One Last Time: Why Has Alt-Rock Gone So Soft?

Last week, I was asked to contribute some thoughts about the current soft (read: no guitars or anger) state of alt-rock to The Sands Report, a weekly newsletter that goes out to radio and records folks around the world. (Read it here.) This week, the newsletter published some reactions to my piece.

More Theories on Why T=Alt Rock Has Gone Limp

Truth be told, I kinda like it soft. But that’s just me. There were lots of opinions to the contrary regarding the great guest column last week from Alan Cross about why Alt rock has gone soft. If you missed it, Alan was noting that generally when things are as scary and dark as they are now, especially for the youth of the world, there generally is an angry and loud response from musicians, and from Alt radio.

But so far, we’re just getting songs about people who are stressed out and how they have to wake up and make some money. So what’s behind the preponderance of soft Alt sounds? Here’s how you responded…

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Love Alan’s thoughts, but I have an alternative theory. Follow the money! In the recent streaming/digital economy of the last seven to eight years or so, I think that the labels have made more money by signing single deals, working and crossing songs to four to five formats and then cutting bait instead of archaic (and expensive) model of three to five albums/touring/building a career…There are so few “format” artists left because the songs aren’t as reactive as getting played at multiple formats. So Alt/Pop is the common denominator…

-Name withheld upon request

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Might be the behavioral meds. No low lows. All moods regulated. Boring. Strife equals art that means something.

—Robert Cross, Sirius XMU

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Interesting points and without a doubt social media expression has a major impact on how people listen to music. I don’t know if that explains the soft- ness though. I do think that average listeners are paying far less attention as they multi-task through life, meaning they de- mand less of music on the radio. Thus the bar is lowered when it comes to the quest for truly alternative artists.

—Bruce Ravid, Go Deep

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A great read! When I got here, the station was a true “to the chart” Active Rock that was un- listenable to a strong majority of people. Active has be- come almost a dumping ground. The path we decided to take was an Alt /Active hybrid mentioned in your piece. Only cherry-picking the songs that made sense for one cohesive sound. We play the hell out of the new Muse. But Coldplay…not so much. Cage, Alt-J, Arctic Monkeys, Blink-182, they are all rock enough to fit the mold of what we do now.

—Matt Stone, WZLB/Fort Walton

Read your most recent column on why Alternative has gone soft. First, this generation isn’t as soft as you think. Programmers have gone soft. Why? Because the corporate radio companies don’t want their stations to express anger, angst, or how a majority of the average person feels. They would prefer to have their stations stay PC and both younger people and their parents can enjoy the same music. In turn, record labels pursue artists they feel will fit into their scheme of things. I must add that most PD’s—not all—but most are in the age demo of what their parents age was when they started out in radio. Soft. Ha. They have gone soft, and so the more ‘aggressive’ music or music that doesn’t test well (blame your 50-year old consultants) for something they cannot to relate to. Let’s face it, a few years ago it was “the format is too hard.” I think I am more in touch with reality than most of you, and I am old enough to be either your father or grandpa. Do me a favor and please change the name of the format. It hasn’t been ‘alternative’ in many years. That would make this guy who still understands what that word means happy. As one of founders/ pioneers of the original format, my two cents is worth more than many others…Scream at me, throw things at me—that would be good, because it would show more than words. The same words over and over. (And, no I haven’t turned into Max Tolkoff!) Have a nice day.

—Jonathan L. Rosen, Lopsided World of L

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Hey Richard, I’ve been following your posts for a very long time now. But nothing recently has hit me like this one did! Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us…After a long absence, I am a DJ again, and there is so much BLAND music out there these days!…I will share this post with my col- leagues. Thanks again!

—Janie Snyder, Radiofreephoenix.com

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I liked your recent Sands report about why Alt has gone soft. Without yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, I attribute it to the “everyone gets a trophy” generation and their easy access to everything. There is no struggle or angst anymore. No one has to wait for anything; it’s all there for the taking. Without angst we get a a generation of pussies making music.

-Kat Corbett, KROQ/LA

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And the hand claps, please God, let them stop the hand claps!

—Kris Metzdorf, KRXF/Bend

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Other young artists lamenting lost youth: “2 AM” by Bear Hands, Nathaniel Rateliff ’s “I Need Never Get Old,” and The Neighbourhood has a song about getting old. What are these guys gonna sing about when they’re Springsteen’s age?

—Guy Dark, WWWX/Appleton

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Great article from Alan Cross…thanks so much, Richard! So true. So sad. It’s like we need that wave of rock to res- urrect itself as it does. There’s got to be a way to
scream out your apathy with a Stratocaster on 11, right?

—Mike Crank, CBS Radio/LA

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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.

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