Art of (Not) ‘Selling Out’

“All the selling out talk is really overrated, the funny thing is it hardly ever comes from bands, it comes from some kid who thinks they’re so punk because they have a purple mohawk.”

-Tom DeLonge, musician

Throughout the course of music’s history, bands have dealt with fan responses. Often times, when they release a new album, the response is positive, and they celebrate its success. But what happens when a band changes their style or sound, and release a new album? Usually mixed. Most fanbases dislike change and their response to a band’s new material is lukewarm at best. Bands have become known as “sellouts” when they drastically change their sound in an attempt to go mainstream and gain more appeal. This theme is not uncommon in the music industry. But is it legitimate to call a band a sellout? No, absolutely not. The term “selling out” has in fact become a catch-all phrase for any listener dissatisfied with change and isn’t motivated to see why the artist/band changed their sound. Let’s begin by determining why this is.

Neglect the Human, Neglect the Costs

Evolution. Timing. Sustainability. All keys to the music business. Bands and musicians undergo the process of changing sound for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps, the most essential one to understand is the fact that like us, we change. We are all human, and we crave new and exciting things. Especially now in the digital age. You don’t watch the same shows you’ve already seen a million times, do you? Okay, I know, some of you probably do. But, for the rest of us, we want something unique, exciting, that will stimulate us. Much is the same in the music business as a career. Musicians have experiences that many of us would love to have and it affects them. Not always positively, but it still does. And in turn, these experiences shape their music. They want something new and exciting too. In your job, if you’re doing the same exact thing over and over, you eventually ask if you can do something else, right? Well, musicians want to experiment with their sound, and if that means becoming what’s deemed more mainstream, so be it. It’s what makes them happy. Change is healthy.

On a truer to life side, changing sound for a band can have a monumental impact on their income. Just think about all the commercials you’ve seen. Many bands and musicians, in an effort to add a little income, contribute to these types of endorsements. Is this selling out? Perhaps to music elitists. But, once you dig a little deeper and realize that many bands change their sound in order to live, “selling out” makes more sense. But what opponents don’t realize is that selling out does not mean a band will never return to their old sound.  Take for instance, one of the most notable bands that were deemed “sellouts” at several points, Metallica. Arguably the biggest name in metal music, they have been riddled with accusations of selling out. They started out by playing a new form of music called thrash metal, influenced by hardcore punk. In the earlier days, they gained massive success for their style of music.

But then, on their self-titled album, nicknamed The Black Album, their sound developed into a more traditional heavy metal sound. Turns out, many people considered this the first time in which they “sold out.” It ended up however, that this very album became their most financially successful and best-selling album. Call that selling out? They might’ve sold out of copies, but it was the change they wanted to make, and they were rewarded. This wouldn’t be the last time the metal giants would be accused of selling out. On their 2003 album, St. Anger, they produced an even greater musical departure from their established sound. This album was not as well received but still proved to sell fairly well. If selling out allows musicians to make a living, I’m all for it. Are you?

What ‘Selling Out’ Should be Deemed

Now, I’m not going to say “selling out” in some sense doesn’t happen. It does. Take for instance the endorsement of musicians promoting different products. This is “selling out” to the highest bidder. Especially when you have no association with the product being sold. So, in a way, “selling out” doesn’t make much sense in musical terms, but it has an impact on musicians. How, you might ask? Morally. When musicians are willing to adapt their sound to sell what the record company wants, that’s “selling out.” Should musicians have a moral obligation to be true to themselves?

All Sold Out

“Selling out” is something that most bands will be accused of at some point. Parkway Drive, a band whose new album just came out today has been accused. Despite some saying they should stick to their roots, I enjoy their new sound. I think that is a problem with a lot of the stigma around “selling out.” If you don’t like the change move on. The band clearly has. What do you think? Is “selling out” in a musical sense actually a bad rap? Or, is the issue over-exaggerated? Let me know your thoughts!

Advertisements

Drive for Active Politicism in Music

“Music is always a commentary on society.”

