The Year The Music Died
By: Gina Kay Singerhouse
This year has been a challenging year for me, on so many levels. Throughout the year I have ridden a roller coaster of emotional highs and defying lows. For the last six months I have question my personal life as well as my professional life as a music journalist. In other words, I am burnt out…
Each day I walk into my office and sit at my desk to stare at my computer. I check my e-mail to find that the industry is still the machine that I have come to know it as, while e-mails filled with mundane information about want-to-be entertainers download into my e-mail program. I then check my Facebook feed, only to find the ego driven entertainers posting inconsequential rubbish on their walls. So when did this happen? When did I lose all hope for the music that I had loved so much of my life?
I spent the last year searching my soul for the answers…
I have welcomed many entertainers into my office over the last twenty-six years of my career. Most enjoy the décor as my office is decorated in wildlife. The only indication that I am in the music industry are the three guitars in the corner, the mandolin next to the wall, and the wall of shelves filled with thousands of CDs. I have had several entertainers mention that I should decorate my office with photographs and memorabilia in regards to my job. Why, just to feed my ego? I am not that type of person!
For some time now, I have contemplated changing the décor in my office. Yesterday, I finally did. Gone are the thousands of CDs, all of them are packed neatly in plastic storage bins. As I was packing the albums away, my mind was reminiscing on each CD and on each artist. So many great memories and so many dark moments, lie within the music found in each of these albums.
In a drawer in my office, you will find over one hundred and fifty projects waiting for my review. Each time I receive a new album, I toss it in this drawer, thinking someday I’ll get to that. Among those projects you will find a vast array of music including Country, Americana, Pop-Country, Bluegrass and even Christmas music. Some of the albums are over five years old and some, well I received yesterday. I can guarantee that among those albums, I might be lucky to find five good songs worth the cost of purchase. Why is this? Well, let me enlighten you as we get into my time machine and journey back in time…
Music is older than time its self. It is the essence of life. If you were to sit quietly in the woods, where human kind is extinct, you will hear the heartbeat that is called Earth. The wind making its way through the forest to rustle the leaves that grow off the trees… the birds calling out to others of their kind, to notify them that they found nourishment… the water trickling over rocks as it makes it way from the ground to the vast open rivers…the squirrel who jumps about in search of food, while planting the seeds for trees to grow… all of this is real music.
If you study indigenous cultures, what are called “The First Peoples,” you will find that all of them maintain sacred songs. These songs help them through their daily lives and also mark certain goals. Many of these songs are songs of gratitude to the creator, to Mother Earth, and to the animals who help them. Much of the songs were songs of celebration as one marks a passage in their life. The First Peoples, believed in the healing power of song.
The Power of Song…
Some where in the past twenty-six years, we lost the power of song. Music has always held the element of power. Think about your favorite song, what makes it your favorite? Does it make you cry? Does the song stir you to get up and dance? Does the song inspire you take action? Does it remind you of a lost loved one, a lost memory, or a dear friend? Does it allow you to reminisce of your childhood, a favorite memory, or an important event like your wedding?
Indigenous cultures believe that songs can heal. In fact, many cultures have specific songs that they sing over the bodies of those who are ill. Think about the one song that makes you cry. Now, after hearing that song and taking a moment to cry; how did you feel? Was it a cleansing cry? Did you feel emotionally drained, but then minutes later you felt better than ever? When was the last time you heard a new song like that?
The 1960’s was a turbulent time in our history. The Vietnam war was going on, politics caused chaos and separation; and a generation of new people decided that they were not going to conform to what their parents believed. The result of this time period was many changes, none more prevalent than found in music. Many of the songs that came out of the 1960’s, in all genres, were songs of action and healing.
If you have a moment, I highly suggest watching the documentary Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation. Not to promote another company, but you can view this on Netflix. This documentary shows the creation of Woodstock and how they lost a lot of money, but more so how a generation came together in peace in the name of music. How powerful is that?
Where Is The Creativity?
There are singers who cannot write and there are writers who cannot sing. Please don’t ask me to do either! Well, I can write articles and stories but I cannot sing. Even though my name is Singerhouse, you do not want to hear this voice sing! At one point in my career, I had a colleague who told me that I could make it as a singer – because of my name!
