Music is iconic in any culture, any language, and continent. At what point does music stop being art and become simply an income number? Music has always been an art form and yet today music is more concerned with topping charts than forcing you to think. Music that moves the soul seems to take a back seat to a tune that will move mountains of money. As new technologies are created, it seems the more original songs are changed. With the introduction of music production techniques and processes throughout the years, how many artists maintain their creative intentions and still penetrate the market to survive as an artist? And who has become the final dictator of what is considered good music and why?
Consideration of what art is continuing to be a huge thought-provoking point for quite some time.
Although it began as a question towards artistic paintings and sculptures, it seems to have progressed towards music. The Beatles, The Clash, Kristin Hersh, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and countless other artists have found themselves at the crossroads of money versus music integrity.
Whether it was being forced to switch out band members, change their image, or switch their sound, these artists are continually calling out the industry. It has become noticeable to the point that customers are able to recognize what is known as the Four Chord Goals. The magic to making money has created a set of chords that most songs that are released fit into and this keeps them topping the charts.
So, when did music become a business rather than an art? Even live shows which once consisted of an artist and their instrument, is now all about the sparkle and, the dancing and, how bold your costumes are. Lip Singing is more common now than it ever has been and people, for the most part, seem to be ok with this. The authenticity and personalization of music seems to have lost the limelight to the flashy performance of the money driven companies. The expression of human creative skill and imagination has been changed and is now more of a group effort regardless of whether you are a solo artist or not. With music production being considered an art itself, how many alterations to a song can occur before it is more the music producers song versus the artists? Although collaborations can be truly amazing, it appears someone will have to give in more than the other. Many artists are now becoming producers which allows them full control over their music and how it gets portrayed. But for someone just breaking into the industry, that is not always an option for them to decide. Is music an art still? Can the music Industry find its way back to artistry? Will it maintain the business driven viewpoint? Or is there some balance that can maintain both integrities?
The phonograph gave us the power to really start preserving music and lead us into thinking of being able to alter the music itself. Thomas Edisons phonograph in 1877 made way for technological advances in music and was the first big one itself. Music Publishing took off here and not too far behind it came music production. Live performances were no longer the only way to experience music. Music was no longer a social even where people could go and experience the intimacy of a performance, it slowly began to move music deeper into a business market. It was believed that the phonograph would be devoted to music in every aspect, but with the growth of technology, it soon became just the beginning device which helped industries create the music business. The Phonograph lead the way to wax cylinders, shellac discs, making way for the infamous records and CDs that we are more familiar with today. The goal of making music was no longer performance based or even art based, it was all about selling records, CDs, etc. The grainy sounds on the phonograph and the older 78 records to the more polished LPs and CDs just continued to expand the market for the music business to really take over. With the intention of creating music changing, artists were beginning to change their intentions from artistry to money. As time passed, artists continually would find themselves having to decide between creating art and polishing their image.
With all of this information and new technology, you would think it only made making music easier. But instead, as with anything, the downsides started to show early on. The iconic Beatles, lead the way in music in the rock and pop genres. Originated in Liverpool England 1960, this group started as any band does, a group of mates. However, lets take a closer look at their members, start to end, Pete Best to Ringo Starr. The Beatles began as any group normally does, a band of friends who all contribute something to the end goal, making music. Few people realize just how much The Beatles were altered from when they first started. They were, and still are in some cases considered, global legends, but was their fame due to their music or due to selling their image? The bowl cut, suited Beatles were a clay molding by their manager who also seemed to start making the calls not only on how they dressed but seeped into who played and what they played. The signs of future outcomes reared their head early on, although it was never expected they would lose their right to their artistry, they gave in from switching band members, changing their style and changing their music to please the masses. The group decided to disbanded in 1970 and went on as solo artist, they started to feel as though they were no longer creating the art they wanted to, they didnt want to tour the music that made money. At the time touring was the main source of income for an artist, but when you are touring songs you havent really created for your own expression, you can grow to hate it almost immediately. There was also the varying dynamics in artistic writing of their music which added to this split, but resentment towards shareholders and publishers also helped drive this wedge.
The biggest example of bands signing and destroying their artistry was a group who took over the stage shortly after the Beatles decided to get out. Another English punk-rock band emerged in 1976 just some time after and tried to take over with their music. The famous London Calling band were good at pushing the envelope with their lyrics, and rebel mindset. They supported and played with groups such as the Sex Pistols, with whom they toured and ended up basically in competition with them as well. But a year later in 1977 The Clash signed with CBS records which instantly caused huge backlash from fans and even the band members further down the road. Mark Perry, founder of Sniffin Glue quoted Punk died the day The Clash signed to CBS. Their music had changed so drastically after signing to CBS that it had pissed off fans and caused the band to sacrifice making the music that they had been making in order to satisfy the company. Jo Strummer who was a co-founder of the band said Signing that contract did bother me a lot. Ive been turning it over in my mind, but now Ive come to terms with it. Ive realized that all it boils down to is perhaps two years security….Before all I could think about was my stomach…Now I feel free to think and free to write down what I am thinking about... Two years security for selling out your artistry was what was received, and for some that worked. Further into their career, CBS kept changing their sound and requested that they make it cleaner to better reach a wider group of fans. The Clash began to get bored with making music, and that all the music they had originally set out to create had been destroyed and rendered pointless. CBS also started requiring a new single release every month starting in 1980 to better compete with emerging music in the U.S. Without a doubt this caused more problems to the artistic process of writing a song, forcing timelines of creativity. It was no true surprise when the band broke up and stopped making money music in 1986. Although The official break-up was in 1986, as stated people believed the death of the group was far earlier than that, and in a lot of ways, they were right. The art they created when they first came around no longer existed once they signed to CBS.