-Frank Zappa, musician

Throughout the history of mankind, we have had conflict. Ever since the creation of government and political bodies, there has been dissent. Nowhere has this been seen more apparent than in the many protest songs that have arisen in response to government decisions and activities. With government and political beliefs becoming such a controversial topic (especially in America), there has never been a better time for artists to express their political stances. To begin, we look at a brief overview of politicized music in America.

The Case for Apolitical Music

Before making my case for why music should be political, let’s take a glance at the opposing side. The biggest case that many opponents highlight is the fact that music is entertainment, and not anything more than that. While yes, it is entertainment, these people fail to see music is expression just like any form of art. Do you think it’s just entertainment? Well, opponents also tend to point out they believe this fact because they simply don’t care, and everyone has a political opinion and it won’t change their viewpoint. See how ludicrous that sounds? Others report that it is necessary to peel away from politics to save their careers and keep their fans and revenue up.

Advantages for Artists to Stray from Politics

  • Lose fans
  • Hurt career
  • Lose money
  • Many people are apolitical

Expression of Self and Community

 Like previously mentioned, music is a form of expression. Just because someone has different beliefs than you doesn’t mean that opinion shouldn’t be allowed to be expressed in musical form. This is especially important when the political issues directly affect you. Shouldn’t you be allowed to talk about policies and events that directly impact you? I know that I would like to. Just like the movements of art responding to different social issues and political events (like war), music should be allowed to follow suit. Music allows oneself to define who they really are. Isn’t that what we want artists to do? To showcase their thoughts and beliefs? Otherwise, the “entertainment” becomes hollow without anything to relate to.

protest.jpg

In a similar vein, music has allowed for a communal bond. Protest songs, like introduced in the video, have been around forever. They’ve allowed people to come together over common issues. This is not unlike some of the most well-known books and movies, like 1984. Isn’t that the point of music, to come together over common interest? I don’t see involving politics to be any different. It allows people to come together for something more than what they individually could do. Music and politics have always been linked, in many cases urging people who would otherwise stay silent to go out and take action. And in today’s divisive political climate, we need voices to be heard more than ever. Horrific actions and events will never go away, and when it’s done by political bodies, music is one sure-fire way of letting people know about it. What types of entertainment reach people more than music? Very few, if any. That’s why there are national anthems, old songs about one’s country, and protest songs. They stand the test of time. They are timeless. And in some way, whether you believe so or not, they make some type of political stance. So, the next time someone says politics and music don’t mix, ask them about an artist they really like. Chances are they are making some kind of political stance without them even being AWARE.

The Vote for Politicized Music

  • Music is a form of expression
  • Music has always been political
  • Music bonds people over common interest
  • Music can motivate listeners to take action

To Wrap Up

rights.jpg

 Music has always been political. There’s no way to deny that. To think some people, believe musicians shouldn’t express themselves is unbelievable. We are human. You shouldn’t be denied the right to express yourself politically. That why we have the right to vote. Same with musicians. Music is their platform to discuss topics and events that impact them. They should have a say without being denied that right. What do you think? Should musicians keep strictly to “music,” “entertainment,” or do politics have viability in music? Would you be political if you were a musician? Let me know down below.

 

Auto-Tune: Tune-Up or Tune Out, Depends

“You can take a bad singer and make them sound decent; you couldn’t do that in the past… With things like Pro Tools and all the other things you have available; like auto tune, and pitch correction you can make someone who can’t sing into someone who can.”

– Michael Sweet, musician

Ever listen to a song and the vocalist’s pitch seems perfect? Chances are you have. This is especially true if you listen to hip-hop or pop. Auto-tune, a software plug-in created in the late 1990s, was designed to make small changes to pitch. The tool has now become commonplace in the music industry. Advocates of the tool believe it promotes creativity, saves time, produces better sounding recordings, and invites more people to practice music. On the flip side, opponents declare it makes music artificial, allows those without talent to seem talented, and foster a genre environment of musical repetitiveness, pop being a case-in-point. To further introduce auto-tune, here is a brief history of it.

