The Uberpop


The Problem with Musical Institutions

Posted in UberArticles by theuberpop on December 7, 2009

“The GRAMMYs are the only peer-presented award to honor artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence in the recording industry, without regard to album sales or chart position.” (GRAMMY.com)  I’ll give you a minute to process that.

Everybody ready?  Excellent.  So, let’s discuss this year’s nominees (for the sake of everyone’s sanity I’ll focus on the big prize, “Album of the Year”.)  And the nominees are (thanks again to GRAMMY.com):

Album Of The Year
(Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s), Recording Engineer(s)/Mixer(s) & Mastering Engineer(s), if other than the artist.)

  • I Am… Sasha Fierce
    Beyoncé
    Shondrae “Mr. Bangledesh” Crawford, Ian Dench, D-Town, Toby Gad, Sean “The Pen” Garrett, Amanda Ghost, Jim Jonsin, Beyoncé Knowles, Rico Love, Dave McCracken, Terius “The Dream” Nash, Radio Killa, Stargate, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, Ryan Tedder & Wayne Wilkins, producers; Jim Caruana, Mikkel S. Eriksen, Toby Gad, Kuk Harrell, Jim Jonsin, Jaycen Joshua, Dave Pensado, Radio Killa, Mark “Spike” Stent, Ryan Tedder, Brian “B-LUV” Thomas, Marcos Tovar, Miles Walker & Wayne Wilkins, engineers/mixers; Tom Coyne, mastering engineer
    [Music World Music / Columbia]
  • The E.N.D.
    The Black Eyed Peas
    Apl.de.ap, Jean Baptiste, Printz Board, DJ Replay, Funkagenda, David Guetta, Keith Harris, Mark Knight, Poet Name Life, Frederick Riesterer & will.i.am, producers; Dylan “3D” Dresdow, Padraic “Padlock” Kerin & will.i.am, engineers/mixers; Chris Bellman, mastering engineer
    [Interscope Records]
  • The Fame
    Lady Gaga
    Flo Rida, Colby O’Donis & Space Cowboy, featured artists; Brian & Josh, Rob Fusari, Martin Kierszenbaum, RedOne & Space Cowboy, producers; 4Mil, Robert Orton, RedOne, Dave Russell & Tony Ugval, engineers/mixers; Gene Grimaldi, mastering engineer
    [Streamline/Interscope/Konlive/Cherrytree]
  • Big Whiskey And The Groogrux King
    Dave Matthews Band
    Rob Cavallo, producer; Chris Lord-Alge & Doug McKean, engineers/mixers; Ted Jensen, mastering engineer
    [RCA Records / Bama Rags Recordings, LLC.]
  • Fearless
    Taylor Swift
    Colbie Caillat, featured artist; Nathan Chapman & Taylor Swift, producers; Chad Carlson, Nathan Chapman & Justin Niebank, engineers/mixers; Hank Williams, mastering engineer
    [Big Machine Records]

There they are in all their glory, the top songs and albums of 2009 (according to the Recording Academy) listed “without regard to album sales or chart position.”  Now, let’s take a quick look at the top selling albums of 2009, thanks to The Chattanooga Pulse:

Top Selling Albums

1. Taylor Swift – “Fearless”
Sales in 2009: 1,316,000

2. Miley Cyrus – “Hannah Montana: The Movie”
Sales in 2009: 1,177,000

3. Eminem – “Relapse”
Sales in 2009: 1,169,000

4. Lady Gaga – “The Fame”
Sales in 2009: 976,000

5. Various Artists – “Twilight Soundtrack”
Sales in 2009: 971,000

6. U2 – “No Line on the Horizon”
Sales in 2009: 939,000

7. Nickelback – “Dark Horse”
Sales in 2009: 912,000

8. Rascal Flatts – “Unstoppable”
Sales in 2009: 825,000

9. Beyoncé – “I Am… Sasha Fierce”
Sales in 2009: 809,000

10. Dave Matthews Band – “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”
Sales in 2009: 689,000

Notice anything?  Four of the five nominees are found on this list (#9, #4, #10 and #1 respectively), and the odd album out (“The E.N.D.”) has spent 25 weeks on the Billboard 200 album charts (debuting at #1 and bottoming out at #28 last week.)  One doesn’t remain on that list for that long without selling a serious number of records.  It would take a very naive individual to believe this to be mere coincidence.

If the Recording Academy wants to host a ratings-driven celebration of mediocrity and celebrity worship resembling a rerun of the MTV Video Music Awards, with preference given to the top of the top-sellers, that’s fine.  There’s likely enough money in the budget to stage another Kanye West/Taylor Swift bout.  I understand the critical condition of the recording industry and I’m sure some people in this crowd are having trouble paying the mortgage on their million-dollar homes, but I think many of us would greatly appreciate it if they would just be forthcoming with their intentions and dispense with the pretense of “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence.”

