Although I am not a fan of reality television, the muchmusic show Disband interests me. Perhaps it is the soul crushing manner in which the judges put down the abilities of young musicians (many of whom aren’t that talented) or just the wide-eyed optimism of the participants that is so intriguing. Last night the participating band actually ended up signing with Universal Records after an expanded episode chronicling what happened after a successful visit to much. The questions raised by the group signing a contract without consulting a lawyer aside, the comments of one Disband judge caught my attention. He remarked that although he was impressed by the bands tightness and package, he lamented the state of the music industry. He was upset that this band’s music was representative of what was popular in the business. He was tired of the pop-punk, bubblegum scene, and referred to them as the Jonas Brothers of punk.
His remarks reflect the nature of the current music industry. There are definitely two main currents which are usually defined as mainstream and indie, although it is not so clear cut. Popular music is popular because it is what people like. This band’s music is appealing to a wide segment of the population, particularly those who have the extra money to buy albums and go to concerts. I have no doubt they can do very well in the industry. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that approach to music, particularly if you want to make a career of it. Ultimately, music is a subjective experience, and each performer/composer will do what they feel best represents their musical abilities and interests. The very fact that an indie scene exists is a testament to this fact.
The Disband judge makes a valid point about the cookie-cutter nature of popular music. A great many groups find a pattern that works and stick to it until the money dries up. Gene Simmons appeared on the episode because he was interested in the band, and there could not be a better example of the make money approach to music than him. His band, by definition, made fairly generic and uninteresting music, but found a way to market the concert experience and band image successfully. As a business the music industry is just like any other, it depends on creating a product that people will buy, then finding every means to sell it and expand market share.
Does this mean there is no room for people making “unpopular” music? Of course not, but it means that they won’t find major label support (a mixed blessing) for their efforts. Luckily, there is more opporunity than ever for innovative groups to reach out to an audience and connect with like-minded individuals. The internet is a sea of music, but it is still possible for high quality music to stand out. The wide variety of podcasts, internet radio, music sites, and CD retailers online, allows any band to reach out into the world. Whether people listen or not has a lot to do with hard work and luck.