Right now, the big name in the music industry is Skrillex. If you never heard of Skrillex prior to his three Grammy wins, you probably do now. His name is stamped all over albums, everywhere, and it seems like every major label is trying to get him to collaborate with them and their artists. Recently, I was listening to the new Korn album and you guessed it Skrillex with the signature "drop" was featured. I may be a bit of a pessimist here, but I am not really convinced that dubstep is going to be around forever. It will be around forever in the sense of the recording on a physical CD, and forever meaning until all copies are worn out, burnt and nuked. But can we claim that dubstep is a style that will be called a classic 10 - 25 years from now (like Nirvana), or will it go by the wayside like so many other fads? My guess would be it is going to fall by the wayside.
Now, before every Skrillex die hard fan sends me a million hate e-mails with the thousands of reasons why Skrillex will never go away, know that I am actually a Skrillex fan. I believe he was able to take a style birthed in the underground, and bring it to the main stream surface. He is an innovator and decent musician. I get all of the arguments validating SKrillex's style, but it doesn't mean that dubstep will be listed in the history books as a style that transformed the music industry. Dubstep is really just a hybrid of break beat, mixed with drum and bass, converted to 2 step and sprinkled with garage dub. In other words....a hybrid of styles that already exist.
The argument could be that all styles are a hybrid of something, and they all fade. Yes, that would be true all styles see a rise and then decline. I am not really talking about rise and declines, but more like classic styles and longevity. When I think about classic albums and longevity my mind never goes back to the 80's new wave music scene. Yes, there were many great songs back then, but to say they are "classic" would be a pretty big stretch. You can write a great song, with a great hook and have great air play on the radio, but does it make it a classic? No.
When I think about a classic album that defined a generation, U2's The Joshua Tree tops the list. Released in 1987, Joshua Tree continues to garner praise by musicians, producers and engineers worldwide. The album has sold a total of 25 million copies worldwide. The Joshua Tree is one example of an album, and style, that continues, to this day, to be timeless. In my class at Houghton College, I played a video about the making of The Joshua Tree. It was the first time that many of my students were introduced to U2, and this great album. After the class, I received many e-mails from students who went out and purchased the album. They thanked me for introducing them to great music and said they couldn't believe they never heard the album before.
When we look 25 years up the road from today, will dubstep, Skrillex, Mr. Worldwide or any other popular music or artist today be as endearing as U2 or Nirvana? How about The Rolling Stones or Led Zepplin? When we talk about classic music 25 years from now, what artists will come to mind? I believe it will be artists like Adele, Lana Del Ray, Green Day Foo Fighters, Coldplay, Radiohead, Muse, etc. Why do I believe this? I believe this because any music that is classic, or listed as being great, have a couple of things in common. The first, is that classic music speaks to and defines a generation. Second, is that timeless music, is music that has a message with real emotion and connects with the soul. When I listen to dubstep, while it is aggressive, has a bit of message and good beat, it lacks in emotional connection, speaking to a generation and connecting with the soul.
Music style trends will rise and fall, but great music that connects on multiple, emotional levels will always surface from the most unexpected places. Autotune, big reverb drums, flannel, teased hair, leg warmers, leisure suits and disco balls will come and go, but music that touches our souls will last forever. Let's redefine and make timeless music.
What does it take to make it in the music industry (or entertainment industry) in today's environment? Is it raw talent or is there more? I would love to say hands down that raw talent is what will allow a person to make it, but that simply is not true. There have been a lot of articles and studies done about the American obsession with beauty. I personally do not think it stops with America. In a day in which information is so widely available online, I believe other parts of the world are also obsessed with beauty and image.
I want to make it clear that I do not see anything wrong with presenting yourself in a professional fashion (much like my heavy metal dude in the photo ...uh yeah, let's forget about that spandex - or drug - induced style). I believe that people in various industries do need to present themselves in a professional manner. But dressing the part doesn't necessarily make you a professional in your field. A nice looking man could dress in a really nice suit, and call himself a Wall Street investor, but he could actually be fresh out of college with no skill in investments. On the outside, this handsome and sharp dressed man, could be very believable, but in all actuality you wouldn't want him to handle the funds in your piggy bank, let alone your stock portfolio.
