The BACKSTORY behind my open letter to people who hate the music on the radio

The BACKSTORY behind my open letter to people who hate the music on the radio

I got such a great response to the blog entry I did yesterday about songs on the radio that I thought it would be a great idea to post the convo that inspired it. The conversation took place with my eHomey Xavier Alatea. He has given me permission to share his original  post that inspired my blog. Like I mentioned in his post, he made valid points.

Xavier's post:

WARNING- Gender topics, sensitive beware

Well it's a new week folks and I'm off to a great start. Lost 10lbs since last Friday and working on more. Today was full of errands and mischief, but you'll just have to guess at which was the main focus... N E ways... :)

Normally I keep my music limited to whatever I have stored on my phone, or whatever is streaming on Pandora. Today however, I actually broke down and was listening to two local radio stations while I drove around. I have to say I noticed two major things about the popular music that seems to be fairly recent:

1- 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. I thought what made the artists 'bad' in the first place was how infamous they were? Has the content really shifted?

One thing of note is that from a standpoint of nature vs nurture, I wonder if the message to all the impressionable youth now is that money and women [for men] are the only two things that actually matter- and specifically, that you should get money any way you can? I know I hear a lot of young people talking about how they have no plans what so ever to go to college because "you can get rich all kinds of ways." which to me- is a pretty ridiculous statement. Now, I'm not trying to brag here but I've done well for myself, but in my case, I was educated at a private school until HS- which made a big difference in my communication abilities. Without those skills I would have never made it where I am, and I think it's sad or even frightening that some of these guys out there with considerably less social skills or social status could think they can break their glass ceiling without education- or at least, a complete overhaul of their social abilities.

2. I also noticed that a very large percentage of the songs playing in the top 20 are about men manipulating women into bed. Usually this is in the form of, "It's okay to drink A and do B because we may not ever get C." Now, I'm treading a fine line of traditionalism and potentially crossing into feminist crosshairs, but given all my experience with men using alcohol or drugs as a weapon to bed a woman in a one night stand, you can't easily convince me that this message isn't specifically aimed at helping the females out there rationalize deviant (in the sociological sense) behavior.

Sure, gender 'roles' have changed quite a bit from say, the 50's-70's- but does that mean women are eager to go out and participate in loose conduct? Is it even still considered loose? Especially considering many women have on average from the age of 16, two sexual partners per yer. That means on average by the time they are 30, they've been with 28 different men. I read somewhere that at age 21, men have 7 partners while women have 9. To me, that is just the beginning of most people's sex life, so I wonder how far the gap widens? If it widens? Do men pick up later in life dating 20 year olds into their 30's? For the record, I think men who go out looking for one night stands are loose and deviant as well, and I've done my fair share of cutting dudes down who talk about it. Still, I can't help but think that the type of men who make said music (usually the type to refrain from monogamy, preferring to womanize) are really trying to send a message to allow their type to more easily have their way by suggesting promiscuity in women is good..... over, and over, and over, and over again on the radio..... >.> The craziest thing is, a number of female artists are doing this as well! Could they simply be pushing out the same agenda that producers seem to be pumping out? Are they also being used as possibly even more powerful tools of persuasion for women? After all, if {she's} doing it... it must be okay?

Could it be one of those industry secrets that nobody really talks about? Is the music industry aware of it's social control prowess?

It's could be probable that people who act that way do so no matter if they listen to this type of music or not. Still, even hearing about it has to make it more familiar in some way, which might just get through to others since familiarity tends to lower threat barriers.

Maybe I'm just crazy..
Thoughts?

My Reply:

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.

Xavier's Response:

Ahhh Nikki Lynette. You always have very thoughtful points to underline. From your point of view in the industry, you're certainly more qualified to speak on the subject than I. However I'm just wondering if selling records is the only agenda here. 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. I know people like 'reality' experiences- which has always been the case, even with the gansta music of the 90's... what I'm trying to understand is how or why this content shift occurred.. It's not like gangs have suddenly dissipated.

You've obviously experienced first hand the 'hand picking' of tracks, but what I am getting at is not the reason it's chosen, but rather an underlying why these particular artists are on the radio. There are ridiculous amounts of artists on labels who are talented- but you never hear them on public air- or if you do, it's rare. However, a song with a lame beat, overdone hook, and weak lyrics is on there in a hot second as long as it somehow defames women or forward thinking (MOTT). If it was only about money, labels wouldn't be making millions upon millions in genres never aired like drum & bass, ska, psychobilly, or other niche compositions... ??

Really, I had a moment driving this afternoon where I realized- If I were a foreigner listening to this, I would think Americans are the filthiest people on the planet.

My Reply;

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.

We cut the convo short here (because it was like 5am at the time,) but Xavier says "I hope to continue the conversation, as I do want to get more input from others as well. I'm the first to admit that my opinion is not my own, but derived from the experiences and input I've had with others."

As promised, here are some comments on the last post that I think u'll find interesting:

  • Precisesaid...Nikki you make some solid and valid points here. It is about the dollar, however I do believe there is an agenda to keep us dumbed down. Im old enough to remember when videos were being made on College campuses and we learned about each others history through music. Arrested Development even won A Best New Artist Grammy. As the music has progressed we have lost sight of its power and many artists do not fully understand the power that they wield.Our Words are the catalyst to change, they actually activate change. Once we recognize this power we will have the ability to turn this industry on its head. Its time to reclaim and redefine this culture.Great Post. Keep making Amazing Music.

