The Most Interesting Thing Going on in Music
The word music has its set definition in dictionaries which constricts it in a finite way, but me just saying the word music means so much more. When I say it, a plethora of different things could happen; whether it is you thinking of a song, an artist, or memory in which music played a big part. Nothing moves us quite like music does and with more people able to create music to share with the masses, it’s never been more abundant.
With an exploding EDM scene and new artists popping up left and right, it might be hard to stand out from the crowd. This not including the already established artists that take up attention in the space and lets not forget all the singer hopefuls that play in coffee shops or wherever they can play. Some music genres have built in support and upbringing events though, take rap.
There are rap contests in so many different places that it is easier to present your skills to an audience. Other artists have to wait for people to find them to get feedback on original work rather than just covers of famous songs.
Now lets take a look at something that happened on February 12, 2017. This something was an event that will be marked as the day all things changed in the music industry. This day played host to the 59th annual Grammys, which was nothing special but inside this event something groundbreaking happened. In the category for Best New Artist, a rapper by the name Chance the Rapper won the category. Now not only was the competition difficult for that category but Chance the Rapper’s win was monumental. The album that he put out in 2016, the one that he won for, was only streamable. You could only listen to the album on a streaming service, you couldn’t buy a physical copy and you can’t buy a digital copy. So unless you use Apple Music, Google Play Music, or spotify, you couldn’t even listen to the song. And still the most amazing thing is that he did it all without a record label. People have proclaimed to be record label free but have gotten help in distribution, with one of the co-founders of Shady Records (the record label that Eminem and others are on) went as far as to say “You can’t ignore big brother for long”.
This win demonstrates to where the music industry is going and moving towards as a whole. We already knew that this is where everything was headed, no physical copies, no buying of music, just streaming everything. With more people truly going independent and not having to be tied down to labels through contracts is enlightening. But what is so interesting that is happening in music?
Sure industries will change, trends will come and go, but what sticks out as being interesting. To me, the most interesting thing that is happening in music and that will always happen in music is when the music itself changes. Going to a point back from earlier, there are so many EDM producers out there now, and just an influx of people means that a lot of stuff is going to sound the same. This is due to a multitude of reasons including imitation, just using the same base tools, and the basic problem of there not being enough of a musical scale for everyone to use without some overlap. The idea that there are only so many sounds, so many chords, and so my rhythms before they are all used up. So when someone comes in and innovates their genre, this is interesting to me. Now nothing is truly original anymore and you will have to accept that, but there are a couple people changing music.
Lets take Hip Hop or rap and more specifically Chance the Rapper and look at his work. The album he released was titled Coloring Book, and in it are 14 different songs that all play very different from one another. Not everyone of the songs are Hip Hop tracks, but these are the ones I want to focus on. Rap has grown, obviously, from just a back beat and voice tracks but the way it has evolved is so interesting. You had innovators to the genre like Kanye West who is featured on the opening track of Coloring Book. He has shaped and pushed forward the genre with his use of the human voice to replace instruments and even with the rise of electronic music still chose to use synths that sound like human voices. You hear his contributions throughout Coloring Book and probably a lot of other rap albums as well. Then you have successful innovators like Eminem who focused on the message of the song or vivid storytelling that was so visceral, similar to what newer hip hop artists like Macklemore has done, though his music has more of a pop flavor to it. And then still in the Hip Hop space of rapping you have artists like MF Doom that pour so much work into the writing and how the whole song fits together.
Right now you might be saying that all Hip hop artists, rappers have gone this route. They tell stories, they sing or rap about experiences that touch people, they produce with new sounds and make the work varied. But I would argue that the majority just have that back beat and rap on top of it. An aspiring rap artist once told me that he knew other people who just said stuff that sounded cool, it didn’t have to make sense, while he focused on the flow, still unconcerned with the actual content of what was being said.
Now if you compare this hierarchy of quality and everyone else to something like EDM, it’s completely the same. You have innovators who do something different to push the medium forward and you have everyone else.
Back in 1997 the duo who probably had one of the biggest effect on the EDM genre in its entirety released their debut album Homework. Now they did not start EDM but they innovated it to be more than it was. This duo of course has continued to make cultural phenomenons with their recent collaboration being on the Starboy album with The Weekend. Yes, I am talking about the legendary Daft Punk. But they were not the only people to move the EDM genre forward. Slightly newer artist, compared to a debut release of 1997, is an artist that also followed in Daft Punk’s footsteps when it came to performing live. This helmet wearing artist advocates for innovation and seeks out new sounds and artists. He signed the now famous Skrillex because he heard a new sound that would soon be beat to death, dubstep. He has an ear for the unique and his contributions to the EDM genre, though he hates the genres label, are huge in retrospect. He advocates for actually performing while on stage. Though he does precompose most of his shows, he has technology that recreates the sound on stage. He was a key factor in bringing EDM to the United States with the stage name deadmau5. Like the French duo before him, he appreciates the use of analog sounds and has the studio to prove it.
But the Daft Punks, the deadmau5s, and the Kanyes of the world are few and far between. We the masses are left with all the other artists that are meant to fill the void. I’m not saying their work is bad, I’m just pointing out that they are not pushing forward. And to be fair, they don’t have to. You can enjoy music that doesn’t do anything new, you can enjoy music that doesn’t test the limits of the artists capabilities, and you can definitely like good music that heavily borrows from other artists. But the title for this is “The Most Interesting Thing Going on in Music”, not “It’s ok to Like Music That Everyone Else Likes Too”.
I can’t emphasis enough how interesting the Hip Hop or rap genre is growing and expanding so here are some references along with other links that can expand how you see music.