*As artists continued to join the industry and alter their crafts, technology and the music industry took a huge hit when companies such as LimeWire, Grokster and many others started to cause copyright issues and lead to the downfall of CD sales. But not only were illegal downloads contributing to this drop, but in the 2000s streaming knocked out what was left. As if the music industry hadnt lost enough of its artistic intention, streaming made it even more imperative that music caught the peoples attention in the first 10 seconds. Which caused the need for less variability in music business later on. The Famous Four Chords hit the industry around 40 years ago, old songs that had become hits were taken apart and the chords used became a basis of songwriting. Originality took a huge hit when the big corporations in the industry found these four chords and then just simply changed tempo and lyrics.
Music has been leaving the music industry for some time and we still see examples of it today. Formerly defined as vocal or instrumental sounds combined to beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion now has become more of a definition of a way to make money. Current artist Kristin Hersh began her music career in bands called Throwing Muses and 50FootWave. Taking on the genre of traditional folk, her drive has always been creating her art and being able to share it with others. Born in Atlanta, Georgia she made her way to Boston and went on the road with Throwing Muses. Her group had worked for a long time to establish a spot in the music industry and they were eventually signed to a U.S. deal with Sire/Reprise Records.
Shortly after, the group of four became a trio and continued on. Like The Beatles, members seemed to change a lot in the industry, people are changed out almost as much as a females wardrobe. Kristin eventually went solo, in an interview with a Spain based radio station, as well as a few other BBC stations, Hersh didnt hide how she believed the music business had truly fallen from being considered art. When signed to a U.S. label, Hersh had to make numerous alterations to her music from how she originally wanted it. They wanted her to write these poppy, bubblegum hits where she wanted to write emotion, she wanted to write art that would speak to others. She believes the beauty of going to see a live show is the authenticity and the intimacy of the artist, their instrument and their art. Her experience with the industry caused extreme frustration.
Although Hersh had stage fright for a long time and had to learn some musical instrument controls such as guitar pedals, it was important to her to keep that intimacy. Big music businesses seem to have one main goal in mind in Hershs opinion, Theyre not musicians. Theyre trying to make money. This is ego. (Huffington Post Interview). Hersh did everything she could to get away from the big music industry, as a kid at the age of 18 the industry steamed absolute chaos with keeping her artistry locked up and forcing her to do what made money versus what made an artist. Music was her way to escape, but someone else was calling the shots on what was allowed as art and music. An interview from January 2019 the statement was made There is no music in the music business. No real music anyways. Hersh found her way out and instead worked with smaller labels such as Fire Records in London to help maintain creating the music that she wanted to create. Her aim for her music was her expression and using it to reach those who had ever felt the same. She is driven to create not only for others but also for herself.
Music seems to be at risk in every genre, even with hip hop starting to hit big on the charts again, it would seem that hip hop artists are also at risk of losing their music integrity. Met in 2006 and worked together from there to become a huge hip hop duo from Seattle, Washington. Numerous Grammy nominations and winnings, this duo was feeling similar pressures to artists before them, which was made clear in numerous songs from their album This Unruly Mess I Made released in 2016. The duo was determined to push boundaries with all that was going on around them, they called out many social occurrings that they felt were happening, from racial issues, big drug companies and also the music industry. Their song Light Tunnels is the song that calls out the industry and all of the people in it for portraying themselves as glamourous artists when in reality they are all normal people like the rest of us. This feels so narcissistic, Dressed as a celebration to conceal its a business…..One big reality show thats all scripted talks about how the industry has become all about image and chart toppers and being what people telling you to be to make it. The business requires most to change everything they are and everything they create along with them, Macklemore makes his feelings known a little later in the song But I dont like who I am in this environment, I forgot what this art is for. This was not the only song that called out artists and their money driven music, the song White Privilege II discusses how all music is watered down pop anymore and challenges the artists by asking Whats the intention?. With art, there are two main ways to create, either by having an intended message, or expressing emotion. They wanted to create their own art, they wanted to write about things that mattered to them and things that made them feel. They had the intention of forcing people to really think about and acknowledge issues that are going on, even it wasnt effecting someone personally. This album was not produced by a big company, it was instead produces by Lewis and Budo who were help maintain the authentic main messages of the album. In previous songs such as Thrift Shop and Downtown the artist felt as though their success wasnt due to their artistry, it had to do with appealing to the masses and making money with hits. The idea of them creating their own music, their own art, seemed to have been put aside for pleasing the money mountains. They not only had sacrificed pieces of their music but also started to sacrifice aspects of their integrity and who they were. They knew their album would cause discord, and opinions, that was their intention and their end goal for their art. After this album was released, the two artists decided to take some time away from the industry and the limelight.
History: A collaboration of musics composition, arranging, interpretations, performances, every little piece into a whole.
Today: As technology progresses, so does music production. The capabilities of a music producer have grown from changing tambour and tone of voices to adding in new synthesizers without needing to pay money for an actual band. This has become so essential in succeeding in the music business. Music Production has taken on more hats today than it originally had before. With all this tech though, live performances have lost their authentic aspect. Once it was a singer and their instrument, now its all lights and lyp singing in some cases.
Music vs. Money: How many artists still actually maintain their creative intentions and still penetrate the market to survive as an artist? Her response There is no music in the music business. The description of what the behind the curtains music business is people dressed up hanging on what their companies say to do.