Music Industry

Is There Just a Crisis in Rock or in All Music? Are We Doomed? These People Think So.

While I’m whinging about the lack of loud guitar music in modern rock/alt-rock, other people are taken a dim view of popular music in general. And who’s to blame for the state of music? Those damn Millennials and their progeny with their stupid smartphones.

Bowie producer Tony Visconti delivered a keynote at SXSW this week and his message was pretty dire.

David Bowie’s record producer Tony Visconti painted an apocalyptic portrait of today’s music industry in his keynote speech at South by Southwest on Thursday.

“It can’t get any worse,” Visconti said after reading out a half-hour short story set 10 years in the future, in which there was only one worldwide record label which had entirely stopped signing artists as they were too expensive and troublesome. Instead, records were made by compliant, malleable pop stars and sold through the lottery.

In a rambling speech, Visconti said that today’s record labels were simply repeating the formulae of the past, with diminishing returns. He described mainstream pop, aimed at a teenage audience, as “a computer and a vocal that was doctored to goodness knows how much”. On the other hand, he said, there are songwriters like Sun Kil Moon, “who just wrenches you and will tear your heart out – that’s an album I can’t listen to without tears falling and my dear friend David Bowie turned me on to that album.”

The producer said that record labels need to reacquaint themselves with the notion that they are selling culture, and discover artists of the calibre of Jimi Hendrix or Joni Mitchell. Fans, he said, “used to put a vinyl record on a turntable” and play it hundreds of times. “None of that goes on today. There are great people all around us – the next David Bowie lives somewhere in the world, the next Beatles, the next Springsteen but they’re not getting a shot, they’re not being financed.”

Streams on Spotify, he added, don’t pay artists a living wage but rather the price of “a nice steak dinner”.

You can read the rest of the Guardian article here. But have a stiff drink handy.

Another article in the Guardian moans in a slightly different direction until the headline “Pop, Rock, Rap, Whatever: Who Killed the Music Genre?”

Pitchfork, widely viewed as the world’s leading alternative music website, relaunched this week. Along with a rather pleasant new look, it announced “a significant new feature”, the ability to view the site according to genre.

At first glance this might suggest that genre boundaries – like pop v rock – are as robust as ever. But it could mean the opposite.

What does it mean that a site whose name has become synonymous with a specific type of alternative rock, is offering readers the chance to read about nothing but pop, or metal, or rap? And what does it mean if Rostam from Vampire Weekend works with Carly Rae Jepsen, and The Weeknd works with Max Martin? What if the likes of David Guetta and Calvin Harris call on a wide array of singers and MCs, with little concern for genre boundaries? If Rihanna covers Tame Impala, and Ryan Adams covers Taylor Swift (13 times)? How about Miley Cyruscollaborating with the Flaming Lips, or everyone working with Sia?

The 1975 have just scored a transatlantic No 1 with an album whose influences range from Yazoo to David Bowie. If you look at and key in, say, Lana Del Rey, you’ll find her listed under “pop, indie R&B, indietronica, chamber pop, synthpop”; she’s all of those, a bit, but at the same time not completely any of those. All are representative of a strain of artists who are post-genre. They now straddle, or exist beyond, genres that seemed set in concrete as little as 10 years ago. They represent a cross-pollination that makes it harder than ever to definitively state that you like or dislike one genre or another.

Follow up here.

Finally, the always curmudgeonly Gene Simmons has declared rock to be dead:

KISS rocker Gene Simmons believes Lady Gaga is the future of good music – if she can cut out the disco and pole dancing.

The KISS star was being interviewed by Rolling Stone to mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s acclaimed album Destroyer, when he took aim at today’s artists for failing to produce the same quality of music as he and his bandmates did years ago.

“As far as I’m concerned, rock is dead,” he told the magazine. “There ain’t no new bands.”

But Gene insists there’s still a little hope – in the form of Gaga, adding, “As far as I’m concerned, if Lady Gaga dropped the disco and the pole dancing and all that stuff and put together a rock band, that would be legitimate, because she’s got the musical goods.

“She can write songs, play instruments and can actually sing. And she understands the fearless quality of spectacle. I’d love to see her do Queen-style music. She can do it.”

Gene also has time for Jennifer Lopez, Ciara, Shakira, and Madonna and “all the girls with names that end in ‘a’.” He adds, “They’re very talented in their own way – but it’s dishonest. They have a backing track. It’s really a karaoke bar. Karaoke is more honest, because you know it’s karaoke.”

Read the rest of his analysis at VVN.

Anyone want to comment on any of the above?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37907 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

3 thoughts on “Is There Just a Crisis in Rock or in All Music? Are We Doomed? These People Think So.

  • I’m not sure how any of this relates to “Those damn Millennials and their progeny with their stupid smartphones”, considering all of this just sounds like the natural conclusion of decades of corporate greed to me . . . which Millennials would have had little to do with, given that we were children (or not even born yet) when most of that got its start. Good rock still exists and is alive as ever. It just isn’t on the radio.

  • Genre segregation is what is killing the music biz. It has made radio unlistenable, it is what is wrong with sirius.

    Gene on music and lyrics- is he serious? I hear all kinds of young bands with great lyrics. Matching KISS lyrics for content and quality is not a huge accomplishment. KISS was a rock band until they became a disco band (Dynasty) or whatever the fad called for. Look at the cover of Love Gun- it’s The Trammps with makeup. They were Lady Gaga. And KISS was Queen, minus the music and lyrics.

    If I think back to being a teen, most of the music we heard (all through major label releases because there was no indie channel/outlet) was being written by guys 10-20 years older. Sure, they were great ‘heavy, profound’ lyrics to a 15 yr old, but they were being delivered by a 40 yr old. They are crap to other 40 yr olds. The Wall is embarrassing, I knew that when it came out. And when I was 15, a 30+ yr old Gene was singing to me about high school girls.

    Whenever all these ‘back in the day’ and ‘bands today’ issues come up, the answer for me is always Parquet Courts and Vampire Weekend. 2 of the smartest bands I can think of from any and all age.

    The Weeknd’s first (possibly his 2nd as well, can’t remember) album was a bedroom recording. He wouldn’t do interviews, he released the album on his website, free to download. I think it has worked out. He is where he is today completely on merit.

  • I think crisis might be a strong world, but the landscape is changing and the music industry is still trying to adapt to the death of a dinosaur business model. Because of this, much of the mainstream has been watered down because major labels are unwilling to take on any financial risks when it comes to developing and signing new artists, but there is still vital music bubbling forth from the underground.

    In connection with this, the current internet based music market space and emphasis on streaming as become a two edge sword. It has become a lot harder to become filthy rich from creating music, but on the bright side there are increase opportunities for indie artists to get there music out there and gain exposure. Of course there are the dangers of over saturation but savvy indie artists who learn how to navigate the current landscape may find ways to reap the benefits. The idea that indie artists could potentially survive without making a deal with the proverbial devil, without the major label taking a big cut from their earnings is kind of cool.


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