Musical Thoughts, Reflections, Questions, and other Ephemera…

As most of you know, I’ve not been blogging nearly as much as in the past–I go through periods like this. This doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing/thinking/analyzing things. I was just looking at all the recent drafts I’ve been working on and decided rather than trying to finish one I’ll just post some of the things I’ve been exploring in these posts–kind of a “cliffs notes” version of my blogging thought process. Some of this is inspired from some recent discussions I’ve been having on Facebook or other social media (where it seems like I’m having much more active interactions about these subjects), the rest is just I’d like to get some of these ideas out there even if they’re not complete thoughts yet.

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Pop Music Attrition

One of the long term research projects I’ve been working on is the attrition rates of local bands. Over the years I’ve had many discussions with local musicians about how often bands fold, or how a singer-songwriter will drop off the face of the earth, or how a musician decides to go back to school to learn a different trade–the reasons are numerous.

Last year I started tracking and creating a database of bands or solo acts I’ve played shows with over the past couple of decades. I’ve had this sense that a majority of musicians eventually get out of music (or at least curtail their music performing activities significantly) after a few years. There’s a sense that after a few years most acts are pretty much done (I’ve estimated anywhere from 70% to 90% of them*), and probably about half end by the first year or two.

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On Faux Musical Quality, Popularity, and Relevance

A few weeks ago I read a clickbait piece on mic.com, “How The Music Industry Is Brainwashing You to Like Bad Pop Songs.” It linked to a study showing how the emotion centers of the brain light up in fMRIs when familiar tunes were played to the test subjects. This isn’t a particularly surprising result.  The phenomenon has been well documented in psychological studies and is one of the most robust psychological phenomena around.  The seminal research was done in a recall test using Chinese characters.  It showed that test subjects could only recall characters they were shown previous at little better than chance levels, but when asked which characters the subjects liked, invariably the characters they were shown earlier were picked.

This is an aspect of human psychology that gives interesting ammo to both sides of the Classical Music Crisis debate.  The idea that Pop music is somehow more relevant to contemporary culture loses some of its force when we realize that the constant bombardment of [Euro-American] pop tunes insures that a relatively big audience will “prefer” them to Classical Music, or Bollywood Music, or whatever genre happens to not be dominant in the US at the time. It’s simply a reflection of the “mere exposure effect.”

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Walking with Dinosaurs

In a recent Telegraph piece by Hannah Furness we’re told that Peter Sellars has called for the end of Mass art forms

In a speech about the importance of art, Sellars argued the changing world had left consumers wanting a different experience from simple, traditional mass market.

Saying opera had an “irrational beauty” which is “incredibly powerful” in front of an audience, he added: “Meanwhile the new technology means you don’t to have an opera house to do an opera

“In fact, most young people don’t want to go to an opera house and it’s not how those people want to have a good time, to sit with 5,000 other people.

“In fact, what’s very exciting is some of the most exciting opera experience I’ve had is in a room with 15 other people, or 30 or 40 whatever, in an intimate situation.

As I’ve shown numerous times at this blog, the same can be said about large scale pop or stadium/arena rock shows as well as Sporting events which often take place in big stadiums. But does this mean the end of large scale mass entertainment or art forms?  I’m not so sure.

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Casino Gigs, Classical Music, and Younger Audiences

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to play a number of casino gigs.  These are often some of the best paying gigs for musicians of any stripe and the competition for getting into a roster of acts for them can be pretty fierce.

Last night after filling in for Sweeney Todd at CenterStage here in Louisville, a few of the musicians went out for some drinks and near the end of the night I had a conversation with a family member of one of the players about her experiences working at the local casino. She was relating how there’s been a bit of a push for bringing in Younger Audiences. This is often done by a shift in entertainment.

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