So I was watching a video recently and the guy in the video said something that I thought was quite profound regarding today’s music. He said that it has “shifted from art to content” and I believe that to be true with pretty much all media that we consume these days and it is a problem with our modern culture and something that we should try to combat.
To show the difference between art and content let’s look at two recent country songs that gathered a lot of attention. First we have Jason Aldean’s Try that in a Small Town. It is a song with a fairly basic modern pop-country melody and lyrics that were considered controversial because they made reference to the fact that the type of crime that was common during BLM riots in big cities was deplorable and suggested that people who tried that in a small town wouldn’t make it down the road, it was sung by a man who has been in the music industry for years and didn’t really have a genuine small town upbringing.
In contrast we have Oliver Anthony’s Rich Men North of Richmod. It is a song where we see a poor blue collar man lamenting the tragedy of being an old soul living in the new world where the elites don’t care for him as their actions actively make his life worse. It is a song with some uncommon twang in it and some even more uncommon emotion as the person singing it actually means the words he says.
Now I don’t listen to country music very often so I’m not the best person to judge it but a friend of mine who does has said, “‘Try that in a Small Town’ is the Punisher skull of country music.” Sure it might say some controversial things that some people might agree with but people with actual country small town roots don’t think its that great of a song. It is lame. It is a song for posers sung by a poser, if it had different lyrics nobody would have ever cared about it. It is content that was designed to appeal to a certain demographic and ultimately failed after a brief time in the spotlight, it didn’t come form the soul it came from the desire to make money.
Rich Men North of Richmond however is art, it came form the soul. There is not one line in that song that doesn’t express something that the man singing it, nor the millions of blue collar men like him, hasn’t actually felt. Anyone trying to claim otherwise is a rich white liberal who has never talked to a blue collard person in their life and probably lives north of Richmond. Everyone who shares anything in common with Oliver Anthony (whose real name is Chris) is frustrated with the fact that people can take advantage of the welfare system to buy bags of fudge rounds when it is meant to help lift people out of poverty. Oliver Anthony didn’t write that song to make money, he made it to express his feelings and send a message, it came form the soul and that is where art comes from, the fact that he got famous from it is unrelated.
Of course not all art comes with a message like Rich Men North of Richmod but it all comes from the soul as a lot of it was made simply because the artist loved art and loved making art. I feel like the great composers of old loved putting together complex pieces of music because they loved pushing the boundaries to see what was possible in the realm of music. Painters and sculptors made beautiful things because they loved making beautiful things. Storytellers wrote stories and made movies because they loved telling compelling stories. Up until recently we consumers expected art to be art and would be disappointed when it was simply content. People used to look forward to new Star Wars movies because of the great story, characters, and visual effects; now they look forward to new Star Wars stuff because it is called Star Wars. What changed? Well there was a shift from artistic expression to content production.
The video I mentioned earlier goes into this phenomenon in the music world. It is made by a musician and it looks at the issue from the artist’s perspective in the modern music space. He makes the observation that all new music is starting to sound the same. He credits this to the advent of music streaming as the vast majority of music revenue these days comes from streaming services whose algorithms are designed to identify and cater to your individual music taste. I’d also argue that for most of us the algorithms will shape our taste quite a bit as they keep serving us the same dish over and over again, but that is a different topic. The video guy goes into how this affects the economics of the music industry as people are now incentivized to make shorter, catchier, and dumber songs. I won’t go into every detail of the video but by the end of it you can see that the people behind the most popular music these days aren’t artists making art but they are creators making content because that is what the market rewards.
And of course this extends beyond the music world, I’ve already mentioned Star Wars but it even goes beyond the art world. The YouTube channel Linus Tech Tips, which primarily exists to post tech reviews, recently found itself in hot water as it faced public criticism as another tech review channel critiqued its work showing that it often failed to provide accurate information in its tech reviews. This critique revealed to people that the priority of Linus Tech Tips in recent times has been to churn out content rather than publish reliable tech reviews because content is what pays, accuracy did not. Thankfully that company is now reprioritzing itself to better serve us consumers but it should make you think about how many other content farms are out there putting a higher priority on quantity rather than quality. For years the trick to growing in the YouTube world was daily uploads to appeal to the algorithm but is that really the sort of thing that appeals to us consumers? I don’t think it is, or at least I don’t think it should be.
What do we really want as consumers? Do we want content optimized to fill our time or art designed to fill our soul? Do we want to pay a large sum of money to stand in the back of a stadium where we can’t even tell if that is actually Taylor Swift singing, or do we want to see a local band play somewhere where we can go up and talk to the artists and compliment them after the show? Do we want a movie that has been sanitized for the modern audience, or do we want a film that shows an artist’s true vision?
As we ask ourselves these kinds of questions we see that the new stuff coming out of Hollywood and the music industry isn’t worth the hype anymore. Iron Maiden came out with a new album somewhat recently and I was excited to listen to it since I enjoyed a lot of their old stuff but when I finally did I was a bit underwhelmed because it wasn’t anything special, just more Iron Maiden. It wasn’t bad it was just something that I could have lived without, I felt the same about Metallica’s new album. Of course there are exceptions, I think a lot of Ozzy Osbourne’s new stuff is awesome, but for the most part I don’t really have a need for famous musicians anymore and I rarely listen to their stuff. 90% of the time when I’m listening to music it is music made by some of my actual real life friends. My buddy Patrick is trying to make money as a musician with his solo stuff as well as with his band and my friend Dustin has also made some music of his own. Why shouldn’t I support my friends over listening to the music of people who are already famous? Fame doesn’t equal quality, I hope I’ve woken you up to that reality if you weren’t already.
Anyways I’m starting to ramble which probably means I’ve run out of useful things to say so I should probably wrap this up. Don’t seek to fill your time simply consuming content, look for actual art, don’t waste your time with things that have no value.