Not to say that there wasn’t some incredible talent involved in the engineering/mixing/mastering of the nominated records (you know, the technical stuff that 13-year-old girls don’t care about), but the artistic achievement is in short supply here (I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure it takes a little more than a diamond-encrusted glove to create an “alter-ego.”)  Even the offering from the Dave Matthews Band is a bit of a soft choice.  Yes, I understand and appreciate that all musicians involved qualify at the virtuoso level, but this record – although better than much of their material released during this decade and certainly a more legitimate artistic offering than the other nominees – certainly wasn’t on par with some of the other “artistic achievements” of this year.

Where are the “buzz” artists who got all that “critical acclaim” in 2009: ie. Grizzly Bear, Phoenix, Wilco, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, even Jay-Z (although these artists are still very much a part of the “machine”)?  All of these artists released albums with far more artistic merit than the previously mentioned nominees.  Wait, you can find most of these artists…further down the page in the haystack of awards ascribed to an endless list of sub-genres that seem to exist solely as a means to placate people who don’t listen to top 40 radio.  As I scroll and scroll through this mess of oversimplification and, in some cases, complete misunderstanding of genre, a tiny thought breaches my consciousness and the longer I scroll, the more it makes sense: is it possible that we live in an era in which we are incapable of making bold statements like “these five artists made the best records of the year”?

I’ve addressed the issue of genre-disintegration before and the longer I sit with it, the more I feel, that because of the increasingly broad scope and subjective nature of what qualifies as “popular music” at this point in time, it is practically impossible to have a truly objective view of what would even begin to qualify a release as worthy of the title “Album of the Year” without glancing at chart position or album sales.  That’s how you know something has mass appeal, right?  But wait, we also live in a day and age where advertising and marketing dollars play more of a role in selling records than the artistic value of the product itself, which (in a very real way) discredits the correlation between artistic merit and album sales.  Also, the current financial state of the music industry being what it is, it is not lost on me that all five albums represented in the previously mentioned category are products of the major record labels (or subsidiaries of said labels) who hold a major stake in the Recording Academy, so it comes as no surprise that these labels are well represented in the nominations.  After all, the only way to save a billion-dollar industry that suffered a hemorrhage of $22 Billion+ in the last decade is through shallow pop songs and forced trends…not bold, artistic statements or music that may cause you to think a little.

So, what am I implying?  I suppose that the point of all this is to say that perhaps there was a time when the GRAMMY”S were a viable medium for commending musicians, composers and producers/engineers for outstanding work in their respective genres, but that institution seems to have lost sight of its purpose (if it ever truly lived up to it) due to the heavily commercial nature of the music industry and the splintering of musical genres into hundreds of different sub-genres.  Should we do away with the GRAMMY’s, or even the Recording Academy itself, altogether?  Maybe…maybe not.  What I do know is that what there is a notable discrepancy between what the GRAMMY’s propagate and reward and what their “mission statement” implies.  If this institution’s actual purpose is to honor those artists with more commercial value than artistic value, that’s fine.  Let’s just call it what it is.

Food for thought: Does Genre still exist?

Posted in UberArticles by theuberpop on November 10, 2009

For quite a while I’ve heard a number of people (musicians and not) bring up this notion of styles eventually “coming back around again” like fashion has trends that are in and out of season.  This was definitely true for a while, and I think this is at least in part due to both timing in the youth culture and technological developments in the field of musical equipment and recording tactics (there would be no Rock and Roll without electric guitars, no New Wave without synthesizers, no Hip-Hop without turntables and sequencers, etc.)  However, we now live in a world where you can find any genre of music created anywhere by anyone with a Macbook and a Myspace page.  I’m pretty sold on the idea that we live in a world where musically it’s all been done and now we’re left with subtle variations of genres and genre bending and blending (vis-a-vis bands like Vampire Weekend and The Roots).

I’m not at all debating or attempting to debunk the fact that musical genres are born out of a sort of “cross-pollination” with other pre-existing genres.  For instance,  jazz owes its roots to “field hollers”, “spirituals”, early blues and (to an extent) classical music (or “art music” to those with music degrees and that lovely sense of entitlement that only studying music at a collegiate level can bring).  The same is true of rock and roll (in the broadest sense of the term “rock and roll”, I’ll get into the whole “sub-genre” thing later), which owes its roots to the blues, folk and country music (these are broad generalizations here, don’t shoot me yet).

In this way one could argue that genre is cyclical in an evolutionary sense, genres adapting and breeding and evolving into other genres, although some genres and “factions” of music have fairly directly resurrected themselves, although much of this seems to be rooted in “sub-genre” – case in point the “British Invasion” of the 1960’s and the “Britpop” revival of the 1990’s.  In this particular instance you had bands of the later era (ie. Oasis, Blur, Suede, The Stone Roses, arguably early-Radiohead) more directly imitating their predecessors (The Beatles, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who)…some bands’ imitations being more blatant than others.  Keep in mind that most of this is occurring just before the advent of the internet on a large-scale,  consumer-based level.

I truly believe that history will show that the dawn of the internet, more specifically music-based sites and applications like Napster, itunes, Rhapsody, etc. (basically any development taking control out of the hands of record labels) heralded the death of the old divisions of musical genre and the notion that a specific genre remains dominant in the marketplace ’til another is developed and takes its place (from Jazz to Rock to Hip-Hop, now that’s some bold generalizing if I’ve ever seen it).  We live in an era in which anything is possible in terms of musical experimentation – once again due to advances in technology, specifically the development of consumer-based recording technology readily available on most computers right out of the box, as well as the shift in culture that followed said changes (ie. social networking sites allowing musicians to promote their music without the machinery of a record label or PR agency).

