U like my lil' hipster b-girl I drew? Thanx. I'm quite proud of her :o)
I had an interesting convo with an online homey today who listened to the radio for the first time in quite a while and was disgusted by what he heard. He had a lot to say about the topic. His main concerns are "It seems like while traditional front line or 'popular' rap was about the lifestyle, talking trash, egocentric ideals, drugs, and being gangsta- it appears as though all the newer stuff is simply bragging about how much money the artists have now that they're famous." In addition, he stated "I also noticed that a very large percentage of the songs playing in the top 20 are about men manipulating women into bed." He raised really interesting points. My replies to him were so long and detailed that I decided to post them as a blog .
Speaking as someone who actually makes a living in the recording industry, I think a lot of what u hear on the radio is an example of art reflecting life. Music used to be something more than a lifestyle accessory but these days the only people in America who are buying pop music in record numbers are the people who want said music because of how awesome it sounds as a ringtone. The structure of most record deals involves either:
a.) the recording artist submitting songs for the label's approval for inclusion on the album, or
b.) the label providing the artist with preapproved songs.
In either case, labels opt for an easy sell, in this economic climate nobody wants to push the envelope. Consumers in this era are more responsive to more risque, provocative music so industry professionals who call the shots become really good at identifying what that type of music is. For example, I've licensed over a dozen songs to major tv networks, and the ones that get placed the most often aren't the soulful ballads or the songs with the most clever lyrical wordplay, its the songs with the catchiest hooks, the songs where I'm talking about clothes & my love of fashion, the songs where I'm demanding to be given whatever I want.
As an artist, I HATE WHEN RAPPERS RAP ABOUT BEING RAPPERS. But consumers enjoy hearing that shit because they want to know what it is like to be famous. That's why they love reality shows. That's why they live their entire lives through Facebook and Tumblr where their friends are their fans and the soundtrack to their life are songs about how swaggy they are. And as an artist, while I might hate it, I'm not dumb enough to NOT make music that has no mainstream appeal. Everyone seems to think recording artists are supposed to "keep it real," when that is, in fact, not our job. Our job is to keep it relevant. I'm not defending the never ending amount of hot garbage that is currently spewing from mainstream radio, I'm just saying that its no longer important for music to be good for it to be relevant. Unless u're being marketed to young kids, the less wholesome your music is, the better. People love to cite artists like Adele as being an example of why this is untrue, then I remind them that, just like Amy Winehouse (RIP,) Adele hit overseas before she made it big here. Go look up Nikki Jean's album's sells numbers and see how well great music is going over in today's market.
There is no such thing as being "loose" or vulgar, there is no place for morals in the digital era. Arrogance just means u have swag, being loose means u know what u want. People say they hate how bad music on the radio is but they don't support acts with more substance. They might download their free mixtapes and all but they don't support those artists in a way that really counts, with their disposable income. I hate this fuckery but I love the game so I just try to find a balance between music I love & music that is commercially viable, and fortunately, for now, its working for me.
In his reply to this, my friend said he couldn't help but wonder "if selling records is the only agenda here," and stated that "There are plenty of artists who don't necessarily go that route like Kanye [more moderate] or Lupe who still make it big- and of course tons more in what is considered the underground or hip-hop scene like Blackstar and Common." He then went on to explain that he didn't understand why the current popular artists are on the radio.
To be truthful, there are actually not many artists who can sell records without going raunchy, dumbed down, or gangster. The reason Kanye & Lupe come to mind is because they aren't like everyone else. If someone aspires to go the underground hip hop route & has the desire to fight that fight, more power to them. That's a world I don't seek to be a part of, I fight to disassociate myself from, and am unable to understand. What happened is rappers got tired of being broke while people like Ja Rule & Puffy started making it big off of pop/hip hop. Suddenly u didn't hear The Roots or Wu Tang on the radio anymore. Once the digital era became prevalent, that's when things got even deeper...because that is when we saw the emergence of Soulja Boy. I was actually told by a digital marketing exec at Universal that Soulja Boy changed the music industry by setting the standard for the way the internet is utilized to break an artist. Once that happened the game became SUPER saturated. At that point labels had already started implementing 360 deals (we have the down south music movement to thank for that, labels saw that they were able to build a buzz for an artist PRIOR to signing so now they expect everybody to do the same) but the internet became a way for a labels to be even more strategic about who they were gonna sign. Naturally, the people with the most Youtube views and the most followers on Twitter and the most Likes on their FB fan page are the ones who get the looks first. Often, these are not the most talented people, but the people who are able to keep their peer's attention. Their peers are often teens who's taste in music is influenced by many different social factors. Many of the urban artists u hear on the radio currently, if they aren't artists who have been established for quite some time, are artists who's buzz started online first.
I am not one who believes that there is a secret dark agenda to keep songs about sex on the radio and destroy the culture of America. I don't think that's the goal, I think they just don't care either way. It is not a label's job to care, unless they are marketing a child artist or someone with a clean image. When neo soul sold, they sold us that. When gangsta sold, they sold us that. U actually hear signifcantly less gangsta rap on the radio now than we did just a few years ago, because gangsta only works for established artists right now. Labels care about hits, plain & simple. And hits don't happen on their own, so labels are only gonna invest the money to make a song a hit if they believe in it. And the thing is, labels do make millions off other genres. If u are ever in New York, step inside the lobby of the Sony office builiding. They have tv screens showing videos from the artists on their roster. Most of the videos were from country bands, Latin music bands, folk acts, even opera singers. These are all separate divisions from pop, and its not what we are gonna hear on mainstream radio.
I don't claim to know everything about the music industry, not by a long shot. So if you have something to add to our conversation, please drop a comment below and I'll include it in this blog entry. Thanx!
Filed under: blogging