Singers and songwriters are the yin and yang of the music industry. Without one, we would not have the other. Back in the day, many artists were talented enough to do both. Entertainers like Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Bill Anderson, and Kris Kristofferson to name a few. Each of these entertainers possessed the unique ability to capture a minute element of daily life and create a song that would touch a person’s soul. The greatest singer / songwriters are the ones who can write a song that they know they cannot bring to life, so they passed it on to someone who can. For an example: “Crazy” written by Willie Nelson and given to Patsy Cline who was able to give the song the life it deserved.
Perhaps the most substantial part of these songwriters is found in the fact that they allowed the creative process to come to them. I had a songwriter once tell me that every melody has been used, that is why many melodies sound like other well known melodies. That is false! If any one says that then they are not true to the creative process. Sure, I can force myself to write an article or I can let the article come to me. I have spent hours on this article alone in writing it, and months thinking about what aspects I would like to share with you. For a good song to develop, one must allow the life force of the creative process for the song to emerge.
When Did The Music Die?
As much as I would love to say that on such and such date, music died. I cannot do this because there are many contributors to its death. I do know, for certain, that if music continues on the path that it is on it will implode and disappear like so many things of the past.
Perhaps the first contributor to music’s death came with the advent of the computer. According to MusicRadar.com; the first computer music recording happened in 1951. It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the first audio studio arrived. Back in the day, entertainers had to go into studios to record their music. To rent a studio would cost around $25,000.00 per hour and many of those studios did not come with engineers. Then the entertainer had to hire professional musicians. Many artists back in the day would hire studio musicians to create the best sound on their albums. Rarely did they use their own touring bands to record their music. Today, many entertainers use computers and the best software to create their very own album. In fact many artists do not even know how to play an instrument as all musical instruments are housed in today’s technology.
This brings us to our next reason music is dead – lack of musicians. Rock and Roll guitarist, Eddy Van Halen, once said that he did not partake in childhood endeavors. Instead, he spent his childhood learning how to play his guitar. The result of years of dedication was his vast skills as one of the best guitarists in music. Today’s children are part of the ‘I want it now’ movement and would rather spend hours on the internet learning nothing than hours honing a craft such as music. In most parts of the country, music is the first class that is removed from schools due to budget cuts.
Can you distinctively hear the difference between a computer generated musical instrument and a real instrument? Through the years, I have trained my ears to hear such peculiar synchronicities.
In 2005, Guitar Hero was launched. The video game, gave children the opportunity to pretend they could play a musical instrument. Imagine if you would, the hours spent mastering a game of pressing buttons verses the hours that could have been spent learning to play a real instrument?
It was in 1993, that the first MP3 recording was released. Today, we live in a culture where records, cassettes, 8-track, and even compact discs are the thing of the past. Sure MP3s are nice to have, but in reality they diminish the original recordings to the point that much of the essence of music is lost.
One of the largest contributors to the downfall of music is found in YouTube. On February 14, 2014, YouTube was launched. Videos have always been an integrated part of an entertainer’s career. So has television with shows like American Bandstand, Hee Haw, and MTV. YouTube gave entertainers a venue to launch their music for fans to hear. However, it also gave non-talented people a form to launch their careers.
Back in the infancy of the music industry, potential entertainers would have to travel from venue to venue to perform. Perhaps the most notable of these is Loretta Lynn. In her movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, there is a scene where Loretta is traveling across the country from radio station to radio station to petition stations to play her song. In other cases, record labels would hire scouts to travel to remote areas to inspect local acts for potential record contracts. It was even part of a radio disc jockey’s job to seek local talent within their listening area to help launch their careers.
For many decades, those seeking recording contracts to become country music entertainers would travel to Nashville and petition record labels. I believe that Billy Ray Cyrus was one of the last to navigate the labels that once stood on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee.
Today, those seeking recording contracts will post their music on YouTube. The difference is found in the “Likes” portion of the website. Scouts will only look at how many Likes are on the music, not even realizing that most of those likes are generated by the entertainer themselves. If you really want to know how many likes a song has, take the total and subtract 75% and you will get your answer.
