Rock and roll is dead.
There. I got the obligatory dramatic headline out of the way and now I can tell you it’s full of shit. Unfortunately, I do hear it all the time when I surf. Rock is dead. Over. Kaput. Got Jap attacked by technology. Younger writers, it seems, flock to this almost as if a victory dance. Older writers, mention this in passing at times to sound cool to the younger generation, I believe. Again, it’s all bullshit. Changed, yes, but change doesn’t equal death. Usually.
Rock and roll is far from dead. However, despite the vast improvements in technology we are back before “the machine” created by the RIAA developed a path to success a band could follow. And bitch about. Success or failure then is the same as today – up to the artist. The landscape in which they must make their decisions is unlike anything any of us have been through before. Not me as a writer, not the artist waiting to be discovered or the fans wondering who the next great band will be. Where will they come from?
For all the hits the RIAA took, they did in fact create a distribution machine in which people could “follow the money” and in the end, their sales dictated the definition of success at the time. It’s 100% impossible to emulate that strategy and call sales a measure of success these days with sales being an afterthought, not a goal. However “back then” a band could be discovered, sign a very stupid agreement at times, and go into massive debt to record the next big selling CD. Or Tape. Or Album. No one really buys an SD Card full of music these days. Well, no one really buys music these days.
So what *is* the measure of success today? Before we dive into this, let’s look back at the train wreck the RIAA’s machine left when Napster first challenged the status quo. The destruction was in fact immense. Would you sign that same deal with a label today? Would you sign ANY deal with a label today? Labels can still provide value in grouping and discovery as it’s easier to go to a label who focuses on a style I like and see who else is there hanging out. This way I can see the value of a label. Helping get these artists into venues around the country, value. But that is more management than a tratidional label so maybe that’s the change. Managers become the go to guy and labels are just a better logo.
But you can’t look back and say ROCK IS DEAD and mean it without seeing what was there and what has in fact, died. Rock by definition cannot die as it’s a style of music someone will always gravitate to, artist or fan. It is also very diverse by nature in that Metallica to Duran Duran was called “rock”. Alternative what again? Oh yea, ROCK. Rock is dead my unholy ass. But there have been casualties that don’t seem to garner the same attention because it’s not the current trend of 140 terror filled characters put into a post that somehow tells the whole story.
So let’s examine the aftermath of the RIAAs trainwreck into technology that sent millions upon millions of people once huddled into a system and scattered them into a galaxy of their own big bang theory.
Looking at the sick, dying, or just being quiet in the last decade or more:
1) The RIAA. RIP guys. You may never get the credit you deserve, but you got enough money so who cares.
2) The CD. Gone the way of the cassette, vinyl, 8-track and hell, reel to reel.
3) Buying music. Oddly enough, alive but not very … “well”. More later.
4) An average modern day rock and roll band selling out an 18k seat arena. Dead.
5) A classic rock band selling out a 50k venue. Alive and well.
6) “The Machine” that pathed the channel to success. Dead. 100% Categorically without a shadow of a doubt, dead. Couldn’t even be revived in a zombie apocalypse dead.
7) The need for music in our lives. Where’s that “never dies” box – just black that sucker out and erase this silly question.
8) The need for discovery in finding new music. Alive and well and needed now more than ever.
9) Keith Richards. Bastard will outlive us all and baffle medical experts who eventually find his naturally mummified remains in 2310. Barely dead.
10) Rock and roll. Please. No form of music will die. The amount of people playing it will come and go through time as they put their own mark on music in their own way. Isn’t that the beauty of it vs. classifying it into a stereotype?
Let’s examine a few of these, shall we? (by this point I’ve long since lost the TLDR crowd so if you read this, thank you!)
RIAA – for all the flack they took and greed we remember them for, never forced the sales, they just made it cool. I know I willingly and at times gladly paid $20 for CD’s and man up – who joined Columbia house to get the 13+1 free tapes only to quit as soon as you could so you could do it again? Much to your mothers angst. But we were in fact buying into the system that went out and found the artists and invested heavily (much to some bad bands angst) in their success so they could charge us $20 for a $2 cd and the bands could make just over $1 a pop (if you were damn good) The money for bands came on tour and selling those $40 $5 shirts we wore to school with pride.
The RIAA had their reps who went out and made it a point to find local music and decide who had the sound that would sell. They would work with them, develop them to a point, and if all clicked and the band was a go, signed on and their life would forever change. Better or worse was still yet to be determined.
Radio had new rock and roll weekly as sound alike bands were pumped out in masse and were bought up as fast as could be produced. Bands who formerly couldn’t afford to pay for a hotel room a year later were now buying houses in Hollywood and putting up pink flamingos to piss off the neighbors. The excess drugs, partying and lifestyle may not ever be repeated and certainly isn’t how it is today. While “kids today” can listen to the music they will never know or understand the times any more than I would understand how they are building their own way today, whether they know it or not. But to hear bands such as Poison now considered “Classic Rock” you look ahead to wonder what will be “classic” to this generation when they get to our generation.
