Archive for August, 2010

The fading beat of the Hip Hop Industry

30 Aug

LL Cool J, Run DMC, Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Eazy-E: what do all of these men have in common? They are all hip hop legends that earned praise from their fan bases by speaking about the hard truths of life, maintaining positive anticipation and buzz about their music, and spitting rhymes on par with that of a Shakespearean actor. They were entertainers and lyrical geniuses that released hit after hit in their day, but what about our day? Like most other music these days, hip hop seems to be geared towards a very narrow audience as well as being more about hot trends, names on the record, and making the sure the songs themselves are wrapped in a nice little package. Simply put, the fact that too many people try their hand at it, how hip hop as lost its sense of humor, and the fact that music is so hard to sample or produce due to copyright have contributed to the death of the hip hop industry in some way, shape, or form.

In the new age of internet blogging, ideas and opinions are shared as are what skills or talents someone possesses through sites such as Facebook, Youtube, and Myspace. These sites and others have lead J-Zone, a poster on a rap site, to declare that following a comment from the rapper Nas about the life-span of the hip hop business, “The high profile artists get some attention, and everybody else gets ordered in ones and twos, if that” as well as how “Great records go unnoticed. Rap is now a disposable art.” Following this train of thought, J-Zone then goes on to say, “When rap stopped being fun, I knew we were in big trouble. Not too many people are doin’ music for fun anymore.” Another thing killing the industry is that copyright laws on these sites has gotten to where “interpolating one line of Jingle Bells in your song can get you sued and you can’t post a remix for promotional and listening purposes only…you can see the music and legal industries have officially declared war on rap as a kneed jerk reaction to their own failues” (256-257, 259).

Looking at J-Zone’s assertions and argument, it becomes apparent that hip hop isn’t dead yet, but it is losing it’s heartbeat. These days it seems that rap lyrics for example, are mostly about money, sex, women, violence, or power. A lack of originality isn’t just confined to the hip hop industry, this is true, but rappers these days just seem to be going through the motions of what will make them the most money rather than what truly sounds good. As J-Zone says in his article “5 Things That Killed Hip-Hop”, there are artists out there that are just that, artists, and continue to experiment and produce true music. As an example of both sides, the trash and the true, I’d like to focus on Kanye West and Eminem.

Eminem is someone who continues to produce amazing and powerful lyrics that resonate with themes such as addiction and pulling oneself out from the darkness and has actually lived through those things. He also isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, or others for that matter as can be seen primarily on his albums “The Eminem Show” and “Relapse”. Kanye on the other hand has an enormous ego and his songs are a majority of the time centered on what was mentioned earlier (women, power, sex, and money). Both artists are manifestations of and represent both sides of the hip-hop coin. Eminem represents the old school style of hip-hop in that his music is less about beats and more about lyrical content and connection with the audience, whereas Kanye is about attempting to (and failing) at making political statements and doing what he needs to do to satisfy his ego. No disrespect to Mr. West, but if more people were like Eminem and weren’t in the industry for money or for feeding their ego, the hip-hop industry would stand a chance. Now, it appears that auto-tune, generic beats, and the fact that anyone can be discovered with little or no talent (read: Soulja Boy), hip-hop’s beat is growing faint.

Works Cited

J-Zone. “5 Things That Killed Hip-Hop”. Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture. Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009. 253-261. Print.

Vinyl Vs. CD

27 Aug

Clashing with what is considered mainstream or a part of the mass culture, rebellion if you will, has been a part of the youth culture for many years. Since James Dean brooded his way through “Rebel Without a Cause”, the spirit of teen rebellion or youthful dissonance has carried on in different ways. This article focuses on the attempt to stray from the transition from music recorded on vinyl records to digital means such as MP3 or Compact Discs. The reasoning behind not switching varies from remaining true to what is considered “true music” before corporate manufacturing, money reasons, and design of the discs, as well as rarity of numerous compilations. But there may be another factor that isn’t taken into account, one that takes into consideration the predecessors of bands that we listen to on a daily basis being inspired by the realness of musical artists of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and the grittiness of their recording technologies.

This is a fact not only highlighted in the recording style but, as writer David Hayes points out, the popular culture relying on the past to produce the future. By this I mean that modern audiences rely on, to a degree, the past films and music to appreciate the more contemporary. Hayes mentions the Austin Powers movies and how to understand the structure, characters, and humor that audiences need to familiarize themselves with “late-‘60s British spy films” and “blaxploitation” movies such as “Shaft” (292). Another well-illustrated example is how films like “High Fidelity” bring in the interest from today’s younger audience by associating vinyl with “an opportunity for youth to assert their independence from parents”, or even as a “prelude to sex” (293). With both ideas being very appealing to teens, it is easy to see along with previously stated reasons, why vinyl is a format that is still finding legs with younger crowds.

