It’s easy to be pessimistic about the state of Rock Music. But, I still have hope. Lots of hope.
Gene Simmons, illustrious Bassist/Vocalist for the American Rock Band KISS now claims in a recent Esquire interview that Rock music is dead. And it was killed by internet piracy and file-sharing. Is there any validity to his claim?
I originally felt, no. There’s no chance that Rock music is dead. But after actually reading the interview, I understand his well-spoken, heartfelt point of view. He believes that because the money from album sales has dried up, killing the Rock music industry, the fostering of fresh new talent has disappeared.
We may have plenty of new bands, many with genuine talent. But without some financial backing and a little profit incentive, these bands will never reach their full potential, or even last long enough to make any kind of impact. In this he is absolutely correct. However, I think Rock music has been dying since the early 90s, long BEFORE the internet took its bite…at least in the United States.
Outside of the US, Rock music (and Metal) is still alive and kicking. Explaining why over the last two decades I’ve slowly turned almost exclusively to finding my musical enjoyment from Europe and beyond. With a nearly undying culture of all things Rock, foreign markets have allowed growth and an abundance of supported and professionally sponsored talent.
That, however, does not mean that Rock in America is dead. Only more sedate, going underground. Many of the classic bands from the 90s and before are still around, some doing tremendous business through concerts and even decent record sales. And many have simply jumped ship from American record labels and now get their support from smaller, indie, and European labels.
Even with all the financial/industry woes in Rock/Metal there is still plenty to be happy about. The internet may have reduced the financial gains of record sales. But it has also greatly enhanced a band’s marketing capacity. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube ensure that even the meagerest of musicians can find an audience without much, if any, actual expenses.
They may not be able to fund a big record deal, with mentoring big shot producers and professional studios. But artists worldwide can now play, record, mix and even release they very own songs/albums from simple home studios. Technology has opened doors to places and people previously way outside the circles normally needed to get exposure and recognition.
What we may lack in individual impact we now can get in sheer quantity. Not many in this sea of fresh “talent” may actually have any. But, I’ve found quite a few gems buried within.
Simmons asks which (if any?) Rock bands over the last two decades have made a lasting impact on our culture. That’s a hard question. I hear plenty of crappy hip-hop and pop/dance stuff that seems to resonate with today’s youth. But, for overarching Rock music impact, young and old? Maybe Jack White? Perhaps The Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, and Red Hot Chili Peppers? And of course, the 70s/80s diehards like U2 and Springsteen still create solid new material and draw huge concerts.
With Metal still mostly underground and off the radio Pop/hip-hop/electronica/dance has taken over. Kids all want to feel happy, or angry, or just plain dance/throb to whatever catchy rhythmic melody is the current faze. It’s not like any of these one-hit wonders last very long, but in this modern always connected/always shared world they scorch the sky while they last.
I don’t have any answers to this dilemma. I’ve enjoyed the musical ride I’ve been on for my entire life. First latching onto the great Classic Rock bands of the 60s and 70s and then entering the radio-friendly Pop Rock of the immortal 80s. While discovering Metal around the time of ‘Ride the Lightening’. After Grunge took its bite and Alternative grabbed hold, I left the radio behind and went looking elsewhere for my fix. Like I said, I found gold in Europe. And have been mostly stuck there for 20 years.
The indie labels are still around. With less overhead they can continue to release material digitally for nearly no upfront costs. Many artists utilize home tech/computers to do the heavy lifting making the recording cheaper.
And getting these recordings/videos out these has never been easier. One successful YouTube clip and you’re on your way. Even small file-sharing outlets can get you huge exposure. When put alongside social media, there is a self-marketing venue richer than any other in history.
I get about a dozen albums to review each month from bands/artists all over the world looking for just a little extra press. And what I encounter through digital distribution (i.e. Amazon Prime, Google Play, Spotify, etc…) is insane. What used to take me hundreds of hours pouring through used CD bins, pawn shops, and trade magazines/catalogs I can now find with a few mouse clicks. Why buy an album of ten songs that will be played perhaps 2-3 times and then sit on a shelf taking up space when I can pay 99 cents to test drive a new band (or perhaps get a demo for free from their website or YouTube)? Then if I like, I can get the entire album for less than 10 bucks and store it indefinitely and easily on my hard drive or portable device/phone–no fuss, no muss.
I have never seen such a wealth of new bands and new material as I have access to now in 2014. It is ridiculous the amount of work being churned out worldwide. Now exotic places like Vietnam, Nigeria, Luxembourg, Finland, and even Canada;) are capable of releasing quality Rock/Metal. All it takes is a computer, some skills (hopefully!), and a couple of instruments (digital or old-school) to get your music to the world.
True, these artists are most likely never going to hit it Duran Duran/Journey/U2 big. How many professional athletes actually get to play every day in the NFL, NBA, or MLB? Most of the world’s talent, has to be content at not quite being great enough to end up on a poster pasted to some kid’s bedroom wall:(
Musicians struggling to make a buck touring bars, casinos, and state fairs do so because they love it. For any true artist making money is a fringe benefit to the act of creating and sharing with the world. OK, feeding yourself is kinda important. Which is why it is essential to get exposure.
In days past, record sales translated to a chance at BIG money. But in a 2014 world, artists need exposure to make any money. Get people to listen to your music, make fans, and sell concert tickets/merchandise. Big record companies may be going broke, and many classic bands are left performing casinos and barmitsfas. But the up and comer has taken off, hundreds of quality artists from everywhere are getting releases out there.
Rock music (and I’m not talking about that foo-foo dance crap) may no longer shine so brightly in the good ol’ U S of A. But, worldwide it is without competition. From Japan, South America, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Rock keeps getting stronger and bigger. Tour bars and small clubs in America…sell-out soccer stadiums in Brazil or Tokyo.
So maybe the days when Rock Gods get to lord over their pick of “innocent” groupies is dead. But for the artists, the musicians who just want to create and play what they love, this new always connected, always shared world is an opportunity like never before. You may not make millions of dollars, but you have a chance at getting thousands of fans. And hopefully feed yourself:)
And for any true Rock music fan?
–Rock is dead, Long live ROCK!