The same is true in the entertainment industry. A lot of time it is an industry that is driven by how you look instead of how well you play or sing. I have to admit that I have fallen victim to this many times. I remember a young handsome guy, who looked like a rock star, that approached me with a demo CD. The first thing that came to mind was that this guy must be a good artist since he looked like one. I told him that I would check out the CD and get back to him (you know the standard answer that music industry people give to hopefuls). I was totally impressed with his rock star do and trendy clothing. I was excited to play the CD until it started and I heard his voice on it. I realized, at that moment, that I had been buffaloed by image. It wasn't the first time, or the last, that this would happen to me.
There have been many scientific studies on what people find attractive in other people, and documentaries, as well. What scientists have found, is that there are key factors in a person being attractive from certain smells to certain face dimensions (the face dimension study can be read here from the BBC). So naturally, as a race, we gravitate toward beautiful people. But gravitate and obsess are two very different things. Gravitate says that we naturally are drawn to beautiful people while obsess means we are constantly preoccupied with beauty. We are preoccupied with whiter teeth, hair color, latest make up trends, manicures, pedicures, weight, clothing trends, eye glass styles, boot cut vs. slim jeans, fitted T's vs. regular, shoes, boob size, face wrinkles, gray hair - oh my, and the list goes on and on and on. This obsession dictates in our minds what successful entertainers should be - or what they should look like.
The TV show "The Voice" is my hero. Why is it my hero? If you notice, when a person comes out to audition, the chairs are turned backwards so the judges are not able to see the person, but are forced to listen (all audio, no visual). I vote that everyone is required to do that when listening to music from now on. A person's talent should be solely based on how good they are, not how good they look. I know of a very popular artist (actually more than one) who does not look, for lack of better words, very appealing. He would not be a "catch" according to our very high standards, nor is he anywhere near tall, dark and handsome. He is tall, but is missing the last two. Yet, when he sings, it sounds like the voice of angels are channeled straight through him. On a personality side....one of the most humble and amazing humans. He may be able to date a super model but I guarantee you it isn't because of his looks, rather from his popularity and money. He deserves better than to be judged by his looks.
Recently, CNN ran an article titled, "Has Image Overtaken Music?" One quote that I love, in the article, was this:
"The stuff used to be about something, dammit, not a soundalike drone of manufactured robots, lip-synching amid falling tinsel."
Such a true statement of the gimmicky way in which we present music now. In the YouTube video of Jay-Z (that I posted yesterday), he reminisces of a time when a person would sit on a street corner playing an acoustic guitar for 5 cents a day - long before there was a "music industry". He also (my paraphrase) said that musicians were in it for the enjoyment of music, and not for the fame or money of today.
We should be playing music because we would die inside without creating it. When I am at home, I get so anxious and antsy to create. When I can't create, I get annoyed, mad and a bit of an attitude (ask my wife). At this point in my life, I could care less about money, fame and throngs of fans. What I do care about is creating this awesome thing called music. It is my love, my passion and my life. Even when I was working in hell, also known as, retail management, (that will be saved for another blog) all I could do was think about creating, writing and recording music. Whether I make a living from music or not, it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I am able to play, write and create. Don't get into this, or any entertainment industry, to become a star, do it because it is part of your soul. Don't worry about your image, or your looks....it doesn't matter. Just because some fickled record executive is shallow, doesn't mean the whole world is that way - does Susan Boyle ring a bell? Don't buy into the lies of beauty - it is truly how the saying goes..."Beauty is only skin deep" - and let me add, true beauty comes from within and makes it way to the surface. Stay passionate and beautiful.
Kevin "Danger" Jackson is a New York-based producer, engineer, composer, performer, educator and Berklee College of Music alumnus. He writes, produces and engineers music for a wide range of artists in the pop, hip-hop, rock, R&B, classical and electronic genres. His work can be heard daily on a multitude of albums, radio and television stations worldwide.