Tuesday, April 24, 2012

5 Tools Musicians Need in Their Arsenal

Top 5 Tools Every "Rock Star" Needs (And Forgets To Acknowledge)

1. Talent
 Let me start with what might be, arguably, THE most important tool in a musicians arsenal: TALENT.

With the continually declining quality and presentation of music in the mainstream, it's safe to say all of our ear drums have been heavily saturated with bullshit before we've even hit grade school. This is bullshit of all different varieties. There are so many different levels of bland, hues of mediocrity, and shades of insipidity, I could easily write another 15 articles on this topic within the next 20 minutes, and I'd only be warming up.

If you THINK talent isn't important, it's only because you're a fucking idiot. You've been conditioned to support such crap your entire life, you actually care more about a bands image or sex appeal than you do their actual artistic output.

There are countless musicians out there. I'm talking millions of musicians, and likely hundreds of thousands of bands. It's safe to assume almost ALL these musicians that have truly dedicated their lives to making a career as a performing artist fall under one of these categories: 

Shitty, generic, and millionaires
Unique, innovative, and criminally underrated

There seems to be little ground in between - it's either Beethoven or Beiber. (There's also the transitional stage between being a nobody with shitty music to being a nobody with shitty music and lots of money.)

The mainstream these days...it celebrates the worst possible aspects of culture. I'm talking music so bad it should be called "Ear Rape." And this shit infests every radio station and music based TV channel. You can't escape the "Lil Waynes" and "Shinedowns," they are what the marketing giants of the music industry want - corporate shills disguised as musicians playing other peoples compositions under other peoples lyrics, all for corporate profits and a dumber society.

Shit, at least Led Zeppelin took the time to steal from their sources personally - Jimmy Page was hard at work, getting blown by a groupie at 4:30 AM after a gig, trying to come up with the next Zeppelin tune for their first album. So he jumps on Google late at night, finds a Youtube playlist of rare footage of 30's blues musicians  and starts stealing all sorts of shit. Meanwhile, Robert Plant is stealing lyrics from artists he was lazily tracking down off Bing.com while HE is getting blown by HIS groupies in the hotel room across the hall. They're even sharing the same Wi-Fi connection and everything. Zep were so embarrassed of their compositional impotence, they hid the fact they stole these riffs and lyrics, even to each other - Robert Plant had NO idea he was singing his stolen lyrics over a stolen guitar riff. And Jimmy Page didn't give a fuck what Robert Plant was singing, he was just trying to tune that shrill sounding fairy singing "BABY" a hundred times out of his ears so he could play KIND OF on time.

Sure, they only gave a half-assed attempt at covering their tracks; they didn't really alter the riffs or change the lyrics all that much. Hell, some Zeppelin songs were THREE PLAGIARISMS AT ONCE. And that's why they ended up getting sued...as well they should have. But they had to WORK to steal this material somewhat.

Bands these days get all their unoriginal music directly from the record companies. Shit is probably printed on glossy coated sheet music in a golden frame.

They're probably receiving their "Band Objectives" verbally while they pleasure their record executives orally...as per the recording contract stipulations.

Hell, one might even begin to assume that the mainstream music industry is based solely around money, image, marketing, and very little, if any, actual artistic merit. That they abandoned, years ago, promoting anything with actual worth.

This would even explain the  extensive battle to fight piracy, because they realize everyone's getting sick of PAYING for the shitty music they're being force-fed, especially when they can steal it on the internet instead.

2. Innovation
Notice how all the big rock bands of the late 60's and the 70's all had their own style? Their own unique sound? No one else sounded like Jethro Tull, not without a time machine and the 3 years it would take to teach medieval minstrels the fundamentals of electric guitar. (And the 10 years or so it would take to rediscover electricity.)

No one had the same edgy heaviness of Black Sabbath. Or the fish-fucking and plagiarism of Led Zeppelin, that was ORIGINALLY uncreative. Bands were actively seeking the transcendence of genre limitations, trying to create something new. Each vocalist back in the day had their own unique voice; they could each have starred as part of a rock opera and played a separate, unique character. Imagine, Roger Daltry belting out a conversation with Meat Loaf about the weather?

But nowadays, ENTIRE GENRES OF MUSIC suffer from similar sounding vocalists. One of the worst types of vocal trends I've heard in the past decade is the emo / hardcore / metalcore style singing. They all intentionally strain their voices, out of key, to make it sound more 'emotional' and 'anguished,' or whatever, and oftentimes end up sounding like Mega Volt from Darkwing Duck.

