Friday, 10 February 2012

It's not just on the radio

Led Zeppelin. Jimi Hendrix. Neil Young. Jefferson Airplane. Fleetwood Mac. I could go on. We've all heard of them. There are so so many artists and bands that came out of the 1960's and 1970's that everyone has heard of. These are bands that were so revolutionary for their time, so different, like nothing anyone had ever heard before. These are bands that were in the UK top 40 charts, with albums and singles at number 1 all through this time. This is what kids were listening to, this is what was popular. This was pop music, rock and roll.

These days, these bands are still very much alive, new generations of kids are discovering them and listening to them, buying their records, but I think I would be right in saying they are seen as 'alternative' by today's standards.

Now, I'm not going to judge anyone's music taste, and of course, times change. Now take a look at the charts today. We have today's generation of kids watching the X Factor. We see so many singers and artists come into popularity by singing someone else's songs, and have lyrics and music written for them by someone who knows what they're doing. They become hot. Look at Justin Beiber with his millions of followers or 'Beliebers' on twitter. Granted, the kid can sing. I just wonder how much involvement he has in the songwriting process. Who are his influences?
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not attacking the entire pop industry. There are many genuinely incredible singers, artists and bands who hold their own. Beyonce and the late Amy Winehouse for example.
I just can't help but hear half the shite on our radios and wonder, just what the hell happened? I think we need somebody in mainstream radio to come along and do what John Peel did.

If you are a musician, have been in a band or know anything about writing music of any kind, you know it's not easy. There are people who are naturally gifted, but sometimes that isn't enough. There are so many struggling artists who never get noticed or picked up by any labels. I have heard some incredible acoustic performers, bands and singers playing the local bars nobody's ever heard of who have more talent, originality and stage performance than many artists out their touring the world, earning millions with their legion of teenage fans. Clearly, this is not a fair world, at least in the music business.

As a music fan, I seek out the good shit. I'm always looking for new music. I can't get enough. Every so often, I discover a band I'd never heard of before, and I'm hooked. I never really listen to the radio. They always play the same shit. Now, don't get me wrong here, there are some great radio shows, I'm just directing this at the music they play on your typical breakfast show and during the day, just chart stuff, repeated every day till you're sick of it.
 They only play what they think will be popular, or it seems that way to me. You know what I mean. How are we supposed to hear anything fresh? It's not just radio. I used to go down to a rock club here in Belfast, almost every week. I remember one time going to the DJ and requesting a Pepper's song. He refused to put on any of the songs I wanted, and said he would play Give It Away or Dani California or Can't Stop. He only wanted the people to hear something they would recognise and dance to.
I really, REALLY don't understand that mentality. Why not play something people don't know? I knew if he put on Stone Cold Bush or Good Time Boys, people would dig it. They would dance. Or so I like to think. We are so blinded by radio. I have had so many people who told me they thought Californication was the Red Hot Chili Peppers first album. Oh, the look on their face when I told them they had an album out in 1984.

One example of a band that takes influences from past decades of rock and blues while giving us an original, modern sound is The Black Keys. I'm glad they have been getting a lot of mainstream attention, but bands like this, in my opinion should be far better known than they are. If you're reading this and don't know of them, have a wee listen to this.

I think I'm leaving myself a little confused as to what my original point with all this was, but hopefully I've been able to make you think.
It just makes me sad to hear the same old crap day in day out in work on the radio and think that of all the people who never hear anything different.There is ALWAYS more beautiful music out there, that's what we all need to hear. Search for it. Music that makes you feel something. I can't wait to find out who I'll discover next.


  1. I agree with your premise to an extent - that, after a while, mainstream music tends to blend together, leaving one confused over who is singing what - however, you must remember that there have been "music lovers" who have been lamenting the state of "current" music for decades. I'm sure they were saying what you are saying here; that musicians who apply a great deal of care to their craft, should be rewarded over those who are plucked from obscurity (or youtube), given a lucrative contract and promoted by a marketing juggernaut.

    Mainstream music, like any mainstream media, is easily-accessible, easy-to-swallow and doesn't really take a large degree of mental exertion in order to appreciate it. It's a hook, it's a chorus, and it will be stuck in your head all day long. There's a popular book by a neuroscientist called, "This is your Brain on Music". I've been meaning to read it for a while, as it discusses the neurology of music; how it affects specific areas of the brain; whether it's inherited; music as a possible evolutionary trait etc. So it might be worth your while to read it.

    One of the most important things to remember is that, in reality, the majority of people simply aren't that interested or passionate about music, so they don't really take the time to search beyond what is played on the radio. They view music as something to have on in the background, something you can hum along to, as opposed to something you can sit down and appreciate every second of. Also, you're a musician, so obviously, being that you have first-hand experience with knowing how difficult it actually is to pick up an instrument and construct a song, you place great importance on musicians who not only craft great songs but do it with a degree of proficiency, whilst you are critical of those who place music over a pre-programmed beat (much like an author might criticise "pulp" novels).

    Although bands you or I may listen to might not find their way onto the radio, it is still possible to find great deals of success without it. Satellite radio, for example, is great for artists who, ordinarily, wouldn't find themselves being played on the air. The internet, too - whilst contributing to the decrease in physical sales - has lead to the explosion of bands, finding their music and youtube videos distributed across myriad blogs, message boards etc.

    I'm waffling, but... If you're ever in the presence of somebody whose only exposure to music is the radio, try playing them something a little different. Ingratiate them into the world of "alternative" music. If it works, great, if not, there are many, many people in the world who appreciate music the way that you do, so fear not. :)

    Edit; deleted to fix spelling errors.

    1. Thanks man, everything you say here makes perfect sense, and it made me smile.
      I would love to read that book you mentioned, I'll see if it's in the kindle store and I'll add it to my list. I read somewhere (probably in a copy of The Times my folks always have lying around) something along the lines that if you're listening to music you don't like, it, shall we say doesn't help your mood. This I find all the time to be true. In a fantastic mood even music I hate has me smiling. When I'm stressed, I'm cursing gaga's name haha.

  2. Just thought I'd toss up a comment about your DJ situation. It's his job to get people moving, so he plays what he knows will get people moving. You could be right, there are people who will like what you suggest but there are also people who won't like or even care about it to notice. Both of which is bad when you want to get paid or rebooked.

    As Jim said, a lot of people see music as background noise but in the DJ situation, unless it's a show us your own shit event, it's not worth losing the pay. It's like ordering a tea and getting a coffee because I might like it, it's not what I paid for, just like the people at the club didn't pay to learn and instead only want something they can sing along to with friends after a week of work.

    1. Aye, granted, you also have a good point man. I suppose this rule especially applies in most bars or clubs, but I always thought being a rock club and all, the Limelight did have a very limited playlist. I'm just glad I don't go anymore, haha.