Re-Top Forty

You’ve been sold a bill of goods. Chris Anderson wrote "The Long Tail" and now you’ve been hoodwinked into thinking there’s a demand for your music, that the Internet has finally made your masterpiece available to the masses and recognition, money and fame will flow into your inbox momentarily. But as the Who so eloquently sang, "It don’t really happen that way at all."

The Internet, along with five hundred channels of cable TV, has taken a hammer to our society and rendered a nation equivalent to the Tower of Babel. We’re all here, but we all speak a different language, we watch different TV shows, we surf different sites, we can barely converse. And it feels positively awful. That’s why so many go to see idiotic Hollywood movies, to belong. That’s a big reason people listen to Top Forty music, because that’s where everybody else is, they want to be a member of the tribe.

This is so different from the way it was in the sixties or nineties. Where there was a definite, overpowering mainstream, and it felt good to be alternative. But those alternative tracks got played on underground FM radio, ultimately even MTV, after being spun on college radio, which is a dying art form. Yes, did you know colleges are selling their stations? It’s cheaper and easier to broadcast on the Internet.

And that’s my point. Everybody can be a broadcaster now. And with so many options, we move towards professionalism, where everybody else is, and if you don’t meet these criteria, professional and quality, you’re going to have a very rough go of it. Sure, we can all be interested in momentary train-wreck, that’s what viral videos are for, but they don’t last.

The truly clueless are the classic rock acts, anybody who made it before the turn of the century. They think people are waiting for their new opus. They’re not. They think if they just employ carpet bomb publicity, everybody will know and care, but at no time in history has so much expensive hype been ignored so much. We know why that article is in the newspaper. You paid for it. We get our information other places. And we don’t care about you even if you’ve got great new music. Hell, if you’re an oldie first and foremost you’ve got to find out who your tribe is, you’ve got to get their e-mail addresses, market directly to them, otherwise don’t even bother to put out your new music. Unless you like to masturbate.

As for albums, we live in a playlist world. Maybe not the oldsters, but the youngsters. Yes, they don’t expect the Top Forty tracks to last, they’re here for today and barely remembered tomorrow. But this is what they’re growing up with, this is what they know. Gen X felt ripped off by the boomers, who got to do everything first, sex without AIDS, classic rock, so much. But Gen Y cares not a whit about the past, that’s their parents world, they’re creating their own world, for themselves.

And a generation based on belonging gravitates to Top Forty radio because that’s where all their friends are. And if you’re not in this world, even if you’re young, you have a hard time making it. Sure, Facebook and word of mouth helps. And at least it’s faster than boomer word of mouth, which is positively moribund.

And these kids grew up in the era of "American Idol". They focus on singing more than writing. Just like Christina Aguilera and the melisma makers were influenced by and copied Mariah Carey.

Listen to your old records, play your albums, there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s got very little to do with today’s burgeoning music world. These kids are never going to come to your land. Instead, their land is gonna morph into something new. Top Forty today is like the early sixties. Who didn’t love those Four Seasons songs. But the act did measly live business. Compared to what followed. Something is gonna follow this catchy, irrelevant, auto-tuned Top Forty stuff. And we know it’s gonna be based on a tribe. Classic rock blew up as a result of the ascent of FM radio, after stations couldn’t simulcast what was on the AM band. There will be another technological innovation, a new clubhouse, on some level that’s what EDM is about. Hell, going and being there is even more important than the music. As for the music… It’s gonna evolve.

Where we go next is not perfectly clear. But we’re gonna go together. There’s mainstream and then niches so tiny they live in an echo chamber. The "New York Times" wants to be hip and reviews albums no one is gonna listen to.

You want to know what’s happening? Ask kids. Sure, some are loners, that’s the nature of DNA, but most communicate with more people in one day than you did in years. They know every kid in town, still talk to their camp friends not only months later, but years later. They’re all in it together. And if you want to blow up, you’ve got to penetrate their world. Good luck!

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