Pop Will Eat Itself | MUSIC: Rock & Roll Quarterly | Indy Week
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Pop Will Eat Itself 

But where's the beef?

"Everybody's talking 'bout pop music"--or maybe it's more like everybody is talking about Christina Aguilera's pierced genitalia. Or what Justin Timberlake did with Britney's. And did you hear that J. Lo is getting married again? Oh yeah, I hear they all have albums out as well. I think.

Meanwhile, there are still copies being sold of albums with music that is 30-40 years old. Rolling Stones, anyone? How much do you want to bet that in the year 2022, the back catalogs of most of today's acts will exist mainly in dusty garage bins? There has always been a gap between the mass-selling music and what some may think of as quality music. But today, what passes for "excellent" seems to be plain gratitude for not sucking.

The music industry is rapidly devouring itself by completely ignoring what made it work for the past century--the artists. Today if a debut release fails to make a substantial dent on the charts, it's doubtful you'll ever see another release by that artist again. Artist development now refers to figuring out if your artist should don a plastic punk attitude or the belly-baring sex kitten persona, not giving them the time and money to work on a handful of albums before they're able to make that classic that people will continue to talk about and buy for decades to come.

Artist development takes a commitment from the industry in a time when the industry can't count on any commitment from the music buyers. The music buyers refuse to commit because they think they are being offered inferior products. Why should they buy an album when they can get those one or two catchy tracks off the Internet, or a "Now!" compilation album?

The top 10 albums on the current Billboard chart include new releases from Santana, Rod Stewart, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. As much as one may want to think it's a sign that teens are suddenly really digging that good ol' music, it's just further proof that people over 40 have yet to figure out how easy it really is to download and burn music. I hate to be ageist, but that's what I see.

The more the music industry tries to create super-mega-smash hit albums, the more it feeds people's downloading mentality. The more hype created to sell that first single with that first video, the more teens rush online to try and download it as soon as possible. Yes, the monster under the music industry's bed is real: File sharing is completely changing the rules of the trade. But instead of turning on the light and figuring out how to deal with the situation, the music industry is trying to swat at the monster in the dark, hoping to eventually get lucky and kill it. Ain't gonna happen.

The more music is regarded as mere product by the general public, the less problem we have with not paying for it. It's pretty hard to convince a 17-year-old that he or she really, really should part with $15 for that Avril Lavigne album that the media loves to boast about when they know that the album already sold 2 million copies in a few months. It's even harder when there's that sneaking suspicion that the two songs being played over and over and over again on MTV are the only good cuts out of the 14-track CD.

I'm not sitting here waving pom-poms in the air to cheer music downloading on in some misguided effort to stick it to the music industry. I'm just saying something that the industry refuses to admit. I understand why people choose to download music rather than buy every single new release hailed as 'the band/artist that will save music!" once a month by Rolling Stone and MTV.

But instead of making an honest effort to adapt, the music industry is trying to make the world adapt to it. People can copy CDs with their computers, you say? Why, let's try and print copy-protected CDs that can't be played in computers! Yeah, that'll show them! People share music over the Internet? Why, let's sue them all and, um, shut the software down! That'll surely make them want to support our industry more.

The music industry needs to embrace the new technology and make it work for them instead of against them. Look at the DVD industry--it has gotten people to buy new editions of movies people already have on VHS by adding enough extras to make it worth the purchase.

If people aren't that interested in buying a whole album of music that may suck, stock it with genuine goodies that make it worth the purchase anyway. And none of that cheesy, stingy "let's just plonk the video on there, but make sure they have to download a bunch of special software from us first to make it play at all" stuff, either.

Stick a camera in the recording studio. Have the artist give some track-by-track commentary. Heck, hide a little video of the drummer mooning the camera -- something to make the release special. I'm not saying that every CD needs this; the majority of smaller artists who spend years building up loyal fan bases by touring regularly and who earn trust by putting out quality releases are doing OK. But the serious music fans are not the majority of the music buyers that keep the big, commercial side of the music industry afloat. It's the pop audience that buys Linkin Park, Pink, Avril Lavigne, Eminem, Nelly and P.O.D. that keeps the industry going. When it starts losing interest in buying the product, the whole structure will collapse.

It's just sad that most CDs won't sell well anymore based purely on the music that is on it, and that the industry now need to pimp their product with sparkly gadgets for a magpie audience. But it's already sad that Christina Aguilera is trying to pimp her actually not-that-bad album by talking of genital piercings and sprawling naked with a guitar on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

It's sad that unless an album sells well within the first three months of release, it's considered to have tanked, even if people end up buying it for years because it has lasting quality.

It's sad that young people who say they desperately love music and want to be in the music industry choose to go on television and win the privilege of getting a onetime deal to insert their vocals into a song pre-written and produced by somebody else.

As long as there's been recorded music, there have been one-hit wonders and people arguing over what gets to be considered great music, as opposed to cheesy and commercial music. Selling music should be a no-brainer--no matter what your flavor, there's always some kind of audience for it. The music industry needs to stop trying to top each other in first-weekend sales of the latest tan-in-a-bottle product while ignoring the growing discontent of the music consumer.

Yes, we may flock like sheep to the "Thong Song"s of the world, but that's not an excuse to put out "Thong Song" 2, 3 and 4. The world is spinning fast for most of us, and that's when we look to the "real" music, to those albums we picked up that we can put on repeat and shut everything else off for a few hours.

Loving music means getting to find somebody who mirrors the experiences of--maybe--your life. If you're lucky, you'll get to spend the next 10, maybe 20 years getting new postcards from that person or band. With the way the music industry is looking right now, it's more likely they'll be dropped the second their budget is needed for the next Puddle of Mudd video. EndBlock

Jennie Alibasic, a native of Sweden, is a graduating senior of North Carolina Central University, where she is the online editor of The Campus Echo.

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