Just look at the current landscape of popular music.  The top ten highest selling albums on itunes at this moment (1:10pm on October 31st 2009) include Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Taylor Swift, Creed, Rod Stewart, Owl City and the New Moon Soundtrack (which is the smartest move that current indie-rock royalty including Death Cab for Cutie, Thom Yorke, Grizzly Bear and a slew of others could make in terms of making some serious bank…those 12-year old girls may only listen to that record once and hate it because it didn’t come from Disney, but by God they bought eight copies of it because Robert Pattinson was on the cover – I digress…).  This has to be the most random collection of artists I’ve ever seen.  You couldn’t possibly look at that list of artists and believe that we still live in a world in which a few broad genres dominate the musical landscape.

I realize that there are a number of what would be considered “rock bands” on that list, but I’d like to submit that “Rock” as a genre has splintered off into so many “sub-genres” that you couldn’t possibly argue that they belong in the same basic category.  If we were honest with ourselves we could say that the same applies to most other genres: Hip-hop/Rap, R&B, Country, Folk, Jazz, etc…you’re likely to find a smattering of elements from all of those genres, both in the general sense and on the level of “sub-genres”, on any single album released these days.

I’m not attempting to start a war here, just a discourse.  I think that this is a subject that should breach the consciousness of any musician, or any music fan for that matter, and that it’s worth pondering, fleshing out and discerning what that means for you and your “musical journey”, as it were.  I will say that it is absolutely true that certain genres sell better than others at any given point, but I honestly think that we live in a world where there is a market for any genre (granted, not all markets are as vast as Miley Cyrus’) but there’s definitely a niche market for just about anything conceivable out there.  What do you think, interweb?

Public Figures and their Opinions

Posted in UberArticles by theuberpop on November 5, 2009

I recently posted a link to Billy Corgan‘s now-infamous blog Everything From Here to There, specifically a post about his own misgivings about the H1N1 virus and the possibility that said virus was engineered by man.  You can read that here, just as a reference.  I’m pretty sure that one post generated more traffic through my page than any other in my blog’s very brief existence (and by brief I mean a week and a half.)  I understand that the “swine flu” is a hot topic these days and a very real concern, but I do feel that people should be a bit careful about the voices they allow to influence their stance and actions regarding such delicate issues.

This isn’t an entirely new concept, celebrities and other public figures leveraging their position to express their views and opinions.  Names like John Lennon, Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Bono, Chris Martin and Thom Yorke come to mind.  I don’t necessarily think that these people set out to shove their beliefs down the throats of thousands of people or subvert anyone’s thinking, but it seems that an unfortunate curse of notoriety is that the general public may view actions like these as mere publicity stunts.

I’m not implying that Mr. Corgan or any of the other names listed here are guilty of such things, many names on that list have results to back up their very public humanitarian exploits, but I do think that people should take the opinions of public figures and celebrities with a grain of salt.  People have a right to formulate their own opinions on any issue and take actions based on those opinions within reason, but in the world of Twitter and celebrity blogs I fear that people may be inclined to think or feel a certain way simply because Miley Cyrus or Jon Stewart tweeted or blogged about it.  The fact of the matter is that we know too much about celebrities and put far too much stock in what they think, say and do.  They’re just people, you know.

I guess what I’m getting at here is simply a question, what do we do with all of this?  In theory, the public figures bold enough to put their views out there have done their homework (kudos to Mr. Corgan for providing links and sources), but sometimes you wonder if people are just hopping on the controversy train in hopes of some press (usually bad, which in this day and age seems to be the best kind.)  The stock solution here would be to tell everyone to research and decide for themselves, but it’s more complex than that, now isn’t it.  Telling people to shut off and pay no attention would be almost impossible because it’s everywhere, telling anyone with any sort of notoriety to keep their mouth shut is a blatant violation of their rights.  It’s a bit of a conundrum with no easy answer, thoughts?

Welcome to The Uberpop

Posted in UberArticles by theuberpop on October 26, 2009

Salutations, internet!  It seems you have stumbled upon our humble blog, The Uberpop.  As this is the first of many posts, I feel obligated to inform you of our intentions.  First and foremost, this is a blog about music and all things related to music from a musician’s perspective.  Hopefully this means that what you’ll be reading will be highly informed and highly objective, and not genre or style biased.  Also, there will be a variety of things posted here including (but not limited to) album/live performance reviews, uber-artist/band profiles, music-related equipment and technology reviews, general thoughts/opinions about music, songwriting, music industry, etc. as well as a Weekly Playlist of songs/artists you may want to look into.  I would also like to take this opportunity to open the floor for discussion, as we highly value public opinions and criticisms (although we do ask that you be tactful as we are human beings with feelings, too).  Thanks so much for stopping by and please come back to see us as we will begin posting the various items mentioned earlier IMMEDIATELY!!!