First, let me preface this by stating that it is meant neither as an indictment or an endorsement of Nickelback or any other band. It is merely an observation; a true story about the state of popular rock n’ roll music.
Like many other once pure institutions (I am using the word pure very loosely here) in the world, rock n’ roll and the music industry in general has been ransacked by money and power hungry executives who are more interested in mass production and dollar signs than quality and purity of music. This is not a speculation or a conspiracy theory, this is a fact. I am not writing in an attempt to prove this because I am busy and I don’t have time to write a novel. I am writing because I am curious…
The other day while sitting at school and listening to people talking (a favorite pastime of mine), I happened upon two people who were discussing music and more specifically the band “Nickelback”. Let me tell you, the reviews as far as these two were concerned, were not good. But the fact is, this is not a new theme. I have heard people time and again discussing their disgust or at the very least dislike of Nickelback. And if it isn’t Nickelback, it’s the Foo Fighters, and if not them then Linkin Park. It always throws me for a loop because these bands, especially Nickelback are at the height of their popularity; they sell millions of records, sell out concerts all over the continent, and are on the radio every 3.5 seconds (I counted). Now what I am curious about is how this is possible if most people don’t like them and discredit their music.
The natural conclusion is that people lie. There are obviously a lot of people out there that won’t fess up to being big fans of the music, ostensibly because they know its garbage.
Now, I am not the biggest Nickelback fan, but I also don’t walk around hating them either, I am mutually indifferent to them. And for that reason I am not here to discuss whether they suck or not.
I believe Nickelback and all the bands like them are a symptom of a much larger problem. The problem is the one I already stated; corporations are running rock n’ roll. Nowadays, when a band signs on to a label, they might as well be selling their souls to the devil. Save for a few powerhouses that have been around forever, most bands are controlled by their label. And it would take an extremely naïve person to think that this control doesn’t pore over into the creative process. If a band doesn’t perform the way the label wants them to, the label simply drops them and replaces them with someone who will (and the bands know this). This is especially an issue for younger bands who are just starting out. The older more established bands (like your Nickelback’s and Foo Fighters) have already been bought and sold with the riches that come with being the biggest band in the world. They probably do have enough clout to take a stand and make more honest, artistic music but in doing so they would be rocking a boat which is carrying all their riches while most likely ostracizing many of their “fans”.
At the end of the day, the labels and production companies have a good idea of what the people want and the bands are good at giving the labels what they want, music that people will buy.
For the moment I am never minding the ways in which the labels and music industry decides what the people want; which includes computing every facet of a song so it has the perfect balance of repetitiveness (to be memorable) and difference (so it isn’t boring). Then there is the length, apparently somebody, somewhere, long ago decided that three minutes and thirty seconds was the perfect length for a song. How exactly can a real artist work under these conditions? Imagine if Pavarotti was only allowed to sing an opera that was a half hour long and no longer, no shorter; or if DaVinci was only able to paint with the colors blue and orange. I am not saying that every song, every album has to be Sgt. Peppers or The Wall; there is a place in the world for bands who just want to sing pop songs that are easy to listen to. But, when the bands who sing the easy to listen to pop songs are cast to the forefront of a genre and hailed as the best we have to offer, well I have a pretty huge fuckin problem with that. The fact is that there are good bands out there who are making art, who won’t sell out and put out garbage for a few bucks, who most people have never heard of because we’re too busy bobbin our heads to pussy boy Nickelback and the slew of minion-ite bands that sound exactly like they do.
Now that I got that out of my system I will carry on with my point. We need to demand more from musicians than just this watered down, sterile music which is disgracing the airwaves 24 hours a day. I have this theory about the popular musicians, a theory which is probably not shared by many. I believe that bands like the Foo Fighters and Linkin Park and even Nickelback are capable of putting out better, more artistic music. I listen to the stuff they have now with the distortion pedals cranked way up, and the repetitive, catchy hooks and I know they are capable of writing songs. The reason these bands put out this type of music is because it’s what the labels want, and the reason the labels want it is because it’s what they can sell to the people.
Now, when I say that rock n’ roll was once a pure institution, I do in fact believe it. And I do believe that even in the face of the obvious impurities of rock, including; drug use and drug overdoses, groupies and sex, and even the money and luxuries that came with it. But the fact is, early rock n’ roll musicians engaged in this behavior but they never let it dilute their music. Rock n’ roll was originally used as a tool to stick it to the man, now it’s just another tool for the man to get our money.
Now, let me finally say that there is a solution to the problem. In an ideal world the record companies would fix the problem by endorsing and recoding talent that was more creative and artistic but that would probably cost them some money. The artists like Nickelback and the Foo Fighters could decide to change their ways and make better music; but as already stated, they know they’ll be replaced in short order with someone else who will do what they are doing now, so there really is no incentive for them. The solution is that we, the consumer, need to stop swallowing the pill that has been given to us in the form of subpar music. Stop buying records and songs just because they have been shoved down throat on the radio; stop listening to radio stations that only play the aforementioned music; and stop patronizing concerts of these bands. Like any other supply and demand business, if the demand for the shitty music goes down, then the supply will go away pretty quick. And if the demand for quality music goes up, you can be guaranteed there will be a plethora of good bands ready to be listened to.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I plan to delve more deeply in the development of rock and where we possibly went wrong.