Monday, February 01, 2010

Long Comment in Reply To Kevin's Post

I've made the realization that "success" in music (financial success) isn't always about the music itself. It frequently has to do with the packaging and presentation of the product, which includes many things:

-sex appeal and/or "coolness" of the musician(s), fashionability
-public preconceptions, peer pressure, advertising
-availability, presence, marketing

All these things effect peoples' perceptions of music and their ability or inability to appreciate it.

A metaphor I liken this phenomenon to is Japanese food products.

If you've ever eaten at a Japanese restaurant or bought a Castella cake or even a roll of sushi you know how much attention they pay to the presentation of the food: putting things in neat wrappers and nice containers, usually symmetrical, often colorful and always clean.

The thinking is that your enjoyment of the presentation of the food will add to the overall pleasure of your eating experience, even if the food isn't all that good in the first place... And you know, it works! Presentation can turn simply passable food into a gourmet dining experience.

(too bad she has a penis)

Capitalism and basically the ability to trick people out of their money rule what society considers to be "art" in today's music market. But its also the want to be a part of something bigger that makes people shell out money for shitty music. People like to pretend that Lady Gaga is their friend and that they are part of some super cool club because they have her CD. Basically they just like her music because they are easily manipulated and haven't really developed tastes of their own.

Its a shame, but that's how the world works, and we have to remember that most people are stupider than us. To any non-member reading this blog, its true. Just accept it.


  1. I mostly agree with this, but I need to state my opinion that a lot of sushi actually does taste good. It doesn't always just look nice.

    Similarly, it's possible for good musicians to also be sexy. Just because someone has good looks doesn't mean he or she should be discriminated against in terms of substance.

    Maybe Thom Yorke is actually the sexiest man alive, but he conceals his sex appeal with makeup so that people will take him more seriously as a musician.

  2. I see your point, and its taken. I didn't mean to infer that all sushi was bad. I actually am quite fond of a good sushi.

    I'm just saying that just because something looks good doesn't mean that it actually is. But the more money you spend on making it look good, the better chance you have of tricking somebody into buying it.

    That's why I love Thom. Because he can't be arsed to get all dolled up. Maybe he did in Creep-era, but now he's his own tor.

    And Lady Gaga can play a mean piano, that doesn't mean I don't hate her for making people stupid.

  3. One thing you forgot is that most people don't care about "art" on any deep level. It's all about what can make them happy quickly and for a short period of time.

    Also, I firmly believe that enjoyment of music is almost completely subjective, so it's hard to say what it means that an artist does or does not have "substance" (Which is a tricky term in and of itself.)

  4. Cy, this was a well-packaged post (though not devoid of content).

    The thing about 'fuck buttons' (the electronic duo featured in my previous post) is that they dont really appeal to a mainstream audience. Its the indie hipsters that go crazy over them. But what is it that makes them go crazy? Fuck buttons sound like crap, dont look sexy, and speak pretentiously. But there is some undefinable 'indie cred' that underlies their success. I want to unveil this phenomenon so I can exploit it for massive gains.

  5. Josh: you're right, and corporate FM radio producers use the fact that people are passive and easily manipulateable in order to sell records and commercials.

    Substance is what I wrote about in that one Daily Bruin column 10 years ago: the ability to inspire other people to make music. Good music inspires more music, throwaway music inspires nothing.

    When's the last time you saw a sweet band that was inspired by Marilyn Manson or Lady Gaga?

    Anybody is allowed to enjoy anything with a rhythm, or even without a rhythm if they so please. But objectively speaking, I believe good music is the music which inspires the creation of new music.

    Kevin: The Fuck Buttons are exactly what my post is about --half presentation, half music. The music isn't really that good in itself but if you listen to it with a bunch of smiley friends all intoxicated in a public venue (and if you're also young and impressionable), then you could probably manage to have a good time slightly jiggling to their weak funk.

    But then you'd be gay, so its a trade-off.

  6. "But objectively speaking, I believe good music is the music which inspires the creation of new music."

    But that's subjective.

  7. "But that's subjective."

    No its not, its just not very measurable. Some music inspires people to create music, some doesn't.

    This encompasses all types of music, including those I don't personally enjoy.

    If Lady Gaga does actually inspire lots of people to record music then her music is valid and I'm just incorrect in my assessment of her.

    But to me, the most important music is the music that is new and groovable yet doesn't follow some pre-existing formula. I can like music simply by the virtue that I've never heard anything like it before.

    Lady Gaga obviously follows a formula, so therefore the people she influences are more likely to follow the same general formula. Thusly, no real progress is made in the evolution of music.

    Its perfectly allowable for people to like music that makes them feel good, but the music that is influential in the creation of new genres and that withstands the test of time is what truly good music is.

  8. "No its not, its just not very measurable. Some music inspires people to create music, some doesn't. "

    I agree that part of the equation is objective. But the next step where you posit that it's that influence that "proves" that certain music has substance and is "better" than other music is still subjective. In other words: "Influential = Good" is a subjective equation, even if you can objectively prove which artist influence other artists the most (though I would argue that's a pretty difficult thing to measure emperically.)

  9. Also whether or not "progress in music" is a good thing is also a subjective concept.

  10. I didn't say anything "proved" anything. I have too much respect for the scientific method to say that I can "prove" Radiohead is better than Lady Gaga.

    I'm just saying, music which inspires the creation of new music is intrinsically more important than music that does not, because without it, progress could not be made.

    It is entirely possible to perform some sort of poll study where you interview 10,000 "recording artists," measure their record sales and the artists they name as influences, and certain patterns would indeed emerge. I don't claim to know for sure what they are.

    And of course progress is a good thing. When is it not? If it wasn't "progress" then it would be "decline" or "staying the same."

    I mean, I don't like the progression of what FM radio has turned into but thats more corporations figuring out how to monopolize and manipulate a market than the actual progression of modern music.

  11. correction for 2nd paragraph:

    ".. because without it, _much other music_ could not have been made."