time to change the way we view music and the arts

Mulling Over Music’s “Method Madness”

Rethink Music logo

It’s been a year already since the first ever ReThink Music Conference in Boston. The discussions, proposals and emotional stances posed bordered on almost offensive. Offensive to stagnation that is. The idea of the conference was then, and continues to be, to disrupt and re-work the music businesses and people therein that have hit walls, fallen in holes, stumbled in the dark and just plain come to a productive halt. In addition, there’s the accompanying idea of positive invigoration that’s supposed to result from all this deconstruction.

Such an undertaking is something of a breath of fresh air if you ask me. I’ve been watching conversations unfold and jumping in on the talk via my Twitter account; it’s the next best thing when you can’t afford to get to Massachusetts for the three day escapade.

Yesterday being the middle point of the conference, which began Sunday, I was waist deep in a sea of commentary on the topics of VEVO, music videos, artist recognition, originality and ubiquity.

I have to say, when your’e in the moment and typing to keep up with a dialogue, it’s not as easy to form thoughts around the big picture of the things you are discussing or debating. Looking back at some of the more bluntly stated tweets in my feed, there’s a noticeable pattern of mess, if you get what I mean. The majority of the talk was during a presentation featuring Pitchfork Media President, Chris Kaskie, which was titled, “Cutting Through the Noise,” though certain themes came before and after that caused me to realize how much disconnect there is. The main premise of Kaskie’s discussion was as follows from ReThink’s program guide:

“Having a voice, earning trust. These are a few of many philosophies followed by the media powerhouse, Pitchfork. Christopher Kaskie, President of Pitchfork, will go in depth behind the strategy, current obstacles, vision, and future opportunities that all affect Pitchfork’s place in the music world.”

Here’s a look at some of what went flying around, and from top to bottom things will be in chronologically posted order.

[Seth] Godin: You only win attention if you are truly offering something different. #rethinkmusic
Rethink Music (@rethink_music) April 23, 2012

Food for thought. RT @inkpixelspaper New musicians: “Not getting paid isn’t the enemy. Anonymity is the enemy” –David Herlihy #rethinkmusic
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012

How do we balance that w/ sincere creation? RT @rethink_music The Rethink Music morning theme? Embrace ubiquity. #midem#rethinkmusic
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012

RT @lizpelly “Media companies need to stand for a point of view, a genre…they become brands associated with a certain taste” #rethinkmusic (Chris Kaskie)
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012


RT @Music_Riot Theres too much music W/ more music comes less direction. You have no idea what anyone stands for @chriskaskie #rethinkmusic
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012


RT @lizpelly: “the over-importance of being cool is one of the larger potential pitfalls of any brand’s future” #rethinkmusic
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012

How can you not focus on being “cool” but aim to be ubiquitous? The masses that make you that way want what’s cool. #rethinkmusic
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012


This is genuine. It’s what it should be about RT @VFInFocus RT @rethink_music:Kaskie: there is nothing cooler than good music #rethinkmusic
Kira (@shadowmelody1) April 23, 2012

In such a short span of only 140 characters, (even less if you account for the necessary hastag, all the “RT’s” and people’s @handles,) I’m left looking at a flow of dialogue that seems at odds with itself.

Positions established (crudely speaking) are that:

1) The “You” in Godin’s quote refers to musicians. Therefore, musicians need to present something (be it their music or themselves) as something drastically original.

2) Being unknown is the worst scenario you can in within the business.

3) Strive for being known everywhere (or as many places as possible)

4) Companies (not necessarily musicians) need to have a specific connection in musical style

5) Too much priority to trendy appreciation (aka cool factor) leads to problems

I’m sure in connecting the dots between these statements that there are bound to be at least a few of you who are thinking, like I did, “There is no way a person can satisfy each of these conditions at the same time.”

Speaking again in generalizations, typically, if a musician comes off as so different and so unique, then there’s supposedly not anything else like them. However, if everyone follows this ideology, then we (as a listening public) would end up with a thousand ‘one-of-a-kinds,’ or basically “more music [choices]” -the very thing Kaskie says needs to be cut back in order to know what people stand for.

Furthermore, while I can appreciate the notion that musicians should be comfortable with being themselves and sticking to whatever their artistic visions may be, that doesn’t always equate to, or result in, “good music,” which Kaskie equates with being the truly “cool” thing. I have realized my confused questioning on the proposal for separation between striving for “cool” and “ubiquitous” was jumping the gun a little, because I got caught up in interchanging ubiquity with quality. Check it out:

Even if being “truly different” equals “attention” and “attention” equals “ubiquity,” “ubiquity” does not necessarily translate to quality and quality is “good music.” 

This leads to the conclusion that between Godin and Kaskie, we can infer that,
“truly different”≠ “good music,” (at least not 100% of the time)

Why did I just take you through that letter-less demonstration of mathematical transitive relation? i did so to show how I arrived at the confusion that I’m still mulling over at this very moment. Examples of artists that certainly fit this relation and the scenarios Kaskie and Godin proposed, could easily be Lady Gaga or Rihanna. Leaving a bit of space for understandable interpretation, Gaga and Rihanna are notably ‘different;’ what with their shock antics and against the grain mentality both within their songwriting and personal images. The shock value and rebellious nature gains them attention has at different point in time, put them at the top of viral discussion and made them ubiquitous for one reason or another. Yet notice how Godin didn’t allude to “winning” appreciation. Talk is talk but that doesn’t make it all sunshine and rainbows.

Therefore, is the endgame Godin and Kaskie formulated, “wild cards will succeed in the industry more so than anyone else?” That we should strive to be Gaga? She isn’t about to try to be anyone else’s definition of cool to be sure. She’s content with being herself and nothing less.

Of course, I am being slightly sarcastic and rhetorical here. I’m perfectly aware the end point wasn’t to say, “Be like Rihanna and you’ll hit the big time.” I’m just putting this all out there to say that I’m surprised at the focus on attention-getting rather than perhaps what would illuminate Kaskie’s last point better, which would be discussing how we generate a “truly different” kind of “attention” to music. Just saying you’re viral isn’t enough anymore. To find the nirvana –the point equidistant among genuine musical experiences, extending awareness, grounded artist mentalities and managing popularity… that place would be the one I would want to turn toward. In the meantime, the work in progress needs to be wrangling each of these tweeted artist objectives, because right now they just seem to bring us back to the same model of superficiality in how we avoid the “enemy” of anonymity.

Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS