I Want The Old System Back

The Rise of the Digital Age might just be the death of Music as we know it.

By Ben Reiss

I miss turning on MTV at the golden impressionable age of 13, and being treated to hours of sex appeal intertwined with my favorite bands:  Metallica, Stone Temple Pilots, Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so on.  While all of the bands I named are still around and producing fantastic material and touring on occasion, I often long for new music.  To be more accurate, I long for new music that is truly as sublime as my old favorites.  This nearly impossibility today because amateur musicians have diluted the talent pool, and as a consequence, have devalued music as both a commodity and an art form.

While I wholeheartedly acknowledge the evils of the Major Label conglomerates for much their existence, they did one thing well that they can no longer be done anymore:  Promote excellent artists while effectively shutting everything else out.  There is so much talk about the empowerment of the independent artist, but independent music has become just a bunch of terrible American Idol rejects with a dream and Pro Tools software, peddling their unlistenable drivel through every social media network.  Finding new amateur artists has never been easier, but finding GREAT artists has never been more challenging. 

Major Label A&R used to have their assistants sift through ceiling-high piles of demos and press kits on a daily basis, 99% of it ending up in the wastebasket.  An extremely rare 1% of submissions that had all of their stars in alignment, and usually armed with some hit songs, wound their way on to the national platform of multimedia consumption.  Now, it's OUR job to sift through the demos of today to decide if what we're hearing is worthy enough for a Facebook Like. 

Again, I'm not saying the old system was great; Far from it.  I am merely suggesting that there was a much higher quality of output.  Higher production value, better songs, more engaged fans. 

The labels were able to get away with charging $15 for a CD because it was worth it!  I would still pay $15 for a Lady Gaga album today because, in my humble opinion, she is a true, diamond-in-the-rough genius that has earned every penny she’s worked for.  I would also shell out $15 for new music from other platinum-selling artists from the last 20 years because they were developed at a time where artist development was still a concept in practice.  Now that everyone and their mother have their own album on iTunes, it's completely devalued the marketplace. That's why we just use streaming music services and listen to whatever we want.

With Spotify, I get to listen to all of my old favorites, any time I want, for little to no money.  But Spotify isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in terms of new music discovery.  Sure, I can add playlists from my friends, but chances are great that they’re having the same dilemma I’m encountering:  I love my bands from 2000 and back, but my new music selections are limited to my neighbors’ Garage Band experiments, and some weird hipster bluegrass revival that doesn’t have any hooks. 

Perhaps that’s where things have gone wrong; the fall of the label system left newcomers without any rubric as to what songs resonate with people.  New artists make records that are all about sonic experimentation, and they create a mood, but they lack a core message.  They lack irresistible melody and meaningful lyrics.  The only artists of today that actually make me feel something are part of the old dying guard:  The Lumineers, Adele, Of Monsters and Men.  The Horrible, Demonic, Disgusting Major Labels gave us Legends.  As corny as it sounds, they gave us the Soundtrack of Our Lives.  And I’m still desperately searching for the Soundtrack of things to come.

Published December 8th, 2013

From my beginnings as a skilled musician to managing an indie record label and music marketing firm, I’ve seen the industry change and evolve from all possible perspectives. My hope is that my words will inspire others to become their best, and share their best. Currently living and working as a creative consultant and blogger in Beverly Hills, CA.