Assembly Line Music
by Alex Cosper

Innovation vs Formula

There's a big difference between creative music and formula music, although you're bound to hear the guard dogs of the crumbling old world defend mediocre songwriting that relies on stale gimmicks. They'll tell you about some guy who has made millions of dollars as a behind the scenes songwriter for high profile boy bands and other unoriginal soundalike pop singers. Even though the songs themselves have no new message for society, teens who are new to the game of pop music and haven't burned out yet on the high rotation nothingness that top 40 radio delivers, will buy a certain number of shallow records if the image of the artist is strong enough.

Guard dogs start to growl when you remind them that formula music doesn't sell as well as creative music in the long run. In the short run it might sell quickly, which is the main concern of corporate execs who must try to post impressive quarterly earnings. They really don't care about culture or improving the state of music, execs really only care about what sells the fastest in the short run, which tends to be records that already sound like other million selling hits. So what's wrong with filling up radio playlists with the tons of soundalike music? Well, it gets boring but luckily we now live in a world where there are many alternatives to the narrow uncreative playlists on traditional radio.

The worst thing about assembly line music is that it blocks out better indie music from making the charts. So many people assume that everything that gets played on the radio is a result of public demand, which is far from the truth. Only about 7-10 songs make it into the "high rotation" category at any given time at a commercial radio station that promotes its format as current music. Over the course of a year, only a handful of songs will emerge as big sellers that turn a profit. The rest is just filler music that could easily be replaced by almost anything. Most of this filler music merely imitates the production and hooks of other big songs. Yet, the most successful artists have all time have been unique and memorable, whereas assembly line music has a shorter lifespan and then is usually super forgettable.

A Better Solution

How this upside down music world came to be, in which the worst uncreative music gets the highest amount of media exposure while more artistic visionary music gets slammed in the cellar, is a remarkable story. All you really need to know is that the music industry financially fell apart in 1999 and has tried to put itself back together with copycat formula music, which hasn't been the right solution. In fact, history shows over and over again how wrong this thinking is. Disco became over-played in the late seventies as it started to become a cookie cutter formula. It got so over-exposed that it created a disco backlash movement. A similar situation happened in the late 80s when it was exposed that a popular hit artist didn't even sing on their own album. They were merely photogenic album cover guys who would lip-sync to the hit recording at live shows.

The whole idea of doing whatever it takes to try to sell millions of units has had a crippling effect on the musical landscape. A better idea is for the music world is to focus on creative songwriting and not worry about formulas so much. That was the spirit of the 1960s when hundreds of different record labels contributed to the national music scene, not just three big money-losing labels who get to live off bank loans. This better idea, which has been used by at least the top 50 best selling artists of all time, could bring the music world back to a level of respectability. Until then, it's just another example of mass mania in slow motion in which the masses are slowly beat over the head for years with repetitious hype that resembles the marketing of fast food or soda pop, neither of which is healthy.

Life is too short to keep hearing the same music over and over, while diversity add spice to life. People need to sharpen their critical thinking skills and reject stacks of songs that are just weak imitations of established hits. A better solution is to explore music on your own and not wait for a radio station to tell you what the "hits" are supposed to be. There's a vast world of indie music out there full of better choices that what gets pushed through the national pipeline. Soundalike music should be reserved for humorous parody artists. Creative music is closer to the heart of what music is about. It's not about trying to game the market as much as it's about offering society something that inspires them to do something good for society.

Next Chapter: Shrunken Heads

Index to Mass Mania in Slow Motion