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Comment: Don't listen to the radio

19th September 2012

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This time ten years ago the only way to hear a new band was through word of mouth. Radio DJs and music critics were the gatekeepers when it came to new music, providing audiences with what they thought was the next big thing. Popular music was fresh and daring. It gave bands like the Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Muse and Franz Ferdinand room to grow organically. The passion of DJs like John Peel allowed alternative music to reach mainstream audiences.

Barely two years into the 2010s and popular music has lost its balls.

Now that people can listen to whatever they want either illegally or through streaming sites like Spotify, music magazines and radio shows have lost both audiences and relevance. What’s the point of being told what to listen to, when we can now pick and choose so easily?

Radio DJs are no longer free to take risks with music. Personalities like Jo Whiley once had the freedom to play bands that were a little more risqué, a little more daring, but now have no choice but to keep to the playlists they are given. This way the stations convince themselves that they  are giving the public what they want, whilst keeping their audience numbers safe and constant.

Is there really a problem with that?

Of course there is. We have to deal with more Lady Gaga, more Justin Bieber, more Tinie Tempah. And more (shudder) Coldplay and Rihanna collaborations.

Music is far too safe these days.  Massive corporate labels are incessantly plugged purely because there’s safety in numbers. If it appears anywhere near the Top 40 then people must like it. They must want to listen to it day after day after day.

Singers like Justin Bieber are products, not artists. They spout lyrics that have been written down for them by people like Heather Bright, a US songwriter who recently lashed out at all of those artists who then brazenly claim them for their own.

Too few are willing to risk the promotion of  upcoming bands. 

Too many fear being ignored. 

No one wants to take the risk these days, and those that do are often heavily restricted. Our generation can no longer claim zeitgeist voices like Nirvana, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers or Rage Against the Machine because those bands no longer have a voice like John Peel to bring them to the wider public.

Now that radio and music journalism is in decline,  excessively corporate music is free to plug its own brand of bland. Professional connoisseurs must move aside for X-Factor judges and record label moguls, for people like Simon Cowell who prioritise financial value over quality.

Creepy, doll-faced pugs barely out of puberty, teeth whiter than a Klan hood (remember Joe McElderry anyone?) now reign the charts because the people who make money from them own the airwaves, whilst the people who have dedicated their professional lives to seeking out artistic talent have been pushed aside.

Radio is in a dry hump right now. Whilst rare stations such as BBC Radio 6 struggle onward, is radio still doing music any favours? Or is it our fault for leaving it behind?

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