Sure we can categorize most of today’s musical downfall to the internet and various websites. In my career, I have seen the rise and fall of many websites that are dedicated to country music. When I began my career, no one in the music industry would work with me because I was not a member of the Academy of Country Music [ACM] or the Country Music Association [CMA]. I had to petition for two years, with a sponsor, to become a member of each. Each year, I pay a fee to maintain my membership status which makes me a legitimate member of the music industry. Today, any fan can create a website or Facebook page and call themselves a legitimate person in the music industry without proof of membership in both organizations. Potential entertainers will send their music to these dishonest website owners. Many of them do not know the history of country music or have studied music. This brings a sense of falsehood to their reviews as they only give good reviews so they can generate more entertainers to visit their website. The result is a world of untruth and a false sense of accomplishment for the potential entertainers.
Who Is Johnny Cash?
I have to take a little break and tell you this story. I was backstage getting ready to present Big & Rich with a Spirit Award. The date was March 24, 2012; we were waiting in a comfortable spot with about thirty other people including a well known radio station from our area. One of the radio station’s personnel decided to walk up to us and strike up a conversation. She was a beautiful young woman in her twenties. In the conversation I mentioned how Strictly Country promotes everyone from Johnny Cash all the way up to today’s country music. She got a strange look on her face and then asked “Who’s Johnny Cash?”
That, my readers, is the core of country music today!
Feel The Music
Another contribution to the downfall of country music is the fact that we are not able to feel music today. For many decades, major record labels have hired songwriters to write songs for the entertainers under their label. Personally, I believe this is a benefit for songwriters as they can generate a steady line of work. However, corporate people do not have any idea on how the creative process works. Instead, songwriters sit in a room and are told that they must create three to four songs in an eight hour period! You cannot even imagine how many times that I hear a singer, in an interview, tell me that it took them years to write and complete a song. This is why every country music song sounds exactly the same!
The other contributor to the mundane sound of country music today is found in the radio stations. Shortly after the end of World War II, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) put a freeze on how many radio stations and or television stations one entity could own in a singular area. This freeze would last until 1996 when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed. By passing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress eliminated the cap on the number of radio stations any one entity could own nationwide and also substantially loosened local radio station ownership restrictions. The consequence of this Act did not open up radio stations to play more of a variety, but constricted stations to play less of a variety. If you were to listen to three radio stations; one on the east coast, one from the mid-west and one from the west coast, you would find that they are playing the same ten songs.
It is radio that states how a song is written. Radio has many unwritten rules about how a song should be penned and if the songwriter refuses to write their song in such a manner, it will never receive air time. These unwritten rules pertain to length, mentality, commercialism, and perception. If a song is more than three minutes long, radio will not play it. If the song has heart and soul that will promote emotions from the listener, radio will not air it. Do you get the picture? Think back to your favorite song – chances are it cannot be played on country radio today!
How is it that we can share a meme that contains a heartfelt message, but we cannot listen to a song with the same message?
A Commodity And Not An Art
If you believe that entertainers make millions of dollars, then you need to come back down to Earth! Like in all aspects of life, very few people in the music industry make money at this. I am friends with many songwriters and it is always interesting when they get paid. One particular songwriter mentioned that his songs were streamed over 9,000 times and his pay check was 58 cents in royalties. In my twenty-six years of owning Strictly Country Magazine, I have made zero dollars. In fact, I believe that I owe money! That is the general case throughout the industry. Many of us have one or two other jobs in order to support being in music. Bill Anderson once told me that he loves being in the industry, because you never know what is going to happen. One day you are eating tuna from the can and the next day you are eating lobster! One day you are playing a golden guitar and the next day you sell it to buy a washboard!
If you really want to find the exact date that music started dying then look for the date when music went from a form of art to a commodity where everyone can make money off of. Today, music is mass produced to the point that it has lost all of it’s core essence. We have taken something so beautiful and turned it into a machine to switch on and off. Well, the batteries are running out on this machine and soon it too will go the way of the dinosaurs…
P.S. – Don’t get me going on awards shows…as well as other things. Perhaps I will continue sharing my observation, then again there are 150 projects waiting for me to review…
© Strictly Country Magazine.
February 3, 2020.
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