L.E. Kalikow [Photograph]. Retrieved from: http://lekalikow.com/media-room/
Photo Credit: Digital Trends
Photo Credit: Digital Trends

To cope with internet overload, we allow algorithms to sift through and feed us bits and pieces of information to match our tastes or cosmetically enhanced anchormen (and anchorwomen) to spoon up headlines to the tune of tone-deaf sponsors. All this is through a multi-tasking world, where a generation pays half attention to work while they constantly check their Facebook pages and tweet when they go to the bathroom. How does this affect the arts… and more specifically music?

Let’s go back a bit…

As a struggling recording artist in the 60s and 70s, my ultimate goal was to release an album. Not just a collection of songs, but a unified creation with a theme and purpose. In those years, I’d turn out the lights, turn up the amplifier, and sit in the dark for hours, listening to full albums by The Beatles, The Stones, Billy Joel, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, and Jethro Tull (to name only a few). Each of these artists had a distinctive voice and sound and their songs were cut carefully and sequenced, taking me on a journey from beginning to end.

We needed radio to sell albums, so often edited down to three minutes, the ‘lead single’ had to have a ‘hook;’ a repeated melodic line or lyric to entice the teenage album buyer.

As technology moved vinyl to tape to CD, the ‘album’ remained, but underwent significant changes. The Disco explosion of the 70s replaced lyrics and melodies with beats and production, as artists became interchangeable tools of celebrity producers and DJs. To capitalize on this trend, major record companies began to hire multiple ‘name’ producers to work on a single album, and the ‘concept album’ gave way to a collection of often disjointed productions, lacking continuity or artistic integrity.

Analog vs Digital

There was also a subliminal change taking place. When listening to a vinyl album or taped music, you’re actually listening to ‘analog’ sound waves being produced. With a CD, the sound waves are ‘digitized’ or broken up into pieces that your brain then puts together, much like looking at a bunch of colored dots up close, then standing back until you discover they make a picture. Friends like producer/engineer Rob Fraboni (Dylan, The Band, The Stones, Clapton, etc.) also contend that digital music has an adverse effect on the human body as opposed to analog; like the difference you feel under the warmth of an incandescent light bulb, as opposed to a flickering fluorescent. Perhaps this explains why I can’t sit and listen to a CD like I once did a vinyl album.

Napster, the beginning of the end…

When record companies began suing their own customers for peer-to-peer downloading, the graffiti was on the wall. Like the industrial revolution before, the digital age wiped out the multi-billion dollar record business we once thought was recession proof and timeless. But the music didn’t die, it simply morphed into another dimension as the infrastructure built to filter, foster, package, market and sell it disappeared. Now, music exists in an unfiltered internet ocean requiring navigational tools like Spotify and Pandora. The vestiges of past record companies, co-opted into entertainment conglomerates, now create brands instead of artists, with commercials, soundtracks, and albums produced, not for the music, but to sell the brand.

Reaction vs emotion

‘Lead singles’ are also still being created. However, they’re no longer three-minute radio songs, but often just a string of repeating ‘hooks’ designed to catch the attention of the multi-tasking millennial, epitomized by Pharrell’s “Happy.” As the art of songwriting becomes less important, so do the songs. This is not to say that some ‘brand artists’ like Adelle, Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift, aren’t fine songwriters. It’s just that, based on the current system, the odds are probably against developing such equally talented songwriter/artists in the future.

So, what’s next?

In the ‘80s, with the bestseller “Megatrends,” later reprieved in the 90s with “High Tech/High Touch,” author John Naisbitt theorized that in a world of high tech, people would begin to long for personal, human contact. At a recent music business convention, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was so intent on their mobile phones; no one made eye contact. (No wonder “The Walking Dead” is so popular on TV). Could there be a reaction to this high tech alienation? A few trends indicate that this may be so.

First, the amazing increase in vinyl record sales and Baby Boomers aren’t the only ones responsible for this. Last year, Millennials pushed vinyl sales to a 26-year high.1 Perhaps, along with the novelty factor, some of these kids might actually start to hear (and feel) the difference.

Secondly, sales figures for acoustic guitars last year increased for the fifth consecutive year, topping 1.2 million units sold.2

This is not to suggest mobile devices will be discarded by a new generation of hippies, but we may well see a push-back against corporate branding to more organically grown artists, perhaps even producing analog music in favor of digital downloads. Don’t be surprised at a proliferation of small local venues where musicians gather to perform and where the audience actually turns off their phones.  If one pops up in my neighborhood, you can bet I’ll be sitting in the front row… or maybe up there playing my Martin D28.

Written By Guest Contributor: L.E. Kalikow, author of Sex , No Drugs and Rock “N’ Roll: Memoirs of a Music Junkie

For over 35 years, L.E. Kalikow served as President of Music Business Reference, Inc. and was also a singer/songwriter under production agreements with Chess Records in Chicago and both Capitol and Columbia Records in New York. He was also staff writer for Beechwood Music at 1650 Broadway. He has performed as the opening act for artists such as Richie Havens, Eric Anderson, Van Morrison and Jefferson Airplane, among others.

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