    Precise

  • NikkiLynette said in reply to Precise:Thanx for commenting, Precise. I dunno...to imply that there is an agenda to keep us dumbed down is to imply that there is a motivation beyond financial gain behind the music industry. I simply do not believe this to be true. When Arrested Development was popular, their music was relevant to the climate of the time. The show "A Different World" was on tv, portraying the lives of black students in college. This was a brand new concept at the time, showing black kids in college on television. Hip hop was still strongly associated with Afrocentric culture, and it was separate from pop. I think what a lot of artists overlook is relevancy. The only way to change the world with the power of your music is to make people pay attention first. For example, Lady Gaga makes crazy, poppy music with provocative lyrics. Now that she has the ear of the public she has made great strides in bringing to light the struggles of the Gay Rights Movement. That is real power. What artists need to understand is that now that the internet exists and we have the power to connect to our listeners directly, it is up to us to create our own culture, our own world for people to be a part of. Once you establish that world u can do whatever u want, because as long as u have the power to get consumers to consume labels will back u. They don't care if u do a song called "I Am Not My Hair" or "Choke Me, Slap Me, Pull My Hair." It all boils down to the power of the dollar. They're just doing their job.
  • Chris Kramersaid...Your analysis of the pop music side of the industry is spot on. After all we live in a capitalist society, where the sole goal of any major business is profits. Another reason that compared to 20-30 years ago the songs have gotten increasingly simplified / and concepts have been canonized, is that there is no incentive to create timeless music any more in the pop realm. Why make a song that will be downloaded 1 time and loved for years ? They would rather make music that gets boring fast so they can sell more volume! It's simple economics.That said, its ultimately the consumers decision to what they want to listen to music wise. Most of us artists have a much deeper understanding and passion for music then the general public so our views get skewed to what we like as artists. As a producer / musician / song writer its best to be open to anything, especially paid work... save the art stuff for the personal projects if thats what you wanna do.
  • Ty Poolesaid...I tend to agree with your online homie on music.. I hate listening to the radio these days.. There doesn't seem to be much substance to the music they play but I understand why they play what they do to your point.. I don't blame them or the labels for wanting to profit from today's youth and giving them what they want.. My question is how did it come to this.. @ what point did it turn? We've gone from socially conscience relevant hip hop groups that were actually being promoted as such (ATCQ, PE, BDP,) to (insert 106th and Park top 10 list here).. As for your stance on things.. you've won @ least 1 fan here today..
  • NikkiLynette said in reply to Ty Poole:Thanx for the kind words Ty :o) have u hit up my website to hear my new music yet? (www.nikkilynette.com) As I mentioned in my reply to Precise, at the time when ATCQ & PE were very popular, their music was relevant to that time. I AM NOT SAYING THEY ARE NO LONGER RELEVANT, because I consider them to be timeless. But we can both agree that they don't exactly fit in with the current music that is prevalent in popular culture. Times have changed drastically just in the past few years; the issues we face as young individuals in society have changed, the way we socialize has changed, our attitudes toward sex and relationships have changed. The music that is popular right now was mad popular by people who find the music fitting to their lifestyle. And it was the same way when ATCQ & PE were prevalent! This is the way the industry works. Remember, there was a time when Elvis' music was climbing the charts in spite of many people considering him raunchy and risque. popular culture changes when the people who are spending their money change. Everyone likes to justify not paying for music by saying "Album sales don't matter these days anyway." People who say that are the same as people who don't vote but complain about politics. The dollar that u spend on an artist's single is LITERALLY your vote for that particular artist to win. These days, teens and young adults are the only ones casting votes. Hence...the current state of the radio in 2011. I'm interested to see how my fans feel when I start going that route. I wonder how many of them will still give me their vote.
  • Shadasious said...
    I appreciate your insiders view on how the music business works. I'm one of those people that hates music on the radio. I either listen to old school or underground. I admit I forget that music is a business, to me its just vibing and hearing a groove but yeah somewhere a cash register needs to ring. But personally I'd rather here a horn riff, a soulful hook or an 808 beat than coins on the counter.
  • NikkiLynette said in reply to Shadasious:I feel u. For my personal listening pleasure, I listen to old stuff like The Mamas & The Papas and Bill Withers & Prince & Guns N' Roses. the only new skool artists I really like are NERD, Noisettes, Foxy Shazam, & Amy Winehouse. But I have to be aware of popular culture because its the world I'm in. i refuse to follow trends because that's hella weak & as far as I can tell it's a one way ticket to failure. But I'm no dummy, I make sure my stuff is commercially viable or else i would not be able to earn a living
  • Julia372said...I never liked radio, and it didn't help that I was growing up in Kansas before there was internet, so the only source of music was radio. There was very little live music and what there was of it took place in nightclubs where people younger than 21 couldn't go. Radio has always been boring, too repetitive, and dumbed down. They take decent songs and play them way too often so people get sick to death of them. The radio has done this all my life.
    I've never listened much to rap and hip-hop - I like rock and roll, rockabilly, good country, swing, blues, and roots of all the above. Luckily I discovered the live music scene here and I've rarely listened to radio since. Even when they're playing tolerable music, the commercials and the chatter of the DJs are annoying. Also, the DJs are often offensive.
    I also haven't been doing the twitter or facebook things - I tried myspace but it was too time-consuming and hard to use. After working with computers at my jobs for many years, I don't want to spend my free time on it!
    I buy CDs of the bands I like and compilations of old-time rock and roll. I've been getting along this way for more than 10 years.
    I'm very glad the internet is available so young people all over the world can seek out the music they love. I didn't have that in Kansas. Music lovers should support the music they love both financially and in every other way they can.

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