Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

Has our cordial approach of "soft" critiquing help lead to the degradation of music? The Bernie Taupin lyric starts:

What have I got to do to make you love me?
What have I got to do to make you care?

Then a little later it reads…

What do I say when it's all over?
And sorry seems to be the hardest word?

While the overall narrative along with the singer setting suggests that it is indeed a "love" song of sorts, the words paint a vivid and accurate picture of the awkward place many of us find ourselves when asked our opinion of a far less talented colleague's music offering. Here's my most common scenario:

I play a piece that I've finished and of which I am most proud for someone who has a love for music—like mine. The song finishes and a grin reflects their awe and full appreciation of my artistic accomplishment—like mine, again. Then comes the dreaded response. "Hey. I have something of mine I'd like to let you hear." I play it, hoping for the best. It's nowhere close to the best. Now comes the dreaded question: "Well? What do you think?" What do you say. Fortunately, they haven't asked for my 'honest opinion'—"Oh…and give me your honest opinion." I jinxed it. Again, what do you do? When was the last time you told a friend, family member, or acquaintance that their music, presented to you for your (maybe not) honest opinion, was honestly just mediocre at best? Perhaps the music profession needs one of those common "…professional. Please do not attempt" disclaimer captions. I even saw one used in a Vitamin Water commercial, at the point where a dancer was doing "the worm" Hip Hop dance move.

Four-Track, MIDI, and DAW's have made making music painfully accessible to the masses. Home studios are as ubiquitous as kitchens in homes. As we don't hear the latter referred to as "home kitchens", so nowadays we’re starting not to hear personal project studios referred to as home studios; like kitchens (and Bond), they're just studios. With the ubiety of home studios, there is an unfavorable talent to facility ratio. If our words dishearten, it serves to thin the herd.

In many discussions I've begun on LinkedIn, some will raise the “power to the people” argument. Everyone should have the right to artistic expression. Well, what if the trend spread to other professions? Why stop at music production? How about Home Architectural Firms? Now instead of paying those high hourly rates for architects to design your building, by Mark of the Architect's "Constructer" software, dedicate a few hours to YouTube tutorials and start working on that IC hospital wing that it's long been your secret passion to design. This is an apples to marshmallow-scorpions comparison, some would argue; one can't compare life and death severity to entertainment. Maybe it is, and then…

The arts shape our respective philosophies, and those philosophies help guide (or taint) our moral centers. In music, one dresses for success, so to speak. SNF's Tony Manero strutting to "Staying Alive," launched a fashion revolution in the seventies. The aptly named "Chic" launched the "GQ" era among "Afro-Americans" (the pre-African American post Negro-Black classification used at that time) [technically: Mankind's origin is in fact African, so all human citizens of American citizenship are "African American". But that's another blog for another venue ;^{/]. Their glamourous runway fashion sensibilities imbued "urban" [code for Black; don't be fooled] teens and young adults to dress-to-kill. Contrast that with "Gansta Rap" educing just the kill part in more than a few. But then, what does one do with beats but beat up, maybe? And dance tracks care little for anything having to do with assets above the waistline—perhaps the exception may be made on a certain two points, but certainly the region above the neck is definitely taboo for the "…has a good beat, and I can dance to it" sect. When you consider the tremendously successful KC classic "Shake Your Booty", what else could you sing to that bed track? …well something to the other two points maybe, but allow me to keep this conversation above the neck. Excuse me, my brain is up here.

My one point is that good music usually promotes higher concepts. Can you imagine a composer finishing a splendiferous moving symphony then suddenly being inspired to add a lyric about shaking one's booty? Don't give me the Walter Murphy argument; that was just about making booty shaking coin, and Ludwig wasn't given a vote. What I'm saying is that with the creation of great music comes great and lofty themes…maybe not the ones that cause a person to pass marble, but ones that inspire to reach some semblance of virtuous greatness. Heavy Metal is good for what it wants to convey: chaos, hate, brutality, fear, and…


There are not found within its rigid structures the evocative complex jazz chord changes to take the listener to anything spacier. And when the only musical aspect about certain examples of Rap is the metronomic machine pulse, horror flick hits and sci-fi synth noodles that are still infinitely more melodious than the monotonic growls or nasally growls that have brought certain candy-man masters out past the relative poverty found south of 8-mile, who can fault their proven business models.

Obviously "sorry" is in the ear of the beholder. The goto response I use most often addresses their ultimate goal in mind for the thing they let me hear. If all one wishes to accomplish is to have something to play for a willing professional ear…something they can play and receive a sort of kinda roundabout half-honest crooked opinion, then in most cases I say, "Mission accomplished." But if what they want to do is release it upon an unsuspecting non-discriminating world of listeners who will think it as good as the last thing they heard (the herd), then that's where we have a problem. Is there anyone reading this who doesn't realize that we have a problem? Hrrrmppph! Uhis there anyone reading this?

There is a problem with music today. And maybe it started from the first professional who heard a piece of…er…that is a piece…uh…that was not every good. But instead of giving the “don't quit your day job” response, they played it off‑sending 'em off to Mr. Owl. [You Tube "How many licks Tootsie RollPop”]. Back to hospital analogies: What if chief surgeons were as cavalier in their assessments of interns as we music professionals are with neophytes? What if that’s really how things are all around? Hmmm… Y’know, I've been hearing a lot of bad things about hospitals lately.


1 comment:

Mark Drummond Creative said...

Sadly, technoproliferation has an inverse ratio to quality of product. As a radio production director back in the 90s, when stations began accepting spots emailed as mp3s (and other various & sundry compressed audio formats), I remember thinking: " any monkey with a microphone and computer can be a producer", never realizing the same corrolary could be applied to music-making (i.e., "any primate with Pro Tools", and so forth).