Pop Music By, Bob Lefsetz

Posted on March 25, 2016 by


It’s a producer’s medium.

Howard’s on vacation and I’ve been sampling the Pulse on Sirius XM and what stuns me is how the songs all sound alike. They’re peppered with a zillion hooks and the voices are interchangeable.

Welcome to 2016. Wherein the youngsters get it and the oldsters are scratching their heads.

Whilst the oldsters keep bitching that the album must be saved, that music is best heard on vinyl and streaming sucks, the youngsters know it’s all about the hit single, it’s the only way to break through the noise, because Top Forty has the biggest footprint and the odds of gaining ubiquity elsewhere are nearly nonexistent.

That’s why you’re broke, no one’s listening.

Used to be you got a record deal and some publicity and some fame and people knew who you were and would check you out, and once they got hooked by you they stayed attached.

But now we’re bombarded with media all day long. It’s nearly impossible to get anybody to check anything out. And despite the oldsters owning the press, traditional media, with reviews about hipsters and statement makers…

The younger generation just doesn’t care.

The younger generation might know who Jimi Hendrix is, but they never experienced underground FM radio, they never experienced limited options, they’ve only known a smorgasbord of opportunity, wherein he who buys insurance and lights himself on fire wins.

It started with MTV. Where you needed to be good-looking and make obvious tracks. Sure, “Thriller” was long, but that was an anomaly, the cut was propelled by a lengthy, intriguing, state of the art, over the top John Landis video, it was a moment in time.

Which quickly passed.

Disco didn’t kill rock radio, MTV did.

MTV returned us to a hits format. New Top Forty outlets appeared on the FM dial and their ratings surged. And sure, KROQ had impact in the nineties, but the reason that format was so successful was because Rick Carroll limited the playlist.

So, in a world of unending plentitude, the spigot gets ever tighter, we want ever fewer tracks.

So if you want to be successful…

You don’t go into the wilderness and write dirges about your lack of love.

No, you imitate Kelly Clarkson, who went on “American Idol.” Today it’s about instant fame. And let’s not forget, Clarkson had none before she not only got television exposure, but worked with MAX MARTIN!

Listen to Top Forty… The only difference between Taylor Swift’s hits and the rest of the dreck is she’s got the best tracks and one of the worst voices. Everything she built her career upon, the intimate, melodic, tuneful country stories…that’s been eviscerated, it’s out the window. The tracks are catchy, but mostly Taylor Swift is a product, known primarily for her fame.

And the wannabes are imitating her.

They not only know no different, they know how hard it is to break through!

The oldsters make a statement without a single and are heard at best on marginal formats. They don’t cross over, and usually they don’t deserve to, because when the best of the best are mediocre…no one pays attention.

And all the Top Forty stuff… You get on one listen, two at most, or else you’re done.

Scream all you want to. The people working in this sphere are not dumb, with blinders on, it’s the oldsters who are clueless. The youngsters realize how competitive it is, they’re dealing in reality as opposed to being lost in the past.

But how do we wrest popular music from this drivel going down the drain?

First we must have music in the schools, teach people the tools, then we can hope someone can be inspired to do something different.

And I’d like to tell you exactly what different is, but I’ll be honest and say every new trend was unforeseeable.

Other than it featured a new sound that was honest and credible and those involved didn’t care about anyone else.

All the stories in the “New York Times,” the reviews, the analysis, the twenty tracks you have to hear right now… IRRELEVANT!

Daily Pitchfork info goes straight to the dustbin. Oh, a few embrace it and live for it, but the scene is so minor it can’t come close to selling out an arena. And then you’ve got the moribund Conde Nast purchasing the outlet as if it was the future. Hell, the future ain’t even GAWKER! Even Nick Denton is in the rearview mirror.

So you may decry the modern pop scene, but everybody involved is damn smart, they get what you don’t. It’s like they decided to be engineering majors and you decided to get a psychology degree.

But wait you say, we need psychologists!

Of course we do. But not ones bitching they can’t get paid who don’t help anybody! It’s their excellence that must draw people to them.

We live in a Tower of Babel society, We’re looking for connection and communion. The popsters have figured out a solution.

It’s your turn to learn the lessons and improve upon their work, to do something new, that changes the culture.

Change comes first, money second.

And if you’re reversing those, you’re never gonna make it.

Some of the pop stuff is astoundingly good.

Most is repetitive.

But despite the wide swath of music being played today, it’s only pop that has critical mass, only pop that matters.

P.S. Meanwhile, the greatest threat to the popsters is one Dave Cobb, who produced not only Jason Isbell, but Jamey Johnson before him and Chris Stapleton after him. The history of the music business is the jump from one legendary producer to another, they each come with a new sound and are then buried under the work of another. From Sam Phillips to George Martin to Mike Chapman to Stock Aitken Waterman to Max Martin. Cobb is on to something, he’s the opposite of pop, he’s about truth and soul. Furthermore, Cobb’s work has traction and is making an impact. March into the wilderness and don’t complain. And do work that’s true to itself. We’re counting on you to bring down the pop monolith. And listening to David Lowery complain about Spotify, and believing that vinyl made more profit than free streaming (patently untrue, read a brief analysis here: http://goo.gl/cKqvbk) will just keep you stuck in the mud, living in a past which will never return.

Posted in: Bob Lefsetz