I recently had a back-and-forth with someone on Twitter, respectfully conducted, I think. I opined that Rush’s final album Clockwork Angels, back in 2012, went ignored by rock radio. If anything, the album provoked station to play “Tom Sawyer” twice as much rather than play anything new.
The person responded with, “That didn’t matter because the album still did well, even without radio.”
My response to that was that it was important because it’s one indicator – like it or not – of the health and financial viability of a musical style. There are others, and each have a role to play, but fundamentally, these in aggregate tell music labels (shockingly. still a significant force in what you hear) what sells. What sells is what gets made, and on, and the snake eats its tail.
The response to all of this was some variation of “modern music sucks.” I’ll leave it up to each individual reader to decide if that’s the case, but my final summation was a blunt, “if modern music sucks, a good part of the problem is we’re not paying for the music we believe doesn’t suck.”
It’s never a good look to blame the fans, but I’m afraid that is the case. The music industry is not a meritocracy. It makes what makes money, and that’s it. The art part is the domain of the artist. It’s up to the audience to pay up for the stuff they like to send the all-important message: make more of that.
And it’s not just music. It is every industry. If a specific type of fashion is popular and makes money, more of that style lands on racks. Why do people buy SUVs, and why aren’t more sedans being sold? Because they were not buying sedans, and automakers aren’t going to make models that languish in a sales lot. In the Mike Judge movie Idiocracy, the biggest movie in the future is called Ass, and is just a single shot of some dude’s butt. It’s a crude joke, but if a movie with such a basic concept, made dirt-cheap, found popularity in our real world and made lots of money and returned investment many times over, do you really think movie studios wouldn’t jump on that bandwagon? Of course they would. Battleship The Movie. Ouija The Movie. THE EMOJI MOVIE. You know I’m right.
You get what you pay for, but you also get more of what you pay for. Likewise, talent isn’t enough to get you there. I submit Exhibit A in my argument: “Tiger on a Treadmill” by Josh Fix from his 2008 album Free At Last. As Exhibit B, I offer his song “Ghosts in Your Head” from the 2009 EP This Town Is Starting To Make Me Angry.
Like it? Good. Josh Fix doesn’t make music anymore. It didn’t work out. Here we are.
I have shared these tracks innumerable times at this point and they never fail to impress. Further, from everything I could find about Fix, he’s a one-man-band. Everything you hear is all him, making him not only a wildly talented musician, but a good investment. He literally delivers an entire band on the budget of an individual. We’re talking about more than a decade now, and on a regular basis I come across others like Josh Fix that might satisfy your definition of “good.”
What about Will Owsley? His is an awful, tragic story now, but back in 1999, his debut which was released on the indie Not Lame record label got picked up by Warner-distributed Giant Records, founded by famed agent/manager Irving Azoff. The future was bright, but the sales didn’t meet the cost of investment.
I could go on. I’ve got plenty of examples to go.
“But don’t you have a Spotify playlist and video embeds on your site?” Yes, we do, and we’re very clear about why they are on MusicTAP. We see these as signposts to a final destination where you seek out the artists in question and buy their music, not the destination itself. Somewhere along the way, things got jumbled to the point where the advertising media – the radio, the streams, the music video…the things marketing calls the “top of the funnel” – stopped leading down to the bottom of the funnel, being the actual album sale, and became the point of satisfaction. Smartphones that double as media players enabled it.
But here’s the thing – every part of the funnel is important. The streams, the music video, and yes, even radio, as fractured and crippled as it is in this age still matter, perhaps not as much as the crucial final album purchase, but every phase described is engagement. Engagement signals a willing marketplace, and those who distribute music will happily supply when there’s clear evidence of demand. If it is a nebulous, fluke-y sort of one-off situation, it will not move the needle. One Olivia Rodrigo track with guitars and drums does not a new rock movement make. Machine Gun Kelly winning a Grammy for Rock Album of the Year does not represent a trend. These scant examples alone aren’t sustainable.
“Modern music sucks.” Fine, but what have you done to prove that the music you like will make the manufacturer money? How have you shown that there’s a demand out there for the sounds you find have merit? If all we do is insist that they just don’t make ’em like they used to, and then don’t provoke the mystical “they” to do otherwise, instead just complaining about the dearth of tunes we want, then we get what we get.