Advancing Creative Boundaries, Fixing Faults, Saving Time

In its beginning, auto-tune’s use wasn’t intended to be so common. To restate, it was intended for small pitch fixes in a vocalist’s performance. That’s it. Today, we see entire songs made from its use. Many ‘musicians’ have been created directly from its creation. In this sense, it has expanded musical opportunity. Many artists have found ways to creatively implement its use. Despite the opposition, many point to the fact that the use of auto-tune can benefit songs greatly when implemented correctly. Indeed, many engineers and producers use auto-tune to save performances. If not for auto-tune, these would most likely have to be retried. Auto-tune has revolutionized the music industry. What would take hours, can now be finished in minutes. Isn’t that worth it?

Advantages

  • Fix small pitch issues
  • Improve sound of songs
  • Promotes creativity
  • Invites people to creation process

Beginnings

cher
Cher

Now, you might wonder about the first application of auto-tune in music. The answer is Cher. Cher’s song “Believe,” is believed (pun intended) to be one of the first recorded musical applications of the tool. As word spread, auto-tune became synonymous with “Cher Effect” for the longest time. Believe that? But anyway, once “Believe” became a hit, other engineers scrambled to find out the secret to the song’s success. Turns out, Cher’s producer at the time hated the realization that others would overuse the tool, rather than using it as originally intended. The use of the tool became extremely popular over time and ended up being the most commonplace in hip-hop.

Artificiality, Repetition, Creation of ‘Bad’ Talent, Saving Hip-Hop

Auto tune
What Auto-Tune (the software) Looks Like

We turn to the other side now. The biggest gripe against the technology has been the manipulation of human sound. Music turning artificial. Opponents have turned to the judgement that a reliance on auto-tune has made the human voice lose its touch. I don’t disagree. This is apparent when you look at genres such as pop and hip-hop. One of the biggest utilizers of auto-tune, T-Pain, we focus on here. T-Pain has relied on the tool and effect so much, in recent years it has been relabeled the “T-Pain Effect.” The robotic nature of his voice has come into question. Is this artificiality truly a good thing? Do you like hearing robots you could ask? Snide remarks aside, the effect has persevered. Now the question is: are pop and these other genres that rely on auto-tune becoming too repetitive/formulaic? My two cents? Yeah, but the same could be said for practically any genre. Anywhere from rock to country. What detractors fail to grapple with, is that the use of auto-tune itself isn’t bad, it’s the over-reliance for so many and for those that believe they are talented because of it. It allows people to oversaturate the market with music produced without emotion, substance, instead having to rely on the tool and other sound-altering effects. That’s what’s wrong. Finally, let’s look at how the tool has breathed life into hip-hop. Instead of relying on it, some artists are testing the boundaries to make it. They are advancing their creations by using the tool to its fullest extent. Auto-tune has allowed hip-hop to flourish. In this instance, I am fine with auto-tune. I personally don’t like hip-hop. However, when auto-tune supplements a performance, rather than being used in place of it, the tool has a place in music.

Disadvantages

  • Makes music sound artificial
  • Creates genre repetitiveness
  • Allows for ‘bad’ singers to seem talented
  • Over-reliance to point of saturation

Conclusion

Auto-tune and its use is neither solely good or bad. It’s merely how one uses it. I take the middle ground here because I’m sure some of the music I listen to has auto-tuned vocals and I like it. Then again, I believe that the effect can produce unnatural sounds that can be irritating. What’s your opinion? Is auto-tune a valid tool? Or does it keep artists from producing quality music? Sound off below!

Music Censorship is F*cked Up

Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance.

– Laurie Halse Anderson, writer

Does bleeping out words really limit exposure to sex, violence, and drugs? Music has always been a form of expression for us as humans. Consequently, music is very important to many people, for good reason. Music helps us relate to others, empathize with causes, uplift us, and inspire us among a multitude of other effects. Should profanity-laden music lyrics be censored for you and me? Absolutely not. Music’s impact is diminished by doing this. Don’t believe me? Come discover why you should be able to keep your music uncensored.

