Monday, September 09, 2013

Money speaks in music too.

(Alternate title, since this is the Internet, I can force my marital spats on you! Sort of.)

Over at hubby's today, we have him rippin' on Keith Urban, and while God knows I married him because of stuff like that, sometimes he misses the boat, and he totally did here.

He pulls this quote from Country California's Quotable Country roundup:

Everyone sticks to the same blueprint and the same sound and the same slickness and the same songs about tailgates and pickup trucks.
You don’t have to follow the same musical landscape when half the people who own country records also own heavy rock records and rap records. It’s like, ‘Why do you have to make everything sound like a Shania Twain record from the ’90s?’… You can just smell the hesitation in country music land. It’s gotta grow or else they are going to feel stifled. - – Butch Walker, one of eight (8!) producers on the new Keith Urban album.
(As per usual CC standards, click the dot for the entire interview.)

Erik's interpretation:

[I]t seems to me that Butch Walker is implying that Keith Urban is part of the solution to what ails country music, when he’s actually just a different part of the problem.
I don't see it that way.  I don't think he's claiming to be the solution to anything; I think he is justifying Urban's bland sound, and the current sorry state of Nashville's pop country in general.

Here's the thing.  The music business is, first and foremost, a business.  People spend a finite amount of money on music annually, and so where they send their money matters, because the powers that be are going to pay attention to the sound and try to ape that sound even if they're not in the same genre.

I am in the position to speak to Erik's music buying habits for the obvious reason, so I can tell you that in the past year he's bought (for himself): two Accept albums, one Pamela Moore album, one Queensryche (spit!) album, and one George Strait album.  (He also bought Charlie Daniels Band's SuperHits, but that album is a good 20 years old, so I'm not counting it for purposes of forecasting current music trends.)  That's just what I can think of off the top of my head, mind you, but I promise I'm not forgetting about a country music album.  So that's five albums, and four of them are shitty heavy metal.

Meanwhile, these are the last five albums I've bought: Chris Knight's self-titled album, Chris Knight's Little Victories, Corb Lund's Cabin Fever (which was technically a Christmas gift to Erik but we all know it was really for me), Jason Boland & the Stragglers' Dark and Dirty Mile, & Jason Boland & the Stragglers' Rancho Alto (I do have to go back over a year to hit five albums; I don't buy them terribly often).

Let me represent this visually for you:

Now, which of these says "Money will be spent on music that sounds like country music"?  Right.

Now, which of these says "Money will be spent on music that sounds like shitty metal"?  Right again.

The counterargument here is always "Well, the country music I buy sounds like country music!  If they put out more stuff that sounds like country music, I'd buy it!"  Only, no.  Because the music is being put out, albeit mostly not by Nashville labels.  Randy Rogers Band has a new album out.  Rodney Crowell has a duets album with Emmylou Harris out.  Charlie Robison just released a live album.  Ray Wylie Hubbard has a new album out.  Gary Allan has a new album out.  I could go on.

The alternate argument (to be fair, not one I see my husband making) is that buying non-mainstream albums won't lead to changes with big, commercial music labels anyway.  Well, the Eli Young Band, Randy Rogers Band, and Casey Donahew Band would probably disagree with you there.

Again, money talks.  Capitalism, how quaint!  When you spend your money on certain types of music, the record labels and songwriters and producers assume that's the stuff you want to hear, and not only do they make more of it, they push their current talent to try to sound like you obviously want your music to sound.  Spending money on shitty metal bands instead of on good bands doesn't say "I spend my money only on country music that sounds like country music."  It says "I don't spend my money on country music."

There is no economic incentive to make the music you claim you want made, when you aren't spending your money on what's out there now.  Money = speech, and not just in politics. 

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