The Experienced Listener Says, “Listen”
Before I get to my next album/mixtape review, thought I’d get some things off my chest. Doesn’t it feel like there are just as many aspiring musicians as there are listeners? Does that seem natural to you? To be in an auditorium full of people who want to be on stage? That doesn’t really make sense, does it? I mean, sure, you’ve always had people with dreams. And a lot of those people, in the past, would come to the conclusion that they weren’t talented or disciplined enough to become a phenomenal act. And so, they’d find success elsewhere. Like education, law, medicine, culinary, military… jobs that keep effing society going, ya know?
But not today. Today, you have a dream, you gather a team of yes-men, and you build a music “career” by faking it until you make it. And do you know why the music industry is that way right now? Because NO ONE IS LISTENING.
What do I mean? I mean simply this: in the past, you had to be exceptional to even get your foot in the door. It wasn’t about spinning straw into gold; it was about spinning gold into diamonds. The record label didn’t make you special; it just marketed whatever special thing you brought to the table. The filter was tight and unforgiving. If you were a singer, you couldn’t just hit notes and get signed; you had to hit notes and bring tears to someone’s eyes with the soul and experience you conveyed through your voice. If you were a rapper, it wasn’t enough to make words rhyme and use Autotune to make your sound interesting; you had to come with clever, unrecycled lines that took the listener on a journey and left them in awe. You had to be able to go off on a hot-garbage beat— maybe no beat at all— and STILL move the crowd.
In short, you couldn’t be average and get put on. And to somebody who right now wants to be a singer or an MC— or even a model, cuz we’ve got plenty of average models out there rockin’ prosthetic sweater-puppies and cake frosting— that probably sounds terrible. Until you really think about it…
Let’s say you are, in fact, a truly talented, gifted artist. Great. You get signed to a record label. Awesome. You’ve got it made, right? …Wrong. Because, since the standard is so low, another artist, who isn’t nEARly as talented or nEARly as gifted as you, just got signed too. And since ya’ll are making the same kind of music, you’re both competing for the same spots on the charts.
It gets worse. A quick note about me: I don’t like fans. Most fans, at least. Why? Take my high school students: they debate about who the greatest rapper is every day. Yet, 80% of them aren’t even reading on grade level. What kind of intelligent rap discussion comes from people who don’t have the vocabulary to decipher half of what they hear? It’s FOOLISHNESS.
…But, they download singles. They buy albums. So here, this illiterate, tasteless mass of listeners gets to decide who tops the charts.
Now, imagine again that you’re that talented musician: spending hours in the studio; putting deep thought into what you write; making sure the beat matches your words; sharpening your delivery skills; working alongside engineers and producers to get everything juuust right…
Now, imagine the fans don’t appreciate ANY of that. They want all the profanity and guntalk they can get, the simplest lyrics ever written, the loudest overly-synthesized beats possible. They want to hear music, but they don’t want anything they have to LISTEN to. So, talented and gifted artists, you’re S.O.L. Deuces…
Everybody can’t be a star. But, nowadays, everybody can damn sho try. That’s the gift and the curse of the indie music movement. There are talented people out there but, if we be honest about it, most of them aren’t that talented. But it’s not talent that the masses are after; not in this barely-educated, short-attention-spanned, unraised, unkempt, unmonitored generation. They don’t know what it is to filter anything, because they have no standards. And the music industry is cool with that, because now they can market a cheaper product to the people and rake in revenues to infinity and beyond.
I write The Experienced Listener column for The Kool Kids Table. Why? Because people have forgotten how to listen. I take my years of listening to and making music and use the knowledge I’ve acquired by experience to analyze projects that I like. I try to target artists who are serious about their craft, but who are overlooked due to an audience of novice listeners. I do it for the music and for the talented, gifted artists who need to be heard. I hope that, as I write, I can educate the readers on how to rightly perceive what they listen to. You can’t talk about great lyricism if you don’t know how to read or write or speak. You can’t talk about great singing if you don’t know what notes sound like or what love and pain feel like. You can’t talk about great instrumentals if you don’t know the difference between sampling and biting and borrowing hits. You can’t compare artists without reference points.
It’s important that people LISTEN to the music they come across. Once we make up our minds that listening is no longer important, it’s a wrap. All of us have music within us. But the gift of music is not something to be taken lightly. And it’s important that we recognize that gift when it’s among us; otherwise, we acknowledge and appreciate wonderful talents like Nujabes only in retrospect, after they’ve passed and it’s too late.
New reviews coming soon…
E.G.S., The Experienced Listener