Freedom from Censorship 

Censorship cross

Think your favorite genre is safe from censorship? Most genres have been censored for one reason or another. This isn’t just limited to profanity either. Understanding the background of the relationship between music and censorship is critical to realize that censorship is not new in the U.S. Ever since suggestive lyrics have been utilized, the artists of these creations have been subject to some form of censorship, even if it wasn’t put into law.

Reflect

Think about an artist you listen to. Any one. Chances are that at least one song of theirs contains some profanity. If profanity is so prevalent, why do we censor it? There are obviously several reasons to argue. But, you should know why we should keep lyrics unfiltered first.

The Truth Disappears

Fiery passion fuels this first reason: it hides the truth. Something I will never understand is every time I have the radio on and they bleep out profanity-laden lyrics in a song. You can still understand what they’re saying. I understand the intention is for kids. But, a still fairly aware kid can realize they’re saying some sort of “bad” word. What’s the point of that? Swear words have become so common in our everyday language it seems as if everyone knows them. Plus, it’s not like you or I are too stupid to understand what the artist meant. Often times, the artist includes profanity to make a point. The world is not pretty. Profanity can be a good way to express the severity of certain topics. Why hide that? Take for example one of Radiohead’s biggest hits, “Creep.” The band originally didn’t want to censor the song which they thought would be “selling out.” It compromises the meaning of what a song strives for.

Integrity Lost 

The majority of artists’ response: the practice of censorship violates the freedom of speech portion of the first amendment. Why put hours and hours of effort into your work, only to have it altered and not as you intended it? Would you create a song only for its lyrics to be changed or removed because others did not understand the intention behind them? Probably not. I know I wouldn’t. Case in point, many rock artists and others have felt personally attacked as an artist because their viewpoint lost its integrity. What’s depressing to me is that often times lyrics are manipulated by labels and such because of what they think the lyrics are implying. This is completely wrong. Would you like your view denied because it was interpreted as being something other than what you intended?

Lyrics, Expression, and Scapegoating

Parental Advisory Explicit Content Label

Perhaps some of you will agree with my last point: much of the time I am unaware of the meaning to a song unless I look it up. Personally, if I listen to music if it sounds appealing, generally not the content of the lyrics. I bet some of you are like that too, huh? It’s not because there aren’t lyrics I don’t agree with. Quite the contrary. It’s the fact that I know music is a form of expression like movies and other media. In general, I respect artists’ right to create what they deem appropriate in lyrical terms and express that. I’m sure some of you are vaguely familiar with the following about court cases of the past. A kid listens to a song with suggestive lyrics. Later, the kid commits suicide. The parents then take the artist to court over lyric interpretation. These stories are sad and unfortunate. But, the parents tend to overreact and immediately blame the lyrics. It’s true, in a sense. The lyrics could trigger a response in someone who is already unstable. But to lay the blame all on lyrics that could have multiple interpretations is irresponsible. Don’t you think? I listen to songs with violent lyrics fairly often, and never have exhibited violent or aggressive behavior. There are a multitude of factors for someone to commit an inappropriate act. In these cases, when effort was required and not used, a scapegoat was found, here being music lyrics.

Why Censorship is Wrong

  • Hiding the truth, or reality of the world
  • Violates freedom of speech
  • Lyrics aren’t always paid attention to and is used as a scapegoat when other factors are more important

Positives of Censorship

I’m not advocating that censorship is wholly wrong. It’s a necessity in certain cases. As with other forms of provocative media, we shouldn’t allow profanity in songs to be heard by very young children. It’s wrong. You wouldn’t give your kid a gun, would you? Well, it wouldn’t be right to expose your easily influenced kid to profanity-laden lyrics at such a young age.

