by Benn Ray
How are you exposed to new music?
No, I don't mean finding mp3s or bit-torrenting or logging in to some obscure channel on some pay satellite radio station that seems to be the domain of middle aged dudes who still think Stern's predatory humor on the witless is funny. What I mean is, well, when was the last time you tuned in to an FM radio station that plays new music and actually listened to new music?
When was the last time you sat on the couch, either stoned, drunk or hungover, and spent 2-3 hours watching new music videos?
There is a substantial difference between passively watching what is being broadcast (selected for you/show to you) and actively seeking out a video by a band you like on YouTube. One exposes you to the unknown, the other just reinforces your interests.
And you know why, in most cases, it's been a long time since you've done neither? It's largely because those options don't exist anymore. Is there a Top 40 format radio station in Baltimore (or whatever town you live in)? What number is it on the dial? Or how about a rock station that isn't 90% classic rock? What's that station called? When was the last time you saw MTV show new videos (and when does that program air)? See? These were key elements in the era of the musical giants like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Lionel Richie, U2, (all performers whose music we are familiar with whether we want to be or not).
New music, especially in genres we ordinarily don't like, is very easily avoided today because it doesn't permeate our culture like it once did. Sure it pops up in TV commercials, but a 30 second bit is usually not enough to make me curious about a song unless it is in very heavy repetition. Like, for example, a recent Target commercial has me seriously considering buying a Kinks album I don't own (one that most reviews tell me I don't need to own). Imagine what it would be like if there were hundreds of songs on that kind of rotation throughout the country on hundreds of radio stations and racking up countless hours of broadcast on MTV.
Instead I look at the top 40 albums list and honestly, I don't think I've heard a song on any of them (not that that should in itself be any big loss, but come on, this is supposed to be POPULAR music - shouldn't we have somewhat of a clue as to what's going on?). I haven't made any special effort to avoid it (or find it), but, well, where's the music? I mean I can rattle off hundreds of songs from the 60s - 90s that I don't like that I know the words to. Why can I sing along to, say, Alanis Morissette or Madonna or Michael Jackson when to I never owned those records or played them for myself? And meanwhile, I'd be hard pressed to name 10 artists outside my preferred genres of music of this decade who are top 40 sellers who have 2 or more songs I know. Why is that? Sure you can say it's because I'm old, but come, even old fuckers should at least have enough exposure to "that racket they call music today" to be able to shake their head at it.
Well, I've noticed that on a very small scale, that has recently changed. A couple of weeks ago I went out to RollerDerby and the DJ played a couple of fairly recent songs that I recognized even though I didn't own their mp3s. My immediate thought wasn't, "wow, I guess those are popular songs," my thought was "I bet the DJ plays Rock Band."
I now am familiar with bands and songs that I ordinarily wouldn't know because of videogames like Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
A handful of videogames based on music have done more to expose people to new rock songs than MTV and FM Radio has in the past 8 years,
And the result is that I've developed an unfortunate fondness for bands I'd otherwise never be exposed to, like Coheed & Cambria, DragonForce, Fallout Boy, etc. simply because I have been playing those songs in a videogame (and I like it!). Like the heavy rotation that once was the bane of the FM dial and MTV, I play and hear those songs over and over. Now I know lyrics to songs despite not really wanting to. Now I say things like, "yeah, I kind of like that one All-American Rejects song" or, "I know I shouldn't say this, but that 30 Seconds To Mars song is kind of fun."
I also have come to realize that a disproportionate amount of rock music seems to be about vampires, that's a different topic altogether.
One thing the popularity of video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero has resulted in (aside from possibly encouraging a generation of kids to start forming real rock bands - wait and see, in 10 - 15 years, you're gonna see kids in bands give interviews where they cite videogames as their motivation to start real bands) is regular, repeated exposure of songs that are otherwise easily avoided in today's fragmented, compartmentalized, unnoticeable to the public, popular music culture.
Rock music, pop music, isn't dead. The success of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band suggest that somewhat. But the increased sales of bands featured on those games proves that it is not music that is failing. It is not a lack of interest or even willingness of people to buy music they are interested in. The failure of rock and pop in these times is a failure of the industry to expose people to new music. There is no viable commercial broadcast radio that plays new music. There is no channel dedicated to music videos.
There is only Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
So, I ask again, how are you exposed to new music?
For more about the success of music based video games driving sales of rock CDs in an era when industry execs blame collapsing sales on mp3 "pirates" instead of their own failings as a result of media consolidation, and movement away from the very things that promotes what they were trying to sell in the first place, and yes, even a reluctance to encourage a popular entertainment that has a history for rallying the masses.