A lot of people complain about ‘the crap on the radio’ and rant about how dumb the general populous is. But maybe it’s not that people are stupid and have no taste, and that nobody is writing good music anymore. Maybe rap and pop artists are being pushed to the forefront by record companies, and maybe there is a very good reason for that.
There is a strong argument that pop music is more catchy and that’s why it sells; but the Beatles sold, and wrote very catchy music with live arrangements. Where is that music now? Where are the catchy ROCK artists, with live arrangements, who are recording new records, having them played on the radio, and selling them? I am writing this theory because I DON’T think there is a much wider audience for electronic tracks backing a singer or rapper; I believe there is also a huge audience for live arrangements, provided the melodies are catchy and you walk away humming them. Do you want proof? Ask your local 60s-90s rock/metal cover band how much money they make at every show. Each member walks away with hundreds of dollars from each performance; every musician knows the only way to make money playing rock or metal is to be in a cover band. So obviously, the audience for catchy rock and metal has not disappeared. But where are the NEW artists?
I am NOT attempting to bash rap or pop - that is not my point. There are excellent and terrible songwriters in all genres. However, even dancers, pop lovers, and rap lovers are complaining about the quality of most of the pop and rap on the radio. Perhaps if the radio played more modern rock, metal, and bands in other genres that were writing catchy songs, there might be a better mix of good songwriting, rather than low-quality pop and rap, and no sampling of any other genre except music that was recorded in the early 90s or earlier.
So how does a new, up and coming artist or band get on the radio? How does a musician gain fans?
Some bands with a great business sense, a particularly outstanding sound, and a decent budget have pulled off fame on their own (such as The Darkness). But let’s face it: Musicians are not known for their business sense. Most bands get on the radio, and gain popularity on a wide scale, because record companies finance their albums so they sound sleek, book shows for them with similar successful bands, provide a budget for videos, and plug them.
So, think from the point of view of a record company, trying to make money.
Recording a slick-sounding, clean, well-produced rock album, with all live instruments, costs upwards of $25,000. Booking a top producer, engineer, and studio probably costs closer to $100,000.
Recording a slick-sounding, clean, well-produced album with electronic drums, synths, and vocals can be done by any decent engineer at home on a pro-tools LE system for the cost of the software, a midi keyboard, some pluggins, and a high end microphone (which probably adds up to about $5000). If you’re a rap or pop artist who is just starting out, and you want your album recorded or produced at a studio, a good engineer can throw it together for $10,000 and it will sound cleaner than your average $25,000 rock album.
Also, keep in mind live events. For small acts, rap or pop, you just need a backing track and space to dance. It’s easy to attain a good sound. For a whole band, you have to mic each drum individually, mic the singers and the acoustic instruments, mic all the amps, and have an extremely skilled sound guy mix it properly, which costs money.
So back to the record company. You are the record company, and you’re looking to sign and endorse a small, up and coming act that may or may not make it. You don’t have much to invest but you hope that what you do invest will earn money back. You have to feed your family, too. Regardless how much it cost to record the album, you can only sell it at the going price for new artists which is $10 or less.
On the one hand you have people like my band or any of my friend’s bands. We would need a record company to invest in recording a really solid album ($50,000). We would need them to invest in better equipment for our live shows. ($10,000 for equipment, plus an engineer’s fee at each show).
On the other hand you have rap and pop artists. You can give them a budget to record their albums- why not- you have a decent producer associated with your company and he can throw some slick beats together in his studio with badass synth parts cheaply and quickly. Hell, there will be money left over for a backup choir if you want.
The choice is obvious who you should sign. Even if both bands generate equal amounts of sales, you will profit more from the band with a smaller start-up fee.
Once a band is signed, and their album sounds slick and perfect, and their videos are high quality, and they start to break into the main stream… people become interested because they hear well produced music. Your average person doesn’t know why he likes what he likes musically, or doesn’t know much music theory. Show him a well-produced record with slick sounding studio tricks that he can dance to, and he will say “THIS IS SICK!” Show him a rock album with excellent songwriting and powerful lyrics that was recorded cheaply, and the drums sound weird, the vocals aren’t up front, there aren’t any cool effects, the guitar sounds thin…. you don’t have to be a total idiot to either completely miss the merit of the songs, or at least, listen to it once and say “yeah these songs are good” and then throw it aside and put a cd that SOUNDS GOOD into your CD player.
This is why, in the 90s when the economy was better, so many amazing rock bands emerged to the forefront of music, and were all over the radio. Tori Amos, Nine inch Nails, Fiona Apple, Alice in Chains, Deftones, Smashing Pumpkins. The economy was good, so record companies had money to gamble on bands that might or might not make it. They decided, based on listening and their own responses, that certain music would touch people on a wide scale, so they signed them, and gave them a chance, pouring out tons of money for them to record their expensive albums. When the economy is better, and companies are able to stay afloat, complex music is more popular, and record companies can afford to take risks. When record companies are hurting for money, paying 60% of their earnings in taxes, and having trouble selling CDs or concert tickets because your average consumer is unemployed, underemployed, or barely making ends meet, they’re only signing those who can be recorded quickly and cheaply.
The sad truth is: America can’t afford to produce bands right now.