04 March 2008

Generic Music from Generic Bands

A couple of weeks ago, I was letting iTunes run through couple of new albums I had bought. I didn't realize until afterward that I had gotten "shuffle" set. The songs from the two bands were indistinguishable. Then I thought about it and realized that I could take a track from either of these bands and drop it into the middle of a number of other albums I have--and no one coming to the music cold would notice. These bands make generic music.

What am I calling "generic music"? It's the musical eqivalent of water in world of soup. It's music that has no distinguishing features, no particular voice or style or viewpoint or anything. It's just there. It observes all the conventions of it genre, hits all the standard marks ... and nothing else.

I can understand how manufactured bands (like the run of hair metal bands or the run of boy groups) could end up being generic. I'd rather have something more interesting, with a viewpoint and a voice, have the rack space, but I can see where they come from and what they are about. They have minders who work hard to rub out all their distinguishing features so they can control the product (and the group members) better. I see the market niche of these bands. I get how they are good business. They are like Dennys or McDonalds: safe, predictable, easy to market. Product.

But the two bands that started me thinking about this were independent bands who (apparently) invented themselves. Could anyone be so vacant, so blank? But how could anyone set out be a musician and say "OK, great, I'm going to record music that no one will remember for a minute after it finishes. I'm going to be a can of peas on a shelf of peas."? Can they imagine that, as a small producer, they can afford to be invisible against the background? And don't they have anything they want to say?

I can't help thinking about two albums with meat and vegetables that I didn't buy because my money went to bottles of tap water with pretty labels. (And I am on to the people who recommended these to me. Hah. They won't fool me again.)

I will continue to do what I can to get people to listen to more and better music, music that has something to say and some distinctive way of saying it. It's spitting into the wind, but I'm stubborn that way. I would appreciate it, however, if so many musicians weren't working so hard to sell water.

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