The problem with music now is all it takes for someone to make an track is a Soundcloud account and Garage Band on their Mac. Quality is spread too thin, drowned by the oceans of the hackneyed.
Back in the glory days of the ’50s or ’60s people couldn’t just hole up in an attic conversion and churn out a few sloppy fragments of noise, post them to Soundcloud and then stride into the world of music. There were a comparatively minute amount of artists around, choice was much more limited. People would make an album, release a few singles, then spend a few years prepping the next LP; rinse and repeat.You’d walk away with the occasional dud, but music was less disposable. Now that it’s such a hot commodity, the exclusivity has vanished – it’s a worrying thought that Beatlemania now belongs in a museum. The rockstar is extinct. Because there’s so much on offer, no single act (save those gimmicky marketing machines á la Bieber…) will ever approach the zenith of Pink Floyd, instead, every single person will adore a different range of acts – great for diversity, maybe not so great for the business as a whole. Quality is spread too thin, drowned by the oceans of the hackneyed.
Nowadays, every bedroom producer or barhopping band has a veritable arsenal of distribution methods – if they want to be heard, they will. There are more channels for exposing new music than there ever has been. You no longer need a label to sell records, you don’t have to have a manager to go on tour. Heck, you can just form your own label and puke out half-assed attempts at music. It would make more sense to have a proper editing process, trim the fat and then release an EP full of solid gold, even if it takes a year, than push drivel just because you had a faint flicker of inspiration. Self-production is an equally cruel mistress – yes, you have supreme power over your intellectual property, but there’s no one to question your delusions or tell you when you’re sculpting utter crap.
Even those acts with labels are guilty of relentless recording. Take beef queen Azealia Banks. She’s effectively a one-hit wonder, with ‘212‘ being a moderate success. A string of weird music videos and middling EPs/mixtapes surfaced in the year or so after, but there’s still no album, and she seems to have resorted to arguing with people on Twitter in a bid to stay relevant. All that effort could have been spent on a decent full-length rather than being poured into the gaping maw of mediocrity. My Bloody Valentine, Depeche Mode, David Bowie… these legendary outfits have bided their time, slowly honing a comeback record. Each of them have been critical successes, where those who have been operating a conveyor belt of sounds are fatigued: observe Biffy Clyro, who have arguably nosedived in calibre.
That said, maybe this process is working. Is this ‘throw everything at the blogs and see what sticks’ method actually proving useful? We may get some naff efforts, but by and large, we reveal a lot of gems. Perhaps we have to sift through the mundane to discover the treasure, and perhaps that arduous task makes the payoff all the more significant when you do find something good. Labels are notoriously selective, and the behemoths of big music are infamous for cherrypicking groups that will sell – quality and marketability don’t always go hand in hand. Lots have bands have slipped through to muddy the charts that way, with X Factor culture shouldering most of that blame. If musicians didn’t have the option to self-release, we wouldn’t have some of the best music around: take the Arctic Monkeys, who permeated our consciousness through MySpace.
Musicians will always make music, and people with ideas will always find a way to share them – they always have. Sometimes it works, and we’re left with some iconic music, but is the amount of garbage justifiable? Stopping people from toying with instruments or banning Soundcloud are unlikely to be solutions that will solve the horrendous state of the music industry, but if burgeoning artists decided to dedicate a little more time to one endeavour instead of overreaching, those last dying breaths can be postponed. We’re in a transitional period of time for music, and the way that labels have handled piracy has been an indicator that we’re going to have to find a way to adjust our relationship with music. If this is the new direction that music as a business will take, it will have to do. It may not be the best thing for us as consumers, but hey-ho, we don’t exactly have a say. So regardless of how awful some self-produced, overcooked musicians may well be, we’ll have to keep a stiff upper lip and ignore the blighters and wait for that special band to expose itself.