By Anthony Ferrara
It starts as a small feeling, something familiar. The people around you can see a spark of light in your eyes. Your foot begins to tap. Your body begins to twitch. Before you know it you’re rocking yourself back and forth as you slowly drift away from the conscious world that you once lived in. Your favorite song just came on, and whether you want anybody to know it or not, it shows.
We’ve all been there. You know what I’m talking about. The times we drive alone on the highway, at midnight, with the windows down. Visualize that day in the gym when we pump up the volume our iPod. Hell that time somebody broke our heart, and Michael Jackson seemingly made it feel all better. This is music, people.
This is what has healed so many souls for so many years. Music can transform even the emptiest of hearts into brand new ones, full of emotion. It’s kind of crazy when you actually sit down and think about it for a second. What would this world be like without the sounds and rhythms that keep us going; without these wonderful people that take the time to construct the melodies that spin around our heads and capture our minds? It’s quite obvious (and fortunate) that music isn’t going anywhere.
In just the last century alone, we’ve seen the flow of songs move from the groundbreaking and unique sound of Elvis Presley all the way to the smooth, arrogant sound of Frank Sinatra. We saw the emergence of rock and roll take off wildly, thrusting everybody from The Beatles to Aerosmith into superstardom, then subsequently cool down.
We’ve seen creators and martyrs of hip hop; from groups like NWA to men like Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls. Recently, we’ve seen a flood of pop music gems project themselves onto the scene by using various media and social media outlets; names such as Justin Bieber, Drake, Ariana Grande, etc. They seem to incorporate new, electronic types of melodies into songs full of unyielding transparency. And all of that is only what is generally considered ‘American music’. Where does music go from here?
Common sense tells us that it all starts with the artist. While any type of natural sound, whether that be a bird chirping or footsteps on concrete, can be classified as melodic, it takes a certain amount of manpower to create an organized rhythm. There are all kinds of artists. Some are more talented than others. Some win us over with their creativity. Others seize our hearts with vivid storytelling ability. After all, human beings are not known to be perfectly indistinguishable.
We are all different and all of the different types of music out there helps to emphasize that fact.
So why, when we turn on the radio, do we hear the same songs, with the same beats, on repeat, churning themselves over and over to the point where it all seems like one big loop of nothingness? Well, let me let you in on a little secret, music and the music industry are two completely different entities.
Music is what you heard from the bearded man strumming his guitar while you were waiting for the subway. Music is the four year old that’s banging pots and pans together at seven o’clock in the morning, just because doing so will make a sound. You see, there is a certain type of thrill that is created by song when it is based solely off of sound.
However, it needs to be understood that there was a point in time where a capitalist way of thinking took these sounds and commercialized them into paper. The bearded man in the subway station became the pop star who sold out the Staples Center, and the young child who woke his parents up with kitchen appliances became the lead drummer for your favorite rock band.
You really can’t blame people for wanting to make money off of music, though. Not all capitalistic ideas are rooted from evil. When it comes to distributing sounds to an audience, a financial system acts also as a platform for regulation among different artists and producers. It’s basically just the game that needs to be played for us to hear all the music that’s out there being created.
In a lot of ways, this helps make sure that music can continue to be maintained in society by simply putting the songs out there and letting the public decide whether or not they are enjoying what they’re hearing. It in no way prohibits anybody from continue to make sounds or songs.
What it does do, however, is give an extremely diverse audience around the globe the ability to determine for themselves what they like and what they don’t like. That’s something that helps make music so appealing; the fact that it offers something for everybody, and enables a choice to be made.
Yes, artists make music for themselves to fulfill a yearning that lies inside of them, or whatever their particular reason(s) may be. It’d be remiss to say, though, that music isn’t meant to be heard. Public opinion cannot be ignored, especially not in the technologically and socially advanced society that we have all come to be a part of.
But what if I told you that the public’s opinion of music no longer mattered? What if I told you that our choice in music was about to become one-dimensional, being spoon fed to us like we were all little children, incapable of making our own decisions? What if it came to be true that the listener wasn’t the audience anymore?
As I’m sure the majority of you know by now, if you pulled up iTunes on your computer you would find a U2 album that you probably didn’t ask for. If you still somehow haven’t heard of this yet, don’t panic. You did not stumble onto your laptop at four o’clock in the morning and drunkenly waste $13 on a washed up band after your night out bar hopping in the city.
This album, Songs of Innocence, was placed on your account free of charge. You can thank Bono, but most importantly, you can thank Apple. They’re the ones that paid U2 and their record company “an unspecified fee as a blanket royalty”, as Ben Sisario of the New York Times puts it, for releasing their newest album for free to people in 119 different countries around the globe.
This was done as a marketing campaign to help promote the release of the iPhone 6 while also promoting longtime Apple partner, U2, back into mainstream significance in the music and pop culture industry. The move ended up backfiring a little bit, as many people took offense to the fact that the album was placed onto their playlists without their consent (even though it was free). However, the main point of concern remains that Apple had the power to do this in the first place.
In our new world of modern technology, iTunes has become the primary source for music downloads, sales, and distribution on a global scale. An online world that was supposed to create a more diverse platform for music as a whole instead seems to be ruled by the lethargic process of taking whatever is given to us. Major record companies, in compliance with the corporate juggernaut Apple, that have dictated to us what we should and shouldn’t like. The radio stations remain on the same loop as they did twenty years ago when the emergence of an online world was seemingly creating hope for a brighter future; a future of more choices, not less.
So, my question remains: what if we were pushed out? What if we weren’t the audience anymore? Where does that leave the world of music? In a modern world where so many new artists have surfaced, because of the relatively easy ability to do so, can we stop to think where these artists are marketing their sounds? Is it really being marketed towards us, the listeners? Or is it now being marketed towards a bigger entity? I’m talking about an entity that can make these people a lot more money than any group of loyal fans can.
What if I told you that Apple was to become the audience for all of these new artists? U2 might not have gotten good reception from their album release, but they did get paid for it. I’m worried that a capitalist’s world of money and greed is about to take over the airwaves. I’m worried that music will stop being made for the audience that will listen to it in exchange for the audience that will merely pay for it, and then help distribute it with capitalistic goals in mind.
We need to remember that music, if it is to be advertised and distributed, needs to not be filtered through a one sided industrialist market. If we want all kinds of music to continue to spread and be heard from all corners of the globe then we need to take a stance quickly.
Turn off the radio. Put in the time and effort that it takes to go out and research your own music. Because even if that U2 album sits on your iTunes, un-listened to, the fact that it’s there anyway (and there was nothing that you could do about it) could potentially be very dangerous for the music industry as a whole.