he was saying. And at a certain point the spectacle starts to overwhelm the message, and that’s always when Bob Dylan took a sharp turn artistically, to throw people off. In truth, a lot of those people are more satisfied with King Harvest or something anyways… they were only ever at a Bob Dylan show for the spectacle.
    I’m saying there’s enough room for everyone… if you want a spectacle, if you want anthems, go see Nickelback (or maybe go to a Braves game or to watch a movie if you prefer). Don’t feel like you need to come to the hip alt-country show. Chase your muse. Go see the cheesy emo pop band. Or the cheesy nashville pop act. Or the awful, awful, awful brooklyn indie rock bands. If the band is good enough, they’ll survive. It doesn’t really benefit anyone that these artists make millions of dollars, anyways. In fact, it usually kills the music & ruins it for everyone. If Ben Kweller can make a living playing the Variety Playhouse and the 40 Watt and stay grounded and continue to appeal to a really devout fanbase and continue to really affect people, the music is going to last longer and he’s going to be more successful in the long run by maintaining his authenticity. And probably happier. I could really care less if Ben Kweller ever opens a night club or anything like that.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for Kings of Leon’s success. I think it’s great that they’re the band of the moment. There’s a place for anthems. But I also look forward to the day that the hype dies down. Because music was never meant to be a showy spectacle. That’s not when it’s most affecting. And Kings of Leon’s best songs aren’t the anthems. (Then again, if they want to be “that” band & appeal to “those” people, perhaps they are no longer the band for me. And that’s totally fine. But I selfishly hope that’s not the case.)

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