Leading a melodic revolution

I have reached the “things just ain’t what they used to be stage of life.” Why did Hostess go out of busniess? It’s because the Twinkies were moister and the creamy filling creamier back in my day.  What  have e-mail, twitter and texting  done to humanity’s ability to communicate in sentences – OMG:(

And the music. Don’t get me started on the music. Well please allow me to talk about the  music. Nothing marks people as being of a certain age like complaining about the quality of today’s music.

They don’t make ’em like the used to

Much of this is opinion based largely on the fact that musical tastes have changed. The mores expressed in the lyrical content of songs and the technology used to make songs have all changed in ways that ensure that the tunes embraced by a younger generation of listeners will be rejected by old folks.It’s always been that way.  The establishment originally reviled jazz, the blues, country, rock, R&B and rap.. Those genres now occupy honored spots in America’s musical canon.

A mother’s intuition

Mom’s today say their kids music is too loud and sounds alike. Mom has been validated scientists who  empirically proved this to be the case  If you believed that multi-national record labels and radio conglomerates are squeezing playlists to favor certain mainstream artists while locking out indie and local bands, the proof is out there.

The music was better back in the day crowd can find numbers, data and science to back them up. Now, what will they do with said evidence? Well, many music listeners have voted with their dollars. Music sales increased in 2012 after years of decline. Those increased music sales took place outside of the United States and a lot of music buyers were purchasing the oldies.

Oldies getting old

Now, I like my old Earth, Wind & Fire as much as the next guy, but going the nostalgia route gets kind of – well – old. There is something inspirational and revelatory about discovering a new artist with a sound that can send you back and propel you forward. Those artists weren’t easy to find in the past, but it’s become a whole lot easier with the help of the internet.

The technology has inspired a group of entrepanuers to lead an underground musical revolution. These people combine a of deep love for a musical genre and the time, resources and moxie to      create Internet radio stations, music blogs, review sites that all serve the purpose of bringing quality original music to fans.

The accidental leaders

This has especially true for R&B/soul music. While fans and critics alike lament the state of music released by the major labels and heard on the radio, a crop of digital leaders have stepped up to serve as aggregators and facilitators – digging up news about indie soul artists and educating hard core R&B and soul fans about the latest releases from indie and alternative soul stars (and the rare mainstream singer or group that strives for artistry).

I’ve had the pleasure of working for and with one of those leaders since 2007 when I joined the staff of the on-line music review site soultracks.com. Chris Rizik, the founder of the site, assumed his leadership role in an accidental sort of way. He envisioned Soultracks as a site would provide updates about the singers and bands that we listened to back in the day.

It turned out that emerging R&B artists who had been squeezed out by the labels and radio were desperate to reach a broader audience. Rizik’s mailbox soon filled with CDs from these artists.  He played the music, liked what he heard and soon the site added reviews of emerging artists to the site’s mission.

Making a difference

I don’t know if Rizik or the men and women who started soul music sites such as Soul Patrol or Neo-Soul Cafe view themselves as leaders. Most of them just responded to what they correctly perceived as a neglected market. The presence of their web sites changed they way that I think about this thing called R&B music. I used to be one of those people who complained that nobody made good R&B music anymore. Thanks to the efforts of these leaders, I no longer sing that sad tune.

Change is often a slow process. It moves as such a glacial pace that it’s easy to assume that nothing is happening. You turn on the local R&B station and hear the same 10 songs played 10 times every day and want to throw up your hands. But then you turn on the radio and hear a Gregory Porter concert on NPR and you consult the local TV listings and realize that Jose James appeared on “The Tonight Show” and spirits rise. Why? Because sites such as Soultracks played a role in getting these artists much deserved shine.

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2 comments
  1. “If you suspected that pop songs these days all sound alike you have empirically been proven correct.”

    My kids will tell you that this is true. Given that there are more ways for more artists to get their music out there, it’s surprising how this pop pablum survives.

    But, what’s great about the thriving indie music scene is that there’s so much out there to discover. And it’s on the internet. For example, my daughter loves opera and she has access to it that I would have never had, had I loved opera, back in the day.

  2. The classics never go out of style! When I can, I tune in to WVPE for jazz on Saturday evening or a Sunday afternoon drive listening to the blues. While you and I are in the same age group, others may benefit from some links to sound bites and music sites.

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