Then as you ponder that quandrious dilemma, wonder if radio will still be around, or will FM fall to the side as well since internet radio is worldwide. FM Radio per se, is turning its last corner and you will see a shift in how you get these broadcasts, but once again it’s simply another way of content delivery. *Be the content* and you’ll have your audience. That has never changed regardless of technology. Content being bad jokes, Tejano music, good jokes and of course, rock and roll. But the delivery, in essence, the party and days of excess once created… is most certainly over.
The death of “the machine” took away much more than the RIAA, it took away a well-established path to success. In all the format changes where buyers were forced to buy 8 track, then cassette, then cd to continue to listen the format finally changed to something that wasn’t physical. I wondered in 1982 how long it would be before music was on something like an Atari 2600 cartridge and I lived long enough to find my answer but I never knew what else would change around something seemingly so simple.
Classic music is now outselling new. As a member of the “hell yea I’ll buy that” generation I laugh. The question is – is new music not worth buying or is older music that much better, or are older people still buying their memories in another format yet again? But rock and roll is still in fact selling. Not as well as it was but *cough* napster *cough* entitlement *cough*… change. Change again does not equal death by any means, but hey, it makes a great headline.
So where do these damn headlines come from? The times are dead and gone and no 80s hair band looks the same today. They, like their fans, look old. Some have been called home and 2016 the Lord Himself has started rocking out I would have to think by the quality He’s already taken from us. More and more legends are going to fall and we do look around and see who will carry on? How do you succeed in the aftermath?
A band today has to be a business to succeed. You will need a business person in any successful group in as much as you will need the artist dying to be misunderstood. You will have to invest in your own sound, gear, rehearsal facilities, promotion, and you will need an automated system to create those band profile sites people put up like clone PC manufacturers in the 90s. But sadly what else is dying are places like reverb nation, sound cloud, live365 and the like. Why?
MUSIC IS FREE FOR THE SOUL AND PASSION AND SHOULD NEVER FALL VICTIM TO THE MAN!!!! Said every hippie child hipster wanna be out there. The music should be available to us all but if you fail to cover the artist or help support their business of creating the music that made you feel the way you do, that artist will soon have to give it up and could come by your house later to fix your plumbing, computer or take care of your yard. You’ll pay then but won’t have the same experience.
But again, the band must now be all things. Artist, business, social, promotional, and engaging. One of the top local examples I can think of here in Dallas that is pretty much covering all their bases and is a good model to look at would be Messer. You can’t deny the investment they put into their work; you can only wonder if it will pay off. For those like me, you hope it will as this looks to be the next evolution of the artist – self-contained business. This isn’t new and many bands did this in the 80s and beyond but it was protection, not foundation. I guess in short, every band out there today needs a “Kenny”. J (Kenny is Messers drummer and longtime business man in the Dallas music scene as well)
Now it’s the direction. If you want to succeed being a bad ass musician simply isn’t enough. Honestly it never was but “the machine” filled in the gaps to quick sound-alike success. While rock of the 80s was certainly corporate and “developed” it was also a shitload of fun and great times for everyone involved. To a point I pity those who can listen to the 80s but never fully understand them. If there is a victory dance of sorts of the business model dying, it’s easy to determine those dancing really don’t know why or what victory was really even accomplished.
What else is dying no one has noticed yet is advertising to pay for all this. That is dying and advertisers are figuring out that the $ they pay isn’t getting the click through they would like. Sites that say they get 10k hits a day are found to be full of shit and people paying for said ‘traffic’ is getting harder to find. People to pay for ANYTHING seems to be getting harder to find. The successful artists know and accept this and work around it finding sales again in merchandise and live shows. The failures will complain the industry sucks and no one is out there to help. Ironic, isn’t it? For all this change the baseline remains the same. Be responsible for your own path and the road does become a lot easier in time. Let someone else guide you, you’ll never find what you are looking for.
The machine is dead, to be sure. Rock and Roll? Please. I have a feeling it’s just warming up and without the designated path to success the honesty comes back to the music I felt in the 60s sound.
Freedom is given back to the bands to do what they want and determine their own level of success and definition of it. Bands will need to find like groups and places of support to help them get that sound out there and that’s where labels can still exist to help as a fan goes to a page to read about their band, they find another. Radio stations not tied to the past are also out there looking. Not just us but almost all internet radio still out there today is out there for the same reasons the bands are – to make a difference. To get that music that helps them feel “that way” heard by 1 more person. None of the baseline has changed at all. Only how you do it, not what must be done. Let the side noise go and focus on the basics and keep a realistic version of success handy and keep on rockin.
Those times are dead and gone and today is yet to be discovered. Stop looking back at was and start looking ahead at what can be. Music hasn’t changed, there’s just different people changing the order of notes and words and people hearing something for the first time all over again.
Then, you have found success in the aftermath.