Thursday, June 05, 2014

10 Artists Who Would DEFINITELY NOT Make The Finals on 'The Voice' (the 'TOP TIER RULE', and why we should worry)



  1. Billie Holiday
  2. Leonard Cohen
  3. John Lennon
  4. Lou Reed
  5. Bob Dylan
  6. Neil Young
  7. Grace Jones
  8. Tom Waits
  9. Suzanne Vega
  10. Bjork
The subject of timbre is much-discussed by Daniel J. Levitin in his book 'This Is Your Brain on Music'. The importance of timbre cannot be overestimated: it is the one factor that gives an artist that uniqueness which no other artist can claim.

Yet, shows such as 'The Voice' and 'America's Got Talent' would have us believe that music 'talent' can be measured & divided into blocks and units, where vocal range, showmanship and self-confidence are the only, driving factors. As we become a more diverse society, one look at the top tier of the HOT 100, you'd think we were becoming less. This is not to say that there is no diversity of race, rather, diversity of sound.


In his PopMatters column 'All Things Reconsidered', Imran Khan has a brilliant piece on Suzanne Vega: 'Ordinary Magic: Suzanne Vega's 'Days of Open Hand'. I remember hearing stories at Barnard, also Vega's alma mater, about how she would play her guitar & sing so quietly, everyone had to gather closely around her to hear. The intimacy was real & palpable for her listeners.

In his Scientific American article 'Is Pop Music Evolving, or Is It Just Getting Louder?' John Matson discusses the devolution of both timbre & pitch, and how this results in an overall homogenization of the music at the top tier. As cultures & ethnicities merge, mix and mingle, our world is becoming more colorful, more complex, more interesting. So, why is it that what most people hear on the radio & on streaming services is the same songs, over & over, ad infinitum?

Hypebot has a great discussion: "Why Radio Plays Same 20 Songs: The Sad Truth Of Media Consolidation [INFOGRAPHIC]". The crux of it is:
"only six companies control 90% of the media."  
And further:

"Consolidation of media has lead to far less diversity in programming and ownership, with far fewer voices being heard. Media consolidation has heavily affected the balance and diversity of today's music on terrestrial radio. This is great news if you’re Drake, Lil Wayne, Lady Gaga and the like, but not so great if you’re just about anybody else."
The Wall Street Journal's recent article by Hannah Karp "Radio's Answer to Spotify? Less Variety Stations Create More Repetition, Fearing Listeners Will Tune Out Unfamiliar Tunes" sums it up:
"Faced with growing competition from digital alternatives, traditional broadcasters have managed to expand their listenership with an unlikely tactic: offering less variety than ever. The strategy is based on a growing amount of research that shows in increasingly granular detail what radio programmers have long believed—listeners tend to stay tuned when they hear a familiar song, and tune out when they hear music they don't recognize."
Great radio still exists, but listeners must do some digging: the combination of information overload & attention deficit makes this impossible for most. The 'TOP TIER RULE' still governs most people's habits: whether in advertising or finance, what we see (or in this case, hear) is what most people get.

At a time when independent artists are still making the most progressive, vital & important music, the equation hasn't changed, where their efforts & ideas serve as grist for the major label grill. Most people don't realize that many of the ideas they hear at the 'top tier' are actually re-packaged, re-processed ideas that bubbled-up from the underground. It's not that the majors do it better, they do it bigger. 

While there's KEXP in Seattle & WDET in Detroit (The Progressive Underground With Chris Campbell), most listeners tune in to what is easiest, most accessible, and in the final analysis, most advertised. It's 'might makes right' on the FM dial.

GREAT MUSIC used to be the Holy Grail of the A&R Executive, but, sadly, that is no longer the case. It's an only the strongest survive, winner takes all mentality which guarantees air play & ratings.....

Or does it?