French philosopher Dennis Diderot once said “Good music is very close to primitive.” This was the main point that the documentary Before the Music Dies. Even though Dennis Diderot lived in the 18th century, he expressed an idea that many feel is becoming our reality. The idea here though is that because of media consolidation and deregulation, music has not only become generic but it also has lost its depth. After 1996, radio stations fell under the control of a few powerful mother companies, music became for the masses, and an increasingly number of people have abandoned their radios in search of more meaningful music.
First of all, 1996 marked the end of one musical era and the beginning of a new era of popular culture. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed the radio station industry, which had been mainly privately owned, to drop into the hands of a few powerful companies. The radio was the first electronic mass medium; and when it first became a household item in the 1920’s, there was a requirement to operate in the public interest. At the time, the number of licensed radio operators went from 322 in 1913 to 13581 in 1917! Most of these companies did not sell advertising time, but by 1930, nine out of ten radio stations sold advertising time. This slow shift from no ad time to practically everyone advertising, marked the beginning of the trend of affiliation with large networks for financing. These days, the number of radio owners continues to drop as an increasing number of large networks own radio stations.
Because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, communications companies who had their eyes out for smaller companies to swallow up were able to go on immense shopping sprees. For instance, Clear Channel communications immediately purchased 70 other companies and a few radio stations. In addition, before Jacor became part of Clear channel, it owned 233 radio stations in 55 different markets! With less and less companies owning radio stations, there has been less variety in the music world. The goal now is to get those who can make a ‘hit’ and sell as quickly as possible. The music industry as now become a race track where every media company is trying to reach the best looking people who will attract the most listeners. This point leads to the idea that the music world has now shifted from looking for talent to looking for beauty. As the various artists in the the documentary Before the Music Dies, the artists that came before the consolidated mass media would not have a chance in today’s industry. Artists such as Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, who are considered prodigies, would not have made it in today’s music industry because of their bindles. It’s simple as that, the movie pointed out that today’s musicians must look good in order to even have a chance.
In addition to good looks, one must be willing to fit the entertainment mold. It’s no longer what genre the musician himself wants to communicate to audiences, it’s all about what will sell as quickly as possible. As mentioned earlier, the music world has now become a race track. These few companies at the top of the food chain, like Clear Channel Communications, are all racing to make the most money as soon as possible. This also brings us back to the radio requirement to adhere to public interest.
As the mother media companies race for the finish line, is the public interest really still the first thing on the priority list? An increasing number of music consumers believe that their musical demands have not been met. These days, only a few artists have the honor to be heard on the radio. People like Beyoncé, Ke$ha, Katy Perry, One Direction, Chris Brown, etc. These artists are entertainers that fit the popular culture of music mold and their albums sell out as quickly as they come out. Popular culture does not appeal to all listeners, so now people have found different ways to find interesting musicians who have escaped the popular music mold or who were simply not allowed to be themselves as they tried to make it to the top.
*Both these songs portray women who have had enough*
Today, there are multiple music forums and websites that display self released artists and others who are not commonly displayed in the mainstream media. Websites such as pitchfork.com, refinery29.com, and themusicninja.com are all websites that adhere to those who do not feel entirely satisfied with todays’s radio music industry. In addition to these websites, youtube.com, and pandora.com also allow consumers to explore the music world to find new undiscovered artists.
So, in conclusion, ever since the radio world has become more consolidated, musical variety has decreased. The mother companies have made a model for musicians to follow. It is a mold meant to bring money as quickly as possible, with no plans for long term artists. People are now exposed to only a handful of singers who fit the requirements, so many consumers have resorted to finding unknown artists through different mediums. I am not trying to say that the mainstream television performers are not talented; the point I am making is that there are more talented people who stay behind the curtain simply because of their appearance or their reluctance to change their musical styles. Personally, I believe that media consolidation will continue to decrease musical variety on the radio, but this only becomes a problem when consumers stop using all their resources to find music that adheres to their taste.