To this very day, certain music stores such as Hot Topic or Half Price Books sell vinyl versions of singles or of entire albums. At both stores, you will find numerous people on a daily basis skimming the racks to find hidden or valuable additions to any record collection. This brings back the question: why vinyl and not digital formats? Well, the short answer, the financial one, would be that modern day customers are somewhat frugal with their money and decide to continue with the cheapest format or even the format that they already have in their homes or ones that were passed down to them from previous generations. The real answer, I believe, is that the quality of the sound was slightly better than when it is converted to digital, it is a more real sound than what we are accustomed to.

Today, most musical artists compromise their music with auto-tune or digital modifications in order to make sure they sound better. In the golden age of rock and roll, the sound was dirty in addition to fast paced, and was completely imperfect. If you don’t believe me, pop open and put down a vinyl copy of The Ramones’ debut album and play the same tracks alongside digital versions from itunes or compact discs. You’ll find out that the sound from vinyl sounds more authentic as opposed to today where even after multiple takes, the sound editors will do whatever they can to modify the sound best to appeal to a wider mainstream audience. The realness of bands like the Ramones is what inspired many punk and rock acts of today such as Green Day to take to the stage and to honor their predecessors, it would be wise to follow in their footsteps and engage in recording their own sound in an authentic way. As the old saying goes, “the past becomes prologue” as we must look into our past and see what works best in order to bring the present to where it should be.

Works Cited

Hayes, David. “‘Take Those Old Records Off the Shelf’: Youth adn Music Consumption in the Postmodern Age” Common Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture. Ed. Michael Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2009. 288-308. Print.

Thoughts on John Seabrook’s “The Money Note: Can the Record Business Be Saved?”

25 Aug

In every business, especially those that contain a medium that shapes our culture on a timeless yet everyday basis, it becomes imperative to deliver the product to the demands of the customers. The tragedy is that sometimes in the interest of making the almighty dollar, business executives extract the soul; it’s meaning, of the medium and takes away from the impact that can be had on people. This can be said with an extreme certainty about the music industry as in recent years, it has become a priority to make record sales higher, to market to ever-changing tastes, and keep up with the current trends of the day. As a part of this process, quality is lost in the search for greater quantity and maintaining a kinetic pace to evolve with the times in both medium and product. In his article originally published in the New Yorker magazine, The Money Note: Can the Record Business Be Saved?, writer John Seabrook describes the emergence of a new artist named Cherie and in turn how it continues the music industry’s method of producing cheap products in order to turn a profit, thus losing sight of the quality of musical acts in favor of flavor of the month trends.

A big motivation for this desire to bring in huge revenue is as Seabrook puts it is “that their corporate owners would use the cash generated by monster hits to pay for other parts of their operations, and the companies would be able to survive their stiffs, thanks to their corporate backing” (269). As a part of this corporate machine, Jason Flom, a record man for Atlantic Records and his interviews and interactions with Seabrook provide the backbone for this article as Flom builds up his latest discover, an 18-year-old Italian Jewish singer named Cherie’ and the marketing around her. Like Whitney Houston and Celine Dion before her, Cherie’s specialty is a “belter” or “as they say in the business—one of those singers who doesn’t hold back” (265). Through the marketing and recording sessions being built up around Cherie, Seabrook takes the reader through the process of creating a commercial act in the midst of music piracy rising and online downloadable content on the rise with record sales falling. With the need “to get rid of the lottery mentality” of not only selling music, but also discovering and signing talent, can the record industry survive?

As a music buyer, I continue to have my doubts as to whether record executives truly have any idea what their customers want anymore as well as if the mainstream audiences have become so used to the garbage that is produced and put on the radio currently that they take what they can get in terms of entertainment. Granted, not all record companies and executives are greedy and some actually desire to make good music as well as to make a return on their profits, those men and women are far and few between. Music has mostly lost the appeal of being an art form artists have become “acts” as Flom illustrates by telling Seabrook “The nice thing about Cherie is she’s portable, she’ll go places and do stuff if we think she should do it” (272). This input from executives in the end results in watered down products and radios being clogged with soulless corporate pop music. To answer Seabrook’s question in my best attempt, I believe it is possible to save the record and music industries if less input from the executives is taken and artists are signed for their talent and not for how easily they can be marketed.

Works Cited

Seabrook, John. “The Money Note: Can the Record Business Be Saved?” Common

Culture: Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture. Ed. Michael

Petracca and Madeleine Sorapure. Sixth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice

Hall, 2009. 263-87. Print.

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