Who knows, maybe the drugs were just stronger back in the 70's, explaining the contrast in skill, originality, and innovation in music from then to now. 

The saddest part is, I personally know dozens of bands that are talented, innovative, and throw it down live. I'm sure they, like me, are at the most, looking to make a career out of music (fame, free drugs, groupies...all a bonus for getting paid to make music) but in comparison to the shit on the radio and TV? They should be in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame compared to that shit.
3. A Message
Music back in the day stood for something - an escape from the mundane. A backlash to corporatism and trendiness. The pitfalls of mankind were put on display through the words and instrumentation of crafty musicians and philosophers looking to both spread a valuable message and showcase their talent, simultaneously. Music is an artistic expression - not a fashion statement. And sure, the 80's hair bands were a bit much...at least they wrote actual hooks in their music and knew how to pen a clever guitar solo. And at least the music was actually "Fun."

If you're gonna write some depressing music, make it interesting, at least. Music with depressing subject matter shouldn't be depressing to the listener without the lyrics.  It's why I can't dig grunge - all the singers sound like clones, and the music is always so damn down-trodden.  Or all that emo bullshit...it sounds like forced emotion from fags wearing womans jeans.
4. A Story to Tell
What happened to the grand, epic, rock operas of yesteryear? Like "Quadrophenia" or "Tommy" by the Who? "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" by Iron Maiden? All the concept albums by Pink Floyd, Savatage, Rush, Queensryche...big, epic stories, stuff as fantastical as movies, that challenged the listeners to decipher the lyrics to find the meaning. Or songs like "Sniper" by Harry Chapin, 12 minutes of unnerving tension depicting a gunman in a watch tower taking out innocent bystanders? It still exists. "The Odyssey" by Symphony X is a great example.

Where did the EPICNESS of music go? A song should be a movie for my ears, not a regurgitation of all the latest (shitty) musical trends. Instead of imparting a message or telling a story, music that is funded and celebrated in the mainstream seems to serve one over-encompassing purpose: distraction. A distraction from intellectual endeavors, a distraction from music with actual morals, a distraction from musical innovation. If you think Lil' Wayne is innovative and anything more than a hack, anything more than a terrible rapper with horrible delivery, a complete lack of flow, and nearly braindead subject matter....then clean your ears out. With a dagger.

5. Diversity
Some bands find a signature sound they can put to the test in numerous different settings, and always turn out an interesting product. Go listen to "In Rock" from Deep Purple. Then listen to "Burn." Follow that up with "The House of Blue Light." That's three albums that could ALMOST be mistaken for three different bands, but Deep Purple has such a signature sound they are able to branch out to other styles of music and still captivate their fanbase.

There is no use in pigeon-holing your artistic expression. Innovations aren't made when you attempt to go with the grain. Nor are they broken when you attempt to intentionally GO AGAINST the grain. Only when you start writing from your heart and soul will you find that innovation that is being swept under the rug on the daily. Hundreds, thousands of starving musicians with unique styles, unique voices and playing techniques, completely brushed aside and left to rot so assholes like Nicki Minaj and Lady Gaga can make millions while pissing off anyone with an ounce of sense.

Go ahead, listen to that. Feels better to listen to music that evolves and changes over the course of its runtime, doesn't it? Way more fulfilling than a beat to dance to, shitty auto-tuned vocals, and a generic bassline, am I right?
 With lyrics so meaningful and layered they can apply to multiple circumstances? Instead of just getting high at the club and drunk at the crackhouse, like most rap artists of the day write about? With captivating guitar solos and clever instrument arrangements? The lyrics are so open-ended I could even apply them to this blog.

A man only sees what he wants to see
When he's in his mind
Where he is what he wants to be

Living in a world where he's safe from reality

Won't you take a chance on this night and follow me?

What Savatage is trying to say, is that maybe my delusions of grandeur (of being a skilled, comedic wordsmith and interesting and original composer) are all only realized by myself, on the safety of my own blog.

Keep listening! Savatage also make some of the same points I attempted to translate through my rage in this very article....IN THE SAME SONG.

Don't need no super heroes
Don't need no movie stars
Don't need no politicians
In big black shiny cars
Don't need no preacher
Whose church is my TV"

So stop choosing to listen to bands based on their appearance. The only proper way to judge a band based on their appearance is to AVOID them when you can tell they are vain douchebags by the way they portray themselves.

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If you should strike me down I will become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.