Monday, January 11, 2016

The dormant volcano

It’s been a while. Others were able to spend more time on dissecting the music industry and no-one needed me to echo or challenge those thoughts. I spent some time thinking about a new direction for this blog but aside from challenging injustice in the media, which no-one seems too bothered about, this is what I know……so, for now, it rolls on.

While I was away Adele was saving the music industry with her mega-sales whilst simultaneously proving that we have created a two-tier system in music. We have a few major stars selling across any platform and a mass of niche artists working their long-tails in the background. This is the new normal.

Crossing the divide is harder than ever. Pop’s domination has become total, long-standing, perhaps impregnable. One artist currently holds the top three places in the singles chart with songs that have swapped positions at number one in the last month. There are a couple of sub-genres that have occasional moments in the sun but pop has certainly won.

There are any number of factors behind this, from the consolidation of media (radio in particular) to the teenification of society in general. It is a perfect storm that shows no sign of abating.

Musical tribes are also able to find each other without gazing into the mainstream. Rock remains great box office but ridiculously insignificant in chart sales terms. What once may have been considered rock/indie now panders preposterously to pop. Yes, I do mean Coldplay. If you like Black Stone Cherry then a few clicks can find a panoply of similar artists, via Spotify Radio, YouTube or peer-polling. You need not pick up a copy of Kerrang, nor listen to or watch it.

Whether due to lack of imagination or a desire to super-serve (and not confuse) the fanbase few rock artists seem to be trying that hard to change the status quo (pun intended). The alternate routes of licensing to teen-dramas or popular cinema seem to have dried up, the big stars are taking those opportunities away. Even Bond preferred Sam Smith to Radiohead, neither of whom really needed the exposure.

Folk-tinged and sometimes beat-driven singer-songwriters are at the fore, even if some are poor or non-writers. They occupy the alternative sector, mopping up the ‘adult’ sales that may once have fallen to ‘rock’ artists. As I’ve mentioned before the new wave also has to do battle with the entire catalogue of rock. Witness The Beatles making yet more media from their arrival on streaming whilst other golden oldies continue to revive their back catalogue – either live at extortionate rates or via re-releases (or both) – and release yet more new music that no-one really wants but completists and unimaginative gift-givers will continue to buy.

Minor anecdotal evidence also had me hearing The Who blaring from the student block I deposited my 19-year-old daughter at. This is the same band who a month earlier my 17-year-old son had told me his mate was obsessed by. When I asked why he merely responded that ‘we have heard of The Who y’know’. The latest album he acknowledged some affection for was Pearl Jam’s epic Ten. That came out in 1992, in case you didn’t remember, six years before he was born.

This, of course, was always the case. I was buying Jimi Hendrix albums at his age. The main difference was of course that I was buying a lot of albums, old and new. He’s never bought an album. We have Spotify Premium.


Rock will re-emerge at some point, led by some bright young things who know how to take control of the mainstream media. When it does a few years of prosperity may follow. They are greatly needed. The volcano is dormant but it still produces lava.

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