Ever wonder why new “main stream” music sucks? This documentary is a good place to start. Popular tastes are a possible culprit, but when good music isn’t reaching the masses, one has to think there is another reason…enter Clear Channel. Who is Clear Channel, well, they are pretty much responsible for the long, slow death of the radio station. The first part of this documentary succinctly explains commodification of the radio industry and how it became revenue driven with no thought or care about quality programming. When you actually see how modern radio works and how it was so completely perverted, it is truly disturbing, especially if you have any interest in music.
As the old cliché goes, time is money, and Clear Channel has no qualms about buying up all the radio stations in the USA and slicing up the 24 hour day into neat little packets it can sell on the radio. The whole business of radio is very manipulative. What you hear on a station during the day is so pre-programmed and pre-meditated that any spontaneity is gone. Also, any given radio station’s playlist comes from miles away and is carefully planned to manipulate the listener. Your age, geographic location and potential commercial tastes are all factored in. The only reason that there is any music is on the station all is to keep you there long enough to hear advertisements.
The sad thing about this is that it completely limits creativity and explains why a crappy band like Nickleback became the biggest sellers of the past decade. It is not really Nickleback’s fault that they suck, they just do and are apparently oblivious to it. They perfectly fit the kind of generic, predictable music that radio stations love – it is homogenous and unchallenging. Specially chosen focus groups decide what is playable on the radio, which results in music designed to fit within pre-ordained patterns. Therefore, radio is not interested in music that doesn’t fit the results of the focus groups…ergo: a complete cessation of anything new or different getting heard on the radio and reluctance from the record industry to not follow suit.
Back in the 50s and 60s, rock music was so new that the miscreants didn’t know what would or wouldn’t sell. What this translates into is that everything got a chance. Here is an example of how things have changed: the Beatles had the top-selling album of the sixties. By the end of the 90′s, Shania Twain had the number one album (outselling any single album by the Beatles) and things have only gotten worse. If you don’t see a problem with this, you should stop reading this review and see how long you can hold your head under water, then try to break your record. Over time, big business has studied the successes and failures and started working out a strategy to get a return on investment, which takes us today to the absolute excrement that passes for popular music. Do you really think anyone will look back with reverence on Shania Twain in 20 years?
Don’t think the manipulation is happening? Well, just take the amazing example from the film, where a young, pretty model goes to a studio to record a song. First off, a professional song writer is given a basic theme for a song and within minutes produces a vapid little tune. Next, the model sings the song, in her completely out of tune voice, which is then cleaned up through the magic of studio craft into something passable. Now that you have a song and a pretty face to sing it, you need a video. In no time at all the makers of this film show you how easy it is to create a complete music fantasy out of a young attractive woman. As you watch the finished product you can’t help but be stunned by the result, as it so closely mirrors the “image is all that matters” music that dominates the airwaves. In actuality, the song and video that they so easily produced sounds better than most of the fluff out there – which shows you just how lazy and cynical the industry is. Thankfully, there is a bit of deconstruction in the video that takes a good stab at the nightmare they have just created.
It is a relief that there is a second part to this movie, as the first half is so utterly depressing that you wonder how new, interesting music can possibly survive. Ironically, the same technology leveraged against us is so affordable that what once would have cost tens of thousands of dollars, is now available to the masses. Artists can avoid the major labels and be in charge of the production and distribution of their own music. Should we feel sorry for the record companies and radio stations? I am not going to lose any sleep over it. They created this nightmare and they are responsible for it. Record companies have had it their way for so long and ripped off so many artists, that they do not deserve our sympathy. And neither do radio station owners whose sole interest is to manipulate consumers. We don’t need them anymore. We can record our own music, produce it and distribute it online. The best thing that can happen to an artist is to have their music heard, as most acts that have record deals don’t make money from record sales (the record companies, lawyers and all the middle men suck it all up). Most bands make their money from live performances. So the more their music is heard, the better.
I would like to thank the makers of this film as it is an eye-opening experience on how the business of music works and how little consideration is given to you as the consumer. We all know that there is something amiss, at least those of us who truly like music, but this film is the best explanation about what is wrong and how to fix it. This is a must watch for any music fan, as it will make you far more conscious about your choices when it comes to music and what those who create and distribute it have in mind. Artists need your support. Big corporations who have no interest in quality music do not.