Splitting Hairs

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American Turnings and Music (4 of 4): People vs. Corporations

This is the fourth and final posting of this series that concerns a model I’ve stumbled upon correlating emergence of new American music genres with Strauss & Howe’s Fourth Turning theories. This last posting looks at how this progression of new music genres points straight to People vs. Corporations — just like the book seems to.

The analysis starts by observing that each new succeeding music genre expanded upon the preceding genre. Historically, this expansion could concern: (a) ease of performing or (b) scope of material from which to draw inspiration. An example of the first type of expansion is Hip Hop. Hip Hop comprises:

  1. ripping out the beat and rhythm from Soul or Funk songs, and throwing the rest way
  2. chanting rhyming poetry in time with the beat
  3. possibly scratching some vinyl records

So with Hip Hop, one not need learn to play an instrument nor even learn to sing. This made Hip Hop much easier to perform than Soul, Funk, or Rock.

Psychedelic rock is the latest example of the second kind of expansion — i.e. increased scope of material. Where Rock and roll limited its base material to old African American rhythm and blues, Psychedelic rock expanded this limited pool of inspirational material to include the music of the whole world. In particular, Psychedelic rock in the late 1960s looked to India for melodic inspiration.

Stepping back, Hip Hop and Psychedelic rock seem to represent the final expansion possible from a substance perspective. That is, Hip Hop says that for music, anything goes, so long as there is a funky beat. Psychedelic rock says that for music, anything goes, so long as there is some kind of melody.

So after Hip Hop and Psychedelic rock, where could American music possibly go to further expand the national music? I say that there is no further place for music to go from a substantive — i.e. melody or beat — perspective. The only places left to expand are “meta” places.

In the previous posting in this series, I have identified Mashup as the next emergent American music genre. But after doing the podcast companion to this blog series (see the link at bottom), I have come around to identifying a second possible current emergent genre. Let’s call this second genre “P2P”, where the first “P” is a musician, the second “P” is a listener, and “2” does NOT include the music industry. Here’s the idea.

To do Mashup, we need not even have a performance bone in our body. We just need a little technical acumen and maybe it helps to have a bit of an “ear” for what sounds compelling and what doesn’t. But beyond that, what does it take for any of us to rip out rhythm and beats from one digitized piece of music, and merge that with the ripped out melody from a second digital song? Mashup has ripped music out of the jealous hands of the musician priesthood, and placed it in the hands of the pedestrian hordes.

As for P2P music, it has nothing to do with the substance or creation of music. Rather, it concerns only the distribution of music. That’s why I missed P2P when I first created the model of this blog posting series. Unlike every other new American music genre, P2P has nothing to do with how the music sounds. Instead, it’s just about how the musicians get out their music, and how we listeners get their music. P2P says: “Musician, thy will upload; Listener, thou will download or stream.” Maybe some micro-payments change hands; maybe not.

The above analysis describes the difference between Mashup and P2P. But what is the similarity? Here it is: Big Music hates both of them. Unlike Hip Hop, Psychedelic rock, Rock and roll, Swing, Jazz, and Ragtime before them, Mashup and P2P do not sit well with the music corporations.

All of these music genres rose up from the “street”. That is, in every case, young unknowns (for the most part) brought forward the new genre. Once the nation’s youth began expressing interest in the new genre, Big Music would swoop in, sign the popular performers, and rake in the money.

But with Mashup, every “performer” who does the sort of “ripping” I described above, is violating the copyright laws as written by the music corporations. So every such artist is an “outlaw” before he or she ever sits down with Big Music. Where is this genre headed? Read about Grey Tuesday to get an idea.

As for P2P, that’s even scarier for Big Music. For every new artist who gets her head above water and receives confirmation of her broad popularity on Garage Band, what is her incentive to sign on as a fledgling artist with Big Music? Well, that is what GarageBand.com is telling musicians to do once they make it big on that site.

But sooner or later, and maybe it has already happened, some successful musicians will choose to snub Big Music and continue on the P2P road to greatness. Once a few of these do so, and become quite popular and rather blinged, they’ll inspire more emergent musicians to make the same choice. And when that happens, what could Big Music do to stop the bleeding?

Who knows? Just realize that Big Music, like pretty much every old, obsolete industry, has enough money and Governmental power to make this P2P transition quite interesting, messy, and painful.

So at bottom, whatever the current emergent genre is in American music — i.e. Mashup or P2P — both reek of People vs. Corporations.

Here’s the compendium podcast to this blog series:

  • (111) American Music and Turnings. An analysis of how emergent American music genres correlate with the social turnings described in The Fourth Turning. What is the music telling us? Same answer as the book: People vs. Corporations.

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This entry was posted on December 13, 2006 by in people vs. corporations.

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