There also happens to be cases of profanity overuse. The presence of extreme profanity use, without a purpose, threatens the idea of freedom. Certainly, in America, you should get to say what you like (within reason), the repeated use of profanity without purpose absolutely should be censored. Profanity. Should Not. Be. A. Substitution. For. Meaningful Lyrics. Instead, it should provide emotion and extend the presence of a feeling. Do you listen to any songs with prevalent profanity? In some instances, it can even make the music better.

Why Censorship Has Some Place

  • Limit exposure to children
  • Punish profanity overuse

Now that we’ve discussed profanity and music’s connection, there remains one question for you. What will the future state of censorship look like? Censorship is tricky. Everyone has a different opinion on what constitutes a need for censorship. Hopefully the evolving state of censorship in music will positively affect artists instead of hurting them. If you were in charge, would you change the state of music censorship?  

 

 

 

 

Physical Music to Live On

Analog, electronic, whatever it happens to be, I simply love and adore literally every aspect of making music.

-John Lydon, musician

In the age of music streaming, many of you have begun to wonder whether physical music media (like cds) will disappear. Will they? Certainly, this seems like the case for you and me as consumers of music as streaming has accounted for 50% of the money made in the recording industry back in 2016. And that’s not all. Many areas of the world have seen these sales account for more than 50% of all music sales. That’s crazy, isn’t it?

Decades ago music was created using bulky equipment in a form called analog recording. You would hate it. It was very tedious and labor intensive. Often times, this was very expensive and used many rolls of magnetic tape and similar materials. Now, most music recordings find their way into the digital realm at some point. Any of you could work on music now because of the wide availability of computers, relative inexpensiveness of the recordings, and ease of use of digital audio workstations where audio can be manipulated. So, if this is the case, you might ask why anyone would record analog anymore with all of the downsides? It is the belief of many producers and musicians that analog recordings allow for a more realistic and true to life representation of the music produced. So, will physical music become extinct? Personally, I don’t believe so.

Reasoning

Nostalgia. Plain and simple. This common term is the main force behind why so many physical forms of entertainment have been kept alive. Just think of books. For many, they have moved onto Kindles and other online forms of viewing books. But, for others they need to have something physical. Much is the case with music. Compiling a collection of cds is no different from having a collection of books or movies.

This is a picture of cds

Tangibility is extremely important to many people. Despite streaming, I will still go and buy cds from my favorite artists. The reasoning is two-fold. There is the inherit increased sound quality. But, probably even more important, is the dual combo of tangibility and nostalgia. I always love getting a cd, opening it up for the first time, and flipping through the artwork and lyrics in the booklet that comes with the cd. It’s a feel all “warm and fuzzy” kind of feeling. There is something rewarding about feeling something rather than merely hearing or seeing it.

On the Other Hand 

Now, yes detractors will highlight the fact that physical music sales are dramatically dropping in favor of streaming services and other digital music. I can’t disagree with this. Streaming will only get bigger and bigger. Convenience is a key factor for many people. It’s why I stream. My view that cds and other physical media will stay is ironic, considering I’ve been primarily a streamer for all of my life and will bet that most of you have as well. However, it is the reasons of nostalgia/tangibility and appreciation for the crafting of the physical music like cds and vinyl that make me believe physical music media will never fade away (at least not in the foreseeable future). I don’t think we can forget though, there is plenty of room for both types of formats in our lives.

girl streaming music

While it is the case that cds and other physical music media have gotten increasingly more expensive, they still sell. They become important pieces for peoples’ memories. Like a picture. They have for me. The next time you believe physical music is dying/dead, realize that other forms of entertainment still utilize physical media and many people like myself enjoy owning it, rather than solely renting or subscribing for it.

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Let me make it clear: there is absolutely room for both types of music media in our lives. If you buy an artist’s cd or other physical format, not only are you supporting them, you also are getting better music quality than digital. Plus, you will have something physical to return to and look over. To summarize why physical music will live on:

  • Nostalgia
  • Tangibility
  • Artwork/creativity
  • Ownership rather than “renting”

Let me know your thoughts on whether physical music will go away in the comments below!