I’ve become a little perplexed by popular music in recent years. More specifically, music that now inhabits the space once filled by R’n’B. Not that I really got down to Beyonce or Neyo, but at least the music they put out 5 years ago was melodic. Right now they all seem to be producing this weird ‘UNsoulful’ house nonsense. Perhaps I’m just becoming my Dad, but it all sounds a little ‘throw-away’! This Guetta stuff, in my opinion, is unsatisfying and instantly forgettable. Popular soul music used to have a quality sound and production value. Not necessarily a gourmet meal, but more memorable than a KFC bucket.
I’ve recently eaten and am still eating a fine gourmet Michelin starred meal. The Robert Glasper Experiment, ‘Black Radio.’ On hearing it, a few of my Facebook friends reacted with words along the lines of, ‘This album is too good. I’m gonna have to actually buy it!’ ‘Black Radio’ is a jazz record, albeit a jazz record that flirts with other genres, but nevertheless a jazz record at its core. There’s no looped drums, (Chris ‘Daddy’ Dave you’re a genius!) no programmed bass lines. Every sound is played live through an actual real-life musical instrument. I can’t even detect any vocal tuning! David Guetta this isn’t! The listener on hearing, knows instantly that this is special. Anyone with a modicum of musical knowledge will hear the work that went into it; the hours of studio time, not to mention the rehearsals prior. (I imagine Mr Guetta knocks his instrumentals out in minutes! “Kelly I recorded this one during a Superbowl timeout…It’s HOT!!!”) So the listener is presented with a choice. Rip these fine musicians and vocalists off, or give them their due. And some people are clearly opting to pay them their money’s worth. I wonder what portion of Jazz, Opera and Classical music is shared? If it is less than Pop and R’n’B, you could simply dismiss it by saying those who buy ‘highbrow’ music are of a demographic that generally only buy and wouldn’t consider sharing. You’d probably be right, but what if there’s more to it than that? The press and anyone of a certain age would argue that the decision to download music illegally is no decision at all. It is simply an involuntary symptom of a mindless, youth led consumer need to ‘have’. The ‘must have’ generation. Sugar rushed spoilt brats, rolling around on supermarket floors, screaming “Why should I pay for it, when I can just download it for FREE?!” But what if the thought process involved is more complex than that? What if music sharers are basing their decision to either illegally download or purchase music legitimately, on the quality of the end result, or perhaps more accurately the perceived effort that went into it?
So indulge me for a minute and assume my theory (albeit very loosely constructed, on the basis of a few mid twenty to 30 somethings on Facebook) is correct, then it wouldn’t be anymore fanciful to make the leap and assume the music they do share is music they regard to be of lesser value; the KFC bucket meal. So now we arrive at that exquisite, perfectly balanced, all tied up in a neat bow, chicken and egg question. What came first? The undervalued music, or the decision to devalue music on the basis of the audience’s trends?
Justin and I were discussing our project. We were trying to decide whether we should sell it, or give it away for free. Now it might sound romantic or stupid, but I just want to make music. I’m not trying to make money through it. (My dreams involve a bookshop shelf and pile of novels with my name on them.) I just want to share my musical ideas. I discussed this with my good friend and vocalist Joseph Junior. He said that to give it away for free, is to devalue the effort that will go into its creation. I hear Joe’s opinion, but still find myself leaning towards giving it away for free, for the reasons above, but also because I think the majority of our audience will just find a way to download it for free anyway! Am I devaluing our work? Am I giving in to the kids? Is artistic value really found in a price tag? I’m still undecided.