Music: Giving pop its body back
Free Press Music Columnist
Last week, we argued here that music has lost its luster as a gift.
The reason? Craven suggests it’s because we can no longer see it.
Maybe that seems weird or paradoxical to you. Why would we need to see our music? Music is for the ears, not the eyes.
And yet, just compare the subcultural milieu which sprang up around the popular music of the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s with what passes for the same in the current millennium. The hippies, the disco junkies, the metal heads, the punks, B-Boys, new romantics, grunge buffs and shoegazers of the past have been replaced by … what?
No doubt, somewhere there are Skrillex or Macklemore fans as committed to their idols as the aficionados of the past, but they are the exceptions which prove this modern rule — music fandom isn’t a quarter as passionate as it once was.
No one disagrees more than Craven with the boomers of his own generation who insist their era’s music was somehow greater than that produced by subsequent generations. It’s mythologizing puffery to believe the artists of the 1960s were intrinsically superior to those of today. There are bands and performers working right now who rival in musicality, originality and trenchancy anyone cutting records in rock’s heyday. But what HAS changed in the past half century is the packaging of pop music, and as anyone in marketing will tell you: Packaging matters.
In previous decades, when you bought a record you weren’t just buying the music; you were purchasing an experience that included a carefully designed piece of cover art, liner notes and often extensive credits. Even when CDs eclipsed vinyl albums, the liner notes helped contextualize the musical experience.
(In the case of albums aimed at collectors, the liner notes of CDs often ran several pages long, and were filled with expository information offering historical perspective and critical interpretation.)
Some music marketers seem to have realized something has been lost. In 2009, Apple announced they would be partnering with labels to offer albums in a new format, called “iTunes LP,” which would include multimedia elements and liner notes with albums sold in Apple’s music store. But of the tens (if not hundreds!) of thousands of albums sold on iTunes, fewer than 400 have been released in the iTunes LP format — which is only accessible through iTunes’ proprietary interface anyway.
As Craven mentioned last week, designer/blogger Khoi Vinh ruffled some feathers a couple weeks back with his Medium.com article, “What Streaming Music Can Be.” In it, Vinh similarly lamented the dearth of visual and textual information released with MP3s or streaming music, and suggests streaming music services like Spotify could not only bolster their own bottom lines but buttress the very foundations of the music industry by serving up rich metadata with songs. And not just the art and credits and liner notes we knew in the past, either; in today’s digital entertainment center, it ought to be possible to offer up information which was unavailable in the analog past.
Music videos, commentary, alternative mixes, social networking connections — all of these, Vinh envisions, could help rekindle the flaming zeal which used to ignite a music fan’s heart back in the day when buying a record was as much a feast for the eyes as the ears.
Craven Lovelace is the producer of the Notes Blog & Podcast at http://cravenlovelace.com/notesblog and writes about popular culture at the Cravenomena blog at http://cravenlovelace.com/cravenblog/. You can also find him on Facebook. Notes is made possible by Tina Harbin of Real Estate West, the premier resource for all real estate information and services on the Western Slope.
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