Thursday, June 20, 2013

The taste of trust

Who do you trust to tell you what to listen to? The British public is passive, like sheep, and conservative in its tastes. It needs to be herded and led; we need someone to show us the way.

Industry spokesman Bob Lefsetz  echoed my oft-repeated views recently using slightly different terminology, claiming that we need a filter. He’s right because the access to music is greater than ever, allowing the past to compete with the present/future and it’s hardly a fair fight. If you can listen to something familiar (that you’re likely to love) or try something new (which you may hate), which way are you going to jump? We’re all sheep to a greater or lesser degree.

Lefsetz chose to use the Spotify top 100 tracks for the basis of his piece, reflective in some degree of the zeitgeist but potentially skewed by the overwhelming conservatism and perhaps also the younger age-range of the average Spotify user.

Similarly I could use the UK top 40. If the current chart reflects popularity (as is its function) then I am considerably further out of the loop than I thought. I might recognise the acts, having read about them, but of those 40 songs I think I’ve only heard 9.

I’m not a fan of current popular music and no longer do much work for pop radio stations, so I can excuse much of my general ignorance. As for ‘popular’ music over the last five years the state of affairs worries me somewhat as I look towards my future earnings potential – and that of those within the live industry generally. Brief pop hits do not regularly transfer to major stadium tours; it can often take a lot of those acts combined just to fill an arena.

The album chart has a more familiar feel; it can hardly fail to with Black Sabbath at No.1 and Rod Stewart, Eagles and Status Quo in the top 10. In a strange way it is equally problematic as it seems to suggest that the last thirty years never happened.

At least it has a more guitar-based, traditional feel to it perhaps reflecting the fact that younger people buy ‘tracks’ and the ‘long-player’ market is still aimed at the older music buyer. Although any chart can only be reflective of the releases that are available in that given period it still suggests to me that we’re in a stagnant period and need a ‘scene’ or a prophet to propel us forward.

Radio does this to a degree but given that the trends have been for RnB infused pop over the past five years or so, you’re not likely to find guitar music spewing out of the increasingly-generic and syndicated radio station in your region. Streaming services have promised that their ‘recommendation’ algorithms will tune into your tastes and offer new choices but it is of course based on what you choose to listen to already. Consequently, if you’re as conservative as everyone else, nothing new is likely to emerge.

I had anticipated that peer to peer recommendations would be the way forward and Twitter’s #nowplaying is entirely based on that assumption. My own experience though is that this is deeply flawed, largely because there’s too much chatter and clutter. If the average life of a tweet is under an hour (before it disappears from your feed in the mass) then it can’t really work – you’d still have to search and that takes more effort than most will be prepared to make.

I look at Facebook for a similar taste experiment. I am in some groups of like-minded music enthusiasts that regularly share videos – I rarely get time to watch them. I post videos myself to a 500 strong ‘friend’ base. I’d envisage that less than ten people would watch a new music video. Similarly I might rant and rave via this blog but on average under a hundred people would see it. All this effort is a bit like pissing in the wind.

We used to look to the music mags, NME and the like for inspiration, now no-one much bothers to read them. MTV and the music vid channels are much of a muchness, background noise. All our vids are on-demand, if you’re a fan of something you’ll possibly go and look for their new tracks and possibly if they recommend something – or collaborate with someone – you’ll take a look at that too. This seems (to me) to be the best way to breakthrough, it works in RnB but it’s not widely replicated in rock.

Radio in the UK still offers the best outlet. Absolute Radio, Kerrang, Planet Rock, BBC Introducing, Zane Lowe (possibly, I can’t listen to him) all feature new music and specialist programmes. If you’re at all bothered then you need to support these outlets, give them the power to effect change, communicate with them and impose your will – or you can stick with what you know, it’s your call. Whilst we await a seer and for the tide to turn